The Love Of The Game Doesn’t Always End Well

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

Doing your best can be the worst thing you can do for the world.

I was pondering how I market my books – and I have a hatred of marketing.  The soulless statistics, the cold calculations, the degradation of inspired writing into pandering prose.  There’s something about marketing that is meaningless, just moving units to consumers without any purpose but money.

I also love marketing.  The thrill of working the calculations out!  The joy of optimizing to get it just right!  Picking the perfect keywords!  There’s a thrill of the game to get it right – not even to win but to do it the best you can!

That experience jarred loose some other theories, and I want to discuss the fact that a lot of evil in the world can come from people who just enjoy playing the game.  Oh they may do evil as well, they should be aware of the repercussions of what they do, but sometimes they’re just playing their game because its fun.

Think of all the people optimizing social media for hits and engagement and creating chaos.  Yes there are people seeking profits and covering their backsides, but I’m sure many a person is just enjoying optimizing.  The thrill of doing something right can miss that it’s also very wrong.

My fellow writers and I often complain about pandering authors, but aren’t some formulaic authors just into getting the formula right?  Pandering and making money is a challenge, a challenge that must appeal to many.  So sure, they may churn out books many would decry, but how many are also just enjoy working out the best way to pander?

As this thought ping-ponged around my head before it emerged in this post, I realized how much of my behavior is the joy of getting it right.  My job is Project and Program Management and Process Improvement, and it’s just goddamn fun to figure how to make stuff work.  Recoding Seventh Sanctum, frustrating (and oft interrupted the last year) was still amazing to figure how to get it all right.  My Way With Worlds series has a formula to it that I had fun figuring out so I can deliver what my audience wants.

I’m a person who enjoys the game, but I’m just less evil and more inclined to moral insight than some people (thanks to a long interest in theology and psychology).

So I’m not up for saying people who “play their game” have to be forgiven for the wrongs they do.  There are many dangerous things in this world we need to stop or regulate for our survival, and motivations don’t change that.  But it may help us prevent evil by understanding how innocent drives can lead to great dangers.

It may also let us notice before we do something wrong.  Because I’m sure there’s a game we all love playing, and that love might keep us from noticing the repercussions of our choices . . .

Doing things right can go very wrong.

Steven Savage

Going Big To Go Small

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

Sometimes minimalism requires excess.

I took an interest in “minimalist games” the last few months.  It started with “Vampire Survivors” a simple Castlevaninia inspired game that turned complex adventures into “automatically killing hordes of monsters.”  Soon I discovered games like Gunlocked, 20  Minutes to Die, and more.  All of these games too classic ones and stripped them to basics.

I found that these games refreshed me, taking oft overcomplex games and getting to their essence.  There’s a time I want to wander through a Vampiric castle, but also sometimes I just want to blow up monsters and go home.  Being able to get to one of the core elements of a game was enjoyable and sometimes what I wanted.

“Where were these games earlier,” I wondered.  Then it struck me that we needed excess in games – or any media – to know what the minimal is.  These games were no different that some light novels, down-to-basics movies, and effective minimalist music.

Excess is the key to minimalism.

“Going big” in a game or media means that you’re going to try many different things.  Many may not be needed, not work, or not be the best choices.  But by trying many different things, you have a chance to find what matters – then you can strip away all the excess.

Excess also gives one a chance to find the core of a work.  The true spirit of a work may not be apparent until you’ve played with a concept through a few iterations.  Though the “core” of a game or music may be there, it’s not easy to see – you need to mess with it and add things to find what points you to the heart of a work.

If you’re aiming for the minimal, you may need to look to or create excess.

Maybe you need to learn not from the streamlined but from the overdone, the broad, the excessive to see what lies at the heart.  Perhaps you even need to go overboard and elaborate in one of your creations, to see what points back to the heart of what to do.  Excess is not just fun, it might be what let’s you do less.

Perhaps there’s a larger dialogue here between more and less.  I’m sure I’ll explore it – to excess or to the minimal, depending on my mood.

Steven Savage

A Certain Sustaining Fire

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

As I crawl back to some form of normal creative pacing after the last few weeks, I got annoyed with how I spent some time.  When I found myself too tired to write, I’d do some graphic experiments with photoshop.  Was this a waste of time when I could write?  Why did I do it.

Then it struck me, it wasn’t a waste of time at all.

The creativity for my projects was dampened by being overloaded, but my graphics experiments were expressions of creativity that wasn’t snuffed out.  It wasn’t as demanding, but it was a sign that my creativity was still there and active – it was just playing more than working.

It was a flame that kept itself going, if not as bright as I wanted.  There was the chance it would blaze forth yet again (and it has been, slowly).

I realized that when you’re a creative under stress, any creative output of any kind is probably good.  It keeps the flame of creativity going – and reminds you it’s there.  There’s still part of you being you.

It’s easy to write off things like writing silly stories or making goofy modifications to family photos, but those are creative acts.  They’re just play, and when you’re tired play can both energize you and bring yu back to yourself.

As a creative, give yourself time to mess around – there are days it will be all you can do.  But it keeps enough of you going so you can create what you want to, eventually.

Steven Savage