I see that there are two ways you can change yourself over time to become more effective at life in general.
The top-down manner is when you become consciously aware of something and over time you train your body to accept that idea. If you realize that you need to run every morning to lose some weight, you need to spend a lot of conscious effort in the first few months of doing it so that you actually go run every morning. This conscious effort is necessary to build the habit in your body so that subsequently running every morning isn’t that much of a problem.
The bottom-up manner is when you let the habit take hold and run its course. As you start running every morning, the habit builds up and you need to spend less and less conscious effort to actually run daily. The fact that you spend less conscious effort on this saves you this effort to be used elsewhere on your day. And as you start running more, your body starts changing and getting more healthy, and this has positive effects on your rational mind as well.
The main argument I’ll make in this article is that these two processes happen all the time for EVERYTHING in your life, and the earlier you become aware of it, the more successfully you’ll be able to change yourself to suit the environment.
Objective & pragmatic
There are two main ways of viewing the world in regards to truth: through the lens of objective truth and through the lens of pragmatic truth.
The lens of objective truth states that reality is what it is and we can extract objective truths from it that will serve us well. The lens of pragmatic truth pertains to the notion that things are only true enough for us to survive and get along in the world well.
For instance, the idea that porcupines can shoot their quills like projectiles is objectively false, but is pragmatically true. If people believe that lie, they’re less likely to be near porcupines, which makes them less likely to get hurt by them.
Another main argument I’ll make in this article is that sometimes it is useful to believe things that aren’t objectively true because they lead to better results.
Luck Isn’t Real
Saying “luck isn’t real” is one of those things that is objectively false but pragmatically true. Note that I’m not playing games with the definition of real (I’m not saying that abstract concepts aren’t real) and I’m not talking about the determinism or indeterminism of the universe.
Believing that “luck isn’t real” is simply a top-down idea that, once you train your body to accept, becomes extremely useful in removing unhelpful thought patterns from yourself, and helps you become a better and more successful person in general.
The best way I can show how this happens is with tons of examples. I’ll start with some luck narratives in indie game development:
The notion of indie game development being a lottery is a well spread one. Articles like this one sound extremely reasonable and rational, and it’s hard to disagree with them.
And while the article may not be objectively wrong, it is pragmatically wrong. The idea outlined is that essentially making games is playing the lottery:
Flip a coin 20 times. On every 1 out of 2 times should be heads. But you don’t get a pattern of alternating heads and tails. You get streaks. You may see 10 heads in a row. This is within the bounds of chance. However, if you really needed tails to come up, you are in a lot of trouble.
Random systems have natural variability and game development does as well. The best team in the world can strike out 10 times in a row. It is just as likely for your failures to be front loaded as it is for your success. So not only do you need your success to pay for the average rate of failure. You need it to pay for the worst possible luck.
The problem here is that the top-down idea is that luck exists. Your body isn’t nuanced enough to understand “luck is real but if we mitigate our risks through various projects we’ll be able to do it”. Your body is dumb. The message will be cut off at “luck is real”, and then that’s what you’ll train your body to understand and that’s what you’ll see in the world.
And seeing “luck is real” in the world is harmful, because it’s a message that takes power away from you and puts power in “luck”. In general, you want to cultivate ideas in your brain and your body that give you power, not that take power away from you. This author is doing a good job at approaching this from a risk minimization perspective, which gives him power over luck, but ultimately he still accepts that luck plays a massive role in it and that’s not good enough in my opinion.
The same notion applies to “indiepocalypse”. Articles like this one blame the game’s failure for the state of the indie market.
And while it is true that as time goes on the market will become more and more competitive, like the example before this one, it’s about the mindset you take. If you believe that it’s about the market, then that’s what you’ll train your body to see in the world and that’s all you’ll see: the market. This takes power away from you and places it elsewhere.
And it’s also important to realize how subtle these thought patterns become and how they infect every inch of your life without you realizing it. This article is written by a very highly respected and successful indie developer, and most of the article is pretty much true and good advice, but at the end he says this:
Treat this as a disclaimer for my blog: You are reading the thoughts of a guy who was coding since age 11, has 36 years coding experience, has shipped over a dozen games, several of which made millions of dollars, got into indie dev VERY early, knows a lot of industry people, and has a relatively high public profile. And still almost NOBODY covered my latest game (in terms of gaming websites). Its extremely, extremely tough right now.
There are many reasons why his last game wasn’t covered by gaming websites, and most of them probably don’t have to do with the state of the market.
The writer of this article does the same. He has lots of good insights into why his game failed, but in multiple places in the article he goes on to blame the market instead.
