Gaming

“All finite play is play against itself.”

James P Carse

To play to win is to play with the hope that the game will be completed (and that you will emerge victorious.

But our likelihood of winning finite games is dependant upon how adept we are at playing infinite ones.

There’s no point winning a game in such dramatic fashion that your competitors will be unable to play again.

It isn’t worth fighting so hard that you injure a valuable training partner in the same way it isn’t worth hoarding so much that your neighbour cannot afford to play games with or alongside you.

While some competition keeps games lively, competitiveness at its extreme is counterproductive to play.

Strive to play for the sake of play. And, if you must seek victory, do so with a humility, respect and honour which ensures your play, and the pay of others, will carry on.

There aren’t many apps I can say that I’m honestly afraid to download.

TikTok is one of those apps.

I’ve watched my sister and my girlfriend filter through video after silly video until they find something which sends them into a fit of uncontrollable laughter… and looks like a stupid amount of fun.

My concern is that if I open the TikTok floodgate, I won’t be able to close it.

So I’m running an experiment.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to create a TikTok account and download a social media tracker which I will use to monitor my usage over the course of a week.

Next Thursday I’ll check how much time I’ve spent and ask those closest to me if they’ve noticed any changes in my behaviour.

I’ll then decide whether I delete it for good or leave it on my phone.

Either way, I’ll keep you posted.

Finite games (winnable games with agreed constraints) and infinite games (games which surpass time and are played for the purpose of continuing to play) share only one thing;

Neither can be played by a party unwilling.

A game of chess is will never be played between two people uninterested in learning the rules, and nobody accidentally leads a healthy and active life throughout their 80’s.

Both games require active, willing participation.

What does a good game and an excellent piece of writing have in common?

They both get finished.

Neither make the audience too scared, nor too bored to continue; they create just enough challenge and just enough reward to keep the audience engaged, and intrigued.

Games aren’t interesting if they don’t present a challenge. Writing isn’t interesting if it doesn’t tell you something you don’t know.

Fundamentally, all games and all forms of writing operate as stories. Even Rock-Paper-Scissors has a beginning middle and an end.

Good games and good writing must surprise the audience, regularly and effectively.

Neither can afford to be predictable or confusing.

Failure to achieve this balance means that the book you’re writing will pile up in Tsundoku, and the game you’re making will sit unplayed.

Stories must exist in the goldilocks zone between the audience’s anxiety and boredom in order to be finished.

This zone is called the ‘Flow Channel’, named such because stories which occupy this space effectively maintain audience attention in a way which minimises resistance.

When audiences experience flow, they don’t think about whether or not they’re going to turn the page, or play the next level.

They just do.

Consider this diagram from Peter Turchi’s A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic.

What’s wrong with it?

All good stories exist within the flow channel from start to finish, but not all stories worth finishing are good stories.

Flow alone is not enough.

Imagine riding a rollercoaster without any hills, turns or bumps.

It wouldn’t be a rollercoaster, it would be a big mechanical slide. While its novelty might pull you in for one ride, you won’t be lining up to ride it again.

In principle, the secret sauce of rollercoasters is the same as that of your favourite games and writing;

The tension between anxiety and boredom must be variable, while still existing within the goldilocks zone.

Think about the moment of relief after you complete a hard level, or finish an intense chapter.

Without this variability. Without peaks and troughs of tension throughout the audience’s journey, audience attention cannot be sustained.

This is why every story arc has multiple peaks – moments throughout the piece where the stakes are high, and times of low pressure in between.

story structure

If tension flatlines, the story dies.

The end.