Good Games

We might start by considering the all-too-black-and-white words themselves: "success" or "failure." You are either a success, a comprehensive, singular, over-all good thing, or its opposite, a failure, a comprehensive, singular irredeemably bad thing. The words imply no alternative and no middle ground. However, in a world as complex as ours, such generalizations (really, such failure to differentiate) are a sign of naive, unsophisticated or even malevolent analysis. There are vital degrees and gradations of value obliterated by this binary system, and the consequences are not good.

To begin with, there is not just one game at which to succeed or fail. There are many games and, more specifically, many good games--games that match your talents, involve you productively with other people, and sustain and even improve themselves across time.
--Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Jordan Peterson, thanks to his excellent new book 12 Rules For Life, has me thinking, metaphorically, about the various games playable and available to us in life, and how useful it is to think about the world in terms of games. It takes some of the existential pressure off of life, somehow, and it helps you reframe "failure" into "I'm still learning, I'm still working at this, I want to get better."

So what kinds of "games" are there out there that we can play?

Frugality is a game. Getting better at it means you become better able to financially protect your family.

Cooking is a game. The more you "play" it, the better you'll eat and the healthier you'll be.

You can even combine the games of cooking and frugality to make an entirely new game. In fact that was exactly the focus of this blog during its first years.

Blogging is a game. Is this blog a success? Not really. It's not all that widely read, it doesn't make all that much money, it's never had a post that went truly viral, etc. So, no, it's not a success--not by most peoples' definition at least, and certainly not if I were to use the "naive, malevolent analysis" Jordan Peterson warns us not to use in the quote above.

But then again: I've kept at it here for more than ten years, and over that time I've learned an extraordinary amount about writing, to say nothing of learning deeply about all the topics I've covered. There's no better way to learn how little you really know about a subject than to write about it--and this goes double for subjects you think you know well. So, is Casual Kitchen a success?

Investing and personal finance is a game. In fact, thinking of it as a game is an excellent device to help manage the often insurmountable fears many people experience as they begin. It's just a game! Invest a little, learn a little, invest a little more, learn a little more, continue and get better.

Fitness is a game, a game with many, many intriguing subgames. Tennis is a game I've played for years, but a few years ago I began to experience a type of "failure" in tennis: I started bumping up against opponents who were better than I was, and who were improving at faster rates than I was. Some players I used to beat I could no longer beat, some I couldn't beat ever, and my ego didn't like it. At all. And I started to get disaffected (I can't think of a better word) with the game. Certainly, I had all the egoic reason in the world to quit, or to just play easier opponents, etc.

But then, in order to help recover my fitness, my footspeed and my "fight" in tennis, I started up another fitness game: weightlifting. Specifically, I started compound lifting (deadlifts, squats, different types of presses, etc.). This new game had its own rules, standards, failures and successes.

Of course whenever you start a new game, your expectations are low, you are happy to learn, your progress is rapid at first, and your ego doesn't get in the way quite so much. This, again, is why thinking of life in terms of games is so helpful.

Heh. Then again, with weightlifting, my ego did get in the way early on, imagining how idiotic I must have looked doing my first halting deadlifts of a bar with exactly zero pounds on it. But I somehow defied my ego, fought through the imagined-yet-all-too-real embarrassment of being seen as weak, and this opened up an entirely new game that I found deeply satisfying. And, ironically, deeply frustrating all over again as I got better at it and started to see my once-rapid progress start to level off.

Which takes us to yet another game, a type of meta-game: the games we play with our egos. Or perhaps better said: the games our egos play with us.

All of the games I've discussed above have offered me satisfaction and frustration in varying degrees, depending on the behavior--or misbehavior--of my ego. Of maybe it's more accurate to say depending on the degree to which I listen to my ego or do the opposite of what it wants me to do.

Which brings me to my conclusion: The more I do the exact opposite of what my fearful and loathsomely persuasive ego wants me to do, the better all these games tend to go.

Finally, let me recommend 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos to readers. It's a generous gift that Jordan Peterson wrote this book, and it's well worth reading.

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Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

You may not consider this blog to be a success, but when I noticed a new post in my feed my reaction was "Oh good! Daniel posted something!"

Daniel said...

Why thank you!!! I'm grateful for the good vibes. Thanks as always for reading!