I’ve been sorting through my inbox lately in pursuit of the elusive zero. As I’ve done so I’ve come across some disheartening things: business opportunities I missed or let languish, messages from people who played my games whom I never responded to, and personal communications that (with hindsight) I would have handled differently or continued longer.
At the same time, I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed II (which I put off for a long time due to the awful DRM, now improved). Its sidequests have grown tedious, so I’ve been soldiering through the game just to complete the plot, despite the fact that the story would be a disappointment even if I got it in a 25-cent used-book-store paperback.
So much of my real-life time is taken up with things that don’t leave me with anything lasting, while things that are actually important have languished. What does it mean when I can focus on the important part of a game, but I let life’s sidequests distract me from the central plot?
It means that games are better than life.
I’m not talking about Skinner Box conditioning here. Games are simply more effective at communicating progress toward their goals.
Games, at their core, are simulations of life. With their rules and abstractions, they make a statement about how the world works. In order to communicate this effectively, they must expose these rules to the player through play and provide guidance through the simulation. Without exposing the rules, the game’s argument can never be understood. Without guidance in the form of goals, the player might miss important statements or encounter complex areas of the simulation before the player has been adequately prepared.
Life, of course, does not have such a burden. We still do not understand many of the rules governing our minds, bodies, and environments, and we receive little guidance from the system concerning what goals we should be pursuing. If existence was designed in order to convey an argument, it was not designed very well.
The Game of Life
Imagine a game in which the “main quest” might not reveal itself until at least a fifth of the way through the game. Side quests reward you with flashy graphics while the apparent main thrust of the game gives you zero signs of progress for quite some time and, even once you start seeing signs of progress, those signs are subtle.
This is why things like Inbox Zero exist. It’s why much of philosophy and spirituality exist: to give context, to shape the experience of life, to solidify an argument of the text. We create rules and structure for our lives in order to make them works of achievement and meaning.
I didn’t reach Inbox Zero, but I am down below 200. Life, at the moment, is good if unusual in many ways.
And Assassin’s Creed II? Uninstalled. I’ve got better things to do.