Game designer at Naughty Dog, software engineer, Canadian abroad
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Large chunks of sea ice break away from the coast of Antarctica. In the 1980s, A...

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Large chunks of sea ice break away from the coast of Antarctica. In the 1980s, Antarctica lost 40 billion tons (36.3 billion metric tons) of ice every year. In the last decade, that figure was estimated at a staggering 252 billion tons (229 billion metric tons) per year.

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Source imagery: Maxar

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7 days ago
Santa Monica, California
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Financing the climate

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COP26 trundles on in Glasgow with little sign that anything significant is being agreed towards reversing global warming and ending the degradation of nature.  Beneath all the media headlines, governments and corporations are not putting their money where their mouths are.  The financial support for measures to reduce carbon emissions and other destruction of the environment is pitiful.

In 2009, the major rich nations promised they would send at least $100bn a year in climate finance to poorer countries by 2020. That understanding formed the basis of the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aimed to limit global warming to well below 2C, ideally 1.5C. But on the eve of COP26, donor countries admitted they had missed that target in 2020. Now they expect to reach it in 2022 or 2023, years later than planned.

Indeed, most of the rich nations are not meeting their promises at all.  Only Norway, Sweden and Germany can claim that, while the US is billions short and at the bottom of the OECD list.

Moreover, most of the pledged $100bn is not in the form of grants but loans.  So poor countries trying to deal with global warming and to reduce emissions are supposed to pay the bulk of the rich countries’ handouts back.  Calculations from Oxfam suggest the true level of climate-specific grants is about one-fifth of the OECD “climate finance” numbers, once loans are taken out.  These climate commitments were “a mile wide and an inch deep”, Becky Jarvis, a strategist for the Bank on our Future campaign network, said.

Then there is the Mark Carney-led coalition of international financial companies signed up to tackle climate change.  Former Bank of England governor Carney is the official UN envoy on climate finance.  He claims that the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (Gfanz) — which is made up of more than 450 banks, insurers and asset managers across 45 countries — could deliver as much as $100-130tn of financing to help economies transition to net zero over the next three decades.  Michael Bloomberg, the media billionaire, was joining Carney as co-chair. The group will report on its work periodically to the G20’s Financial Stability Board. Carney pointed to UN analysis that suggested the private sector could deliver 70 per cent of total investments needed to meet net zero goals. Private finance can save the day – argues Carney. 

But when you look more closely at this headline figure, you find that investment managers account for $57tn of the assets, with $63tn coming from banks and $10tn from asset owners such as pension funds.  And 43 of these 221 investment manager signatories revealed that only one-third of their assets were aimed at investments with ‘net-zero’ targets.  Ben Caldecott, director of the Oxford Sustainable Finance Group at Oxford university, said the headline $130tn figure was “not a fresh pool of money, and most of it isn’t allocatable”. It included home mortgages and money to fund fossil fuel infrastructure, he added.  “What proportion of it can you actually divert into the solutions or use in a way to influence polluting companies to become more sustainable?” he asked.

The Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group, pointed out that the 93 banks that had signed the pledge continued to provide $575bn of lending and underwriting to the fossil fuel industry in 2020. “The disconnect between climate commitments and boardroom decisions is staggering,” said Tom Picken, its forest and finance director.  Asset managers that had signed up to Gfanz had so far aligned just 35 per cent of their total assets to net zero targets, she said. “It is not green finance, nor is it all dedicated in the slightest to tackling climate change as long as financiers have large interests in fossil fuel expansion,” she added.  “This announcement yet again ignores the biggest elephant in the room,” said Richard Brooks, climate finance director. “There is no mention of the F words at all in this new declaration from the net zero clubs. We cannot keep under 1.5 degrees [warming] if financial institutions don’t stop funding coal, oil and gas companies.”

Meanwhile, well-meaning economists offer various schemes to solve the funding problem within the confines of the market economy.  Raghuram Rajan, professor of finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, renowned from his pro-market solutions, suggests that every country that emits more than the global average of around five tonnes per capita pay annually into a global fund. The amount paid would be the excess emissions per capita multiplied by the population and further multiplied by a dollar amount called the GlobalCarbon Incentive (GCI). If the GCI started at $10 per tonne, the US would pay around$33bn each year. Meanwhile, countries below the global average would receive a commensurate payout based on how much they emit below the average (Uganda,for example, would receive around $2bn).

Rajaram sees the scheme as self-financing. Low emitters, often the poorest countries and the ones most vulnerable to climatic changes they did not cause, would receive a payment that could help their people adapt. Conversely, the responsibility for payments would appropriately lie with big rich emitters, who are also in the best position to pay. Countries would be free to choose their own domestic path to emissions reduction. Instead of levying a politically unpopular carbon tax, a country might impose regulations on coal, another might incentivise renewables.

