Posts Tagged ideals

#7: Acts of Loving Kindness

I just returned from the Child’s Play Charity Dinner, which I was fortunate enough to attend as a representative of Wizards of the Coast (our company got a couple of tables worth of guests for charitable contributions), and it was really great.  Not only did I get to dress up in my sweet suit, but I also was able to mingle with other gamers from the area in kind of a PAX Formal, plus catch up a little with friends I haven’t seen in a while (hi Jeremy and Jamie!) and hang out with work friends outside of a strictly work setting.  Plus it was all for an good cause – providing games and entertainment to children in hospitals as moral support when times are dark.

I have recently been pondering more generally whether I would feel good about doing volunteer work, getting myself more involved personally and making a more direct impact on the world through my efforts.  Well, I’m sure I would feel good about it, but better than I would doing other things?  I’d like to find out.  So, I plan to take a look into some charitable activities I can do on a trial basis as a side project in the new year.

7. I resolve to try out a few volunteer activities by finding, signing up and going out to join in at least two different such activities in a month.

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Small Purpose

Wednesday, November 24, 2010
What turns you on, excites you, makes life worth living?

Here’s a short list of what I find exciting and worthy of doing:

  • Teach something relevant to a friend, specifically (1) a game that makes them happy or (2) a skill that they find useful
  • Skydiving; also, driving well with a car full of people
  • Travel to new places and discovering things about that place – patterns, people and their idiosyncrasies, unique customs and/or items/locales of note
  • Choosing to embark on a project and completing it, usually creating something in the process (but not always!)
  • Learning something about myself, especially when it’s something I didn’t believe about myself but evidence proves otherwise, and I come to terms with that

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Glee

I’m about halfway through Season 1 of Glee, which I picked up on DVD after having it highly recommended to me by multiple friends.  And indeed, it is a very fun show.  The ever-present drama and comedy of your standard sit-com (this one set in a high school) is as expected, maybe even a little better than usual because the characters seem to display more genuine emotion.  The fact that the cast breaks out into song, musical-style, about 2-3 times an episode is also totally awesome, and I really enjoy it for the same reason I enjoy singing along with the radio and singing along at karaoke – sometimes you’ve got emotions that are easiest to release via song.

Above all, however, the thing that makes me most happy about Glee is the show’s theme: that people are happiest when they are being themselves, even it means looking foolish in front of others.  I’m sort of a sucker for emotional moments in television, but it hits me harder in Glee because the aforementioned message is reinforced time and time again through the winding plot.  It’s an ideal I strive for in my own life and it resonates with me as the characters of the show struggle with it in their own circumstances.

I don’t want to give it a full blown review quite yet, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who shamelessly sings in the shower, hums along to the radio, or just enjoys emotional, musical television.

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Reusability

I have been working on translating an old project (Breeze) into a new form, and I am finding it an interesting exercise in unconscious tradeoffs.  The quality of reusability – that someone (possibly yourself) will later come and repurpose what you have done, thus you make it easy to reuse – has a peculiar property that it usually is at odds with project priority.  It’s most useful in an extremely long-term view that wants to make things better for everyone at the cost of some progress now – and classically, that’s exactly the view that gets ditched right away when a project is under pressure to be completed or presentable in a certain timeframe.

In the context of this present project, I know I was pushing myself to finish the old Breeze in a timely manner, not just because I had a wonderful picture in my head and wanted to see it realized, but because there’s only so many hours in the day and attention span to give, so completing the project faster was key.  Who has time to worry about the future when the present is so pressing?  But that’s the very conundrum posed by reusability – how much effort do you want to take now so that later problems won’t be multiplied?

I’ve found, time and time again, that when I revisit an old project of mine, I wish I would have spent more time making it reusable.  Is this a lesson only learned through experience?  Intelligent folk can see the issue down the line, knowing that later someone will pay the costs incurred by us today, but it takes quite a lot to choose an unknowable future of lessened hardship over the immediately realizable work of the now.  I admire and respect those who can perfectly balance the good of the future and their successors with their own efficiency now, but I find it very hard to do so on my own (especially when there are real pressures to get things done fast in the present).

