Prologue – The Smartest Finch

I came to the realization a few months ago that I should have a blog. My rationale looked like this:

  1. I have opinions about things
  2. I like to talk about things I have opinions about
  3. There are certainly people who don’t like to hear me talk
  4. Maybe, though, there are people who would like to hear me talk
  5. I should write stuff down somewhere where people can read it, but don’t ever have to
  6. Therefore, I should start a blog

A good friend of mine was an experienced blogger and encouraged me to toss my thoughts into the internet abyss as well. I regret that I didn’t start this sooner, but better now than never.

In the interest of wasting as little of your time as possible, I’m going to outline what I plan on discussing on this blog. If none of my chosen topics attract your interest, you can simply turn back and never come here again. If that’s not the case, then stay tuned! Some things I plan on discussing in the blog are:

  • Games. Video games, board games, and real world games. Well designed games and poorly designed games. New games and old games. Games that change the way you look at the world, the way you think. Games that affect you at your very core and leave a lasting impact. All kinds of games, really.
  • Learning, Teaching, and Learning to Teach. The fine line between being respectful to your students and being honest. Knowing when you don’t know.
  • Music. How to convince a group of ~15 college students to give up many hours a week so that once a semester you can get 200+ people in an auditorium to sing at and tell dirty jokes to.
  • Computer Science and Economics. What I love, and what I really, really don’t.
  • Life, in general. All of my interests aside, I’m still a person going through life like you. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes it pours.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of pictures throughout, so if you’re reading it aloud you’ll have to turn the computer so everyone can see.

I’m going to close with how I picked the name of the blog. For as long as I can remember the phrase “It’s Just a Game” was extremely annoying to me. I heard it whenever I tried to think identify places where the rules were weak or unenforceable, or when I took a game too seriously and competitively. I heard it sometimes from my parents, rarely from my peers, and very often from my teachers and extra-curricular leaders.

One particular case that stands out in my mind is a game my biology teacher ran in 7th grade to model eating patterns of different finches. In the game we were all crowded around a tub full of corn kernels, kidney beans, and marbles. The goal was to personally remove as many items as possible from the tub in a set time limit, where each item had a different point value (corn = 1, bean = 3, marble = 7). The restriction to make the game interesting was that you could not touch the items in the tub except for with a black binder clip. We were allowed to choose what size (small, medium, large) binder clip we wanted to use, and we all received exactly one.

The intention of the game was that the size of binder clip you chose determined what kind of item you had to go for – you couldn’t open a small clip large enough to get a marble, and the corn kernels wouldn’t stay in the large clip long enough for you to get them out. Additionally, clipping a marble was harder, so there is greater risk and greater reward for picking a larger clip.

How would you play this game? Take a moment to think about the rules that are given (specifically the first paragraph, not the second) and the rules that weren’t.

I won the first round of the game by a few hundred points. I did so by picking the largest clip, and by picking up marbles using the looped metal piece attached to the back of the binder clip. This was both fast and easy, and didn’t violate any of the rules. By the time we got to the third round the game was in shambles – everyone had seen my strategy and (logically) rushed to copy it. All of the marbles were quickly depleted from the tub, and everyone got about the same score.

The intent of the game was to demonstrate how different evolutionary traits (such as a bird’s beak length) determined what kind of foods it could eat. What was meant to be a 50 minute activity of students trying out the different approaches ended after 5 once the dominant strategy was discovered. Needless to say, my teacher was not happy.

Games deserve your respect. That isn’t to say you have to like every game you play – I don’t like many. But you need to play the game and fully analyze it before you reach any conclusions. On the flip side, however, would be game designers must be conscious and thorough. A game is defined by its rules, but it is more so defined by the rules it doesn’t have.

People who told me “It’s just a game” throughout my life intended the phrase as a dismissal. They use the term “game” to refer to a set of goals that aren’t worthy of effort, that are meaningless. I view it slightly differently. Games are their own ends – creating a truly great game is an extremely difficult, extremely worthwhile endeavor. A great game will go on to affect huge numbers of people in ways that, I believe, no other entertainment medium can.

It’s Just a Game. And that’s the most important thing there is.

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