In another scheme, Avinash Persaud points out that to meet the Paris agreement, the world would have to eliminate 53.5 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each year for the next 30 years. There are a range of estimates of how much that would cost, but the investment bank Morgan Stanley put it at an additional $50 trillion, split between five key areas of zero-carbon technology. That compares with pathetic $100 billion mentioned above that has taken six years for countries to scrounge together.  Persaud says “we need a global settlement – not global aspiration attached to a village hall budget.” 

The countries that contribute most to the stock of GHGs could issue an instrument that gives any investor in projects anywhere in the world that reduce GHGs the right to borrow from them at their overnight interest rates – which are currently near zero – and to roll over this borrowing for as long as the project delivers some minimum rate of reduction in GHGs per dollar invested. If the collective annual issuance of this near-zero cost funding were $500 billion, it would boost investor returns to such a degree that it would over 15 years crowd in private savings to the $50trillion needed.

All these schemes fail on two levels.  First, they require global action and global institutions to implement them.  There is no prospect of that happening.  Just as national governments failed to coordinate finance and resources to deal with the COVID pandemic and vaccinations, so governments are unwilling to take significant global action on climate and nature.  Around $50trn over 30 years is needed apparently – other estimates are $4trn a year for the next ten years. This is really a small cost, no more than 2.5% of annual world GDP.  But so far governments have pledged just $100bn and have not even met that.

Second, market solutions will not do the trick, as again the COVID pandemic has shown.  Only government intervention, investment and planning on a global scale can give humanity and nature a chance to succeed before too much degradation is made permanent.  Carbon pricing will not allocate investment properly or change consumption sufficiently – and it only benefits the richer countries (1bn people) at the expense of the poorer (6.5bn). 

Private finance organised by banks and investment funds will not deliver.  That’s because capitalist companies control and make decisions on investment based on profitability.  Global warming will not be stopped or reversed without ending fossil fuel and mining exploration and phasing out fossil fuel production.  Nothing like that is on the agenda of COP26. 

As Jeff Sparrow says in his new book, Crimes against Nature,Each year, the world spends over $1,917bn on guns, bombs, and other military equipment. The comparable figure on advertising is some $325bn. Those staggering numbers represent a mere fraction of what we could direct immediately to environmental programs on land, sea, and air. We could begin systemic decarbonisation, closing down coal-fired power stations, and replacing fossil fuels with electricity from renewables such as solar, using the process to reduce rather than increase our energy needs. We could massively expand low-carbon public transport, so that efficient, easy-to-use and convenient electric trains and trams replaced internal combustion engines. We could replan our cities and towns for human convenience rather than for the use of automobiles; we could establish methods of recycling and re-use that genuinely reduced material throughputs.”

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25 days ago
Santa Monica, California
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Senior Couple Was Having Trouble With TLOU2. He Answered Their Craigslist Ad.


You never know what kind of ad you’ll find on Craigslist. While some listings may be unorthodox, one gig post back in late September was wholesome enough to sound like a fairy tale. And this one has a happy ending.


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25 days ago
Santa Monica, California
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Thwarting Boring Tactics

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Concept art for Deathloop

Arkane Studios are one of my favourite developers. Playing through Deathloop has made me realize that I’ve been playing their games the wrong way for years.

I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of this revelation, but first I want to frame it within a general game design principle. It’s not enough for designers to provide players with a myriad of interesting gameplay options (as Arkane games certainly do). Within those options, players may find a strategy that’s boring but reliable and effective. The existence of such a degenerate strategy may lead some players to repeatedly use it even if they ruin the game for themselves.

It is therefore essential that designers make boring tactics impossible or ineffective.

This is not the same problem as designing systems that encourage players to switch up their tactics. For instance, the classic RPG pattern of having some enemies that are weak to fire and others weak to ice. This is a “carrot” that encourages players to vary using fire and ice attacks. The problem archetype I’m referring to would be the player who dumped 100 points in their ice attack, and spends the rest of the game freezing enemies for massive damage regardless of elemental weaknesses. The game systems need a “stick” that disincentivizes this boring strategy.


I have a history of playing stealth games as puzzles that can be optimized. To quote myself from almost a decade ago:

My preferred approach is to play each scenario as flawlessly as I can. I like to ascertain a situation, determine a strategy, execute it, then figure out how I could have done better. Can I avoid alerting the guards? Use fewer resources? Turn the environment to my advantage? I treat it like a puzzle, playing it over and over to find the optimal path.

This is the attitude with which I took on the Dishonored series1. I tried over and over until I had a near-perfect stealth run. Nothing in the game’s systems discouraged me from playing this way; in fact, there were multiple systems that encouraged it:

  • Killing and going loud gives you the high chaos “bad ending”