Often times I’ll see tweets like this one where an artist doesn’t respond well to criticism:
Or ideas like this one that promote the notion that you, the reader, are the problem:
And again, these are ideas that take power away from the artist and place power on the reader. The artist is saying: I’m powerless against your words, so you must change. But this is evidently a losing proposition, since the artist is asking thousands of people to change, instead of changing himself to learn how to take criticism properly.
In general, you want to cultivate ideas that give you power. The artist, in this case, needs to learn how to deal with criticism in one way or another or he won’t be able to post his work publicly on the Internet without it being an issue. It’s just not a good long term solution to have to rely on the goodwill of other thousands of people who you’ve never met to behave like you expect them to behave.
This edit, for instance, is a much better take on the issue:
Finally, one last gamedev related example. Someone who frequents the same indie gamedev related Discord server as me posted this tweet a few days ago:
It got retweeted by a few people but most noticeably someone who had a lot of followers. brum then went onto the server and talked about how the retweet didn’t get him that many more additional likes, even though the person had tons of followers. He went on to say that that probably happened because the person who retweeted him was either inactive or had bought fake followers.
This is another subtle one, but brum, instead of focusing on the thought that maybe his work should have been of higher quality, immediately jumped to blame an external factor instead of an internal one. He immediately focused on something took power away from him and gave power to something else.
The generalization of this idea that luck isn’t real is that luck is just a single instance of a more general class called “external factor”. And so the more general formulation of “luck isn’t real” would be something like “you shouldn’t blame external factors for your failures”. Another way of phrasing this, which I like more and seems easier to remember (and therefore to train your body to remember) is that you should focus on ideas that empower you.
Empowerment then becomes the key focus of the way to filter the world. Ideas that empower you should be accepted, ideas that remove power away from you should be rejected. I got this notion from this article a few years ago and since then, after integrating this idea into me properly it has been extremely useful. But again, it’s better to show what I mean with examples (not directly related to gamedev now):
The idea of white privilege, fundamentally, in its name, takes power away from non-white people and places it in white people. It is an idea that weakens non-white people by saying that they are unable to fix their problems, and that all their problems rely on the goodwill of white people fixing them.
Like all the ideas I mentioned previously, it’s one that once your train your body to accept, becomes the way through which you view the world. So once you truly accept the idea of white privilege, the top-down & bottom-up process takes place and you’ll start seeing it everywhere:
Feminism falls under the same category, in that it takes power away from women and places it in men. Like all the other ideas, it is fundamentally flawed because it weakens women. And like the other ideas, once you train your body to accept it, you will see it everywhere:
Incels (stands for involuntary celibate = virgins who are frustrated about being virgins) are a group that does the same thing, instead they take power away from themselves and place it in women. The typical incel mindset is that women have a much easier time having sex, that women only want to date “chads” (good looking alpha types of men), and that women are basically immoral beings who don’t care about anyone other than themselves.
Incels place themselves as victims of terrible women, instead of looking inwards and focusing on becoming better people who women would want to be around. Similarly to the previous two examples, once you train your body to accept this idea you start seeing it everywhere:
White supremacy also does this, taking power away from white men and placing it in immigrants or jews. Like the previous ideas, it weakens white people who believe in it because it takes power away from them. And like the others, once you accept it into your body you start seeing it everywhere.
The best example of this is in the idea that jews are overrepresented in positions of power in America, and therefore this must be due to some kind of conspiracy, when it is easily explained by other factors.
I made sure to pick examples on “both sides” of the political spectrum to make it clear that this is something that everyone does, and it should be obvious how there’s a pattern here.
The pattern follows the same logic as the pattern for the indiedev examples: blaming external factors, focusing on things that take power away from you and give it to something else. This could also be summarized as “playing the victim”.
Luck Isn’t Real
After all these examples it’s easy to see why I would say that “luck isn’t real”: like all the mindsets above, “luck isn’t real” is an idea that once you accept and integrate in your body, you start seeing everywhere. I can see the same pattern of behavior across all these different examples because I’ve trained my body to filter the world through this lens.
The difference is that “luck isn’t real” is a mindset that gives me power. It does not, in any way, take power away from me and give it to something else. It’s an idea that fundamentally states that everything is under my control (even though it isn’t), and that as long as I do a good enough job and work hard enough, things will work out. This may seem naive, idealistic and unrefined, but when it comes to the messages you send to your body, they have to be this simple, otherwise the message gets lost and becomes something else.
It is of extreme importance to cultivate ideas that give you power and to reject ideas that take power away from you. Once ideas get integrated into your body it is extremely hard to get rid of them because they’re self reinforcing. Once your body learns them, your conscious mind will start filtering the world through that lens and it’s what makes the top-down -> bottom-up -> top-down process work. You need to use this process to your benefit by cultivating ideas that will make you stronger.