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My Sacrifice

Friday, November 12, 2010
What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve ever made for another person? Was it worth it?

I actually spent a bit of time thinking about this today, but I realized that (a) I can’t remember a huge sacrifice I made, and (b) I prefer to make lots of little sacrifices for my friends.  So instead, I figured I would talk about the difference between sacrifice and reward-seeking behavior.  I think I would define sacrifice as taking a meaningful, irreversible, painful cost upon oneself, either because it’s the right thing to do (based on one’s own principles), or because it greatly helps another person AND there is no expectation of reward.

Is it a sacrifice to take a big financial hit to help out a friend, if there’s an expectation of a favor in the future?  I would argue no – for it to be a real sacrifice, you need to be giving away without expectation of mitigation of loss.  This leads me to wonder about the utilitarian framework where everything everyone does is to increase utility in some way – that is, would sacrifice (as I have defined it) have meaning in that model?  I think we can define it to do so, by looking at the idea that a person can become happier solely through the happiness of their friends and neighbors.  In such a case, the “reward” is seeing the other person happier, which does not in any way decrease their happiness (well, except in rare cases with crazy people).

So, in such a case, where I am sacrificing in the hopes that my friend is happier off (and that will make me happier), I think I would further stipulate that I have to sacrifice without shoving it in their faces.  By pointing out how great I am for giving away so much for their happiness, I am bound to generate feelings of guilt, and in some sense be a utility vampire.  Not cool.

As an aside, in talking about how my friend’s utility increases my own, it’s interesting to think about other ways in which an economy of utility is very non-zero-sum.

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Dream of Tomorrow

Thursday, November 11, 2010
What do you *really* wish you were doing right now, and how soon do you think you can make it happen?

This question almost seems insidiously designed to generate guilt.  And regret.  But maybe I’m reading it that way because of who I am, and not due to anything inherent in the question.  I actually had a lunch conversation with Nagle, Dave H and Nick K about how I don’t feel my current job is quite good enough at satisfying my ambition, despite the fact that I am content and happy with it.  Perhaps in some ideal parallel narrative, Dave Guskin went on to become a renowned physicist and did great works.  I don’t think I wish I was that Dave Guskin, exactly, but some of what he’s accomplishing (assumedly) is in line with what I wish.

I wish I was doing something that was world-affecting in a positive way.  I enjoy working in games and entertainment, but I feel it’s kind of a highest-order (like, high on the food chain) happiness for humanity.  A better way would be to work on lower-order happiness, ways to improve all of our lives for generations to come.  To that end, I think I should get back into physics, but I don’t think I can honestly make anything like that happen for about 3-5 years.  It definitely requires planning of a sort I haven’t been comfortable doing recently.

One good thing I can say about financials: they are an excellent barometer of one’s (financial) independence, and I am far from being able to quit my paying job for a noble scientific (penniless) pursuit.

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Dream Home

Monday, November 7, 2010
What would your dream home/apartment/condo/yurt look like? Where would it be? Who’d live in it with you?

I actually had to look up the definition of “yurt,” which I have previously only heard in the context of a dwelling that is eco-friendly.  Turns out they are kind of like fancy huts?  No thanks!  I remember Nate, Tim and I used to dream of building a castle and moving all our friends into it.  It would have many secret passages, and would probably overlook the coast in the Pacific Northwest.  Alas, regular life gets in the way of lofty dreams like that one, and I’m not even sure that’s the kind of place I dream of these days.

I think my dream home would be within a reasonable drive and a reasonable public commute (subway? light rail?) of an urban center.  I quite like Seattle and its people, but Boston and New York would also be fine.  I want to be within an hour or two drive of the ocean, because being able to take a trip there is important to me.  I think I’d want four bedrooms – one for me and my wife (who is quite smart, elegant and beautiful – applications welcome!), two for our children and one guest room for friends to visit.  A family room, a dining room, and at least one office room are also definite.  I’d love to have a game room style setup in the basement, and some sort of science lab or library at roof level, too.  Back yard for dog is high on the list.  Skylights and big windows are also important.

Maybe what’s above is quite mundane.  Ideally there’d be a treehouse system in the back as well, and a pool! :)

Honestly, the best home would be one where my important friends are not too far away, and I feel safe and comfortable and convenient to the kind of city life I enjoy (bars, coffee shops, bookstores).

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Goalsetting

I noticed Saturday morning that NaBloPoMo doesn’t have prompts on weekends – oops!  So the weekend postings are going to be somewhat random, include the following random list of goals I am going to tackle before the year is out!

  • Clean up my place and get the second bedroom ready for guests – I wasn’t able to convince folks to come and stay this year, but next year there will be no excuses!
  • Play through some seminal games that I have missed – I’m tired of being unable to contribute to some of the conversations I’ve been near regarding these games, which are numerous.
  • Go through the process of figuring out how to karaoke using my computer and some sound equipment
  • Plan out personal design projects for 2011
  • Have an outing with each group of friends in the area before people go away for holidays

That’s all for now – I’ve got plans within plans for managing all of the pieces of these goals in the coming weeks!

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Lee Sharpe

Lee and I work together at Wizards; we actually started working for the company basically around the same time. We’ve collaborated on some projects, we have been on teams together, and most importantly we have had a lot of sweet discussions about morality, philosophy, economics and people. Lee’s a sharp guy (heh) and like me, loves to apply his logic and wit to various topics.

Also like me, Lee is extremely principled. There aren’t many people I know who are strong enough in their convinctions to both say and do something according to their moral/ethic code in the face of tons of peer pressure / monetary or social incentives /etc. Lee is one of those people. The even more amazing thing, however, is that though we share this principledness, we are so different in our perception and incorporation of economics that we have quite the lively discussion about how the world might be better! I have a grand time thinking up ways to convince Lee that he’s wrong about “the fundamentals” of philosophy that I believe – free will, the goodness of humans, better futures than the free market, etc. – and then trying my hardest to hold the line against his equally well constructed and reasoned positions.

Lee is also a great guy to just go out and hang out with. He and I have been attending karaoke pretty regularly, which has become a totally awesome “thing,” but even before that, Lee is always up for a friendly dinner or a night out at a bar or club. I would not have guessed how social Lee is, but I am super happy that we are friends in a way that lets me see and appreciate his suaveness! Lee is the best kind of friend: the one who holds deep convictions, enjoys talking about them, doesn’t overly judge you for yours, and (despite differences) is just fun to chill with.

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Dichotomy

As I wrap up game design month, there are still a lot of observations I want to write about.  (Next month’s theme is pretty strict, so I won’t be deviating [probably] from it much.)  One thing I keep noticing about decisions to make in game design is (a) how many spectrums (axes) on which you can measure the “success” of your game there are, and (b) the two polar “opposites” on those spectra, and how they are both super important.

Some spectra of game design:

  • Flavor vs. Mechanics (“gameiness”)
  • Solitary Play vs. Group Play (“communityness”)
  • Short Games vs.Long Games / Light Games vs. Involved Games (“depth of involvement”)
  • Highly Variant vs. Highly Skill-Based

In a way, a lot of these are the “enfranchisement” spectrum – on one end are players who just pick up your game and play it once, or infrequently, and on the other side are people who play it all the time, talk about it all the time, etc.  The lighter you are on this spectrum, the more accessible your game will be and the wider your potential audience.  The heavier you are on this spectrum, the more depth of gameplay that might represent, and/or the more dedicated your community will be to supporting your game.

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