The Problem Machine


“Simple things are never problems. Unfortunate, maybe, but if it isn’t complicated it isn’t really a problem.”

The lie that makes video games so appealing to us is the idea that everything which is challenging is challenging in the same way.

Some of us find the idea of slaying dragons only slightly less approachable than managing to make it through another day without clawing our own flesh from our bones. Whether that stems from a can-do attitude or a commensurate can’t-do attitude changes from person to person and day to day.

Traditional education seems to be popular for much the same reason. It’s nice to pretend that if you can just do these simple tasks when you’re told to then you know basically what you need to know in order to succeed in life.

I suppose that for certain people and for certain values of success that may even be true.

There are challenges out there that aren’t surmountable. There are problems which exist which are too vast or nebulous to be described. The universe might or might not be infinite, but as far as we are concerned it may as well be. Some days, getting a little piece of that maybe-infinity and chewing away at it seems like enough.

By necessity, the games we make are inhabited by small problems. It is difficult to conceive of a game where this isn’t the case.

The big problems… the big problems are big enough that the term ‘problem’ ceases to make sense. The inertia behind these is such that trying to interfere with the trajectory of them will just leave one crushed. The term ‘problem’ implies the existence of a solution, and that’s the lie that puts our hearts on the train tracks.

Time is a machine that turns problems into tragedies.

We’ve been sold our tragedies as problems. Some ‘problems’ are within the realm of our control as a group, but their mass so exceeds us as individuals that each of us, alone, is powerless. A problem for all of us is a tragedy for each of us.

In every game, before you fail, there comes a point where you have not yet failed but failure is inevitable. We’ve all been there. The beginning of the sickening plummet into the pit, the moment of a moment staring at the rocket as it flies towards you, the clip spin out of control crash.

Where does that moment begin? When does a problem turn into a tragedy?

Does it matter? Given the same information and stimuli, wouldn’t you have done the same thing?

We have always been past the point of no return. Things that have happened will stay happened.

Is there a lesson to take from this? Is there a conclusion? Is there a way to do better in the future?

Probably. Probably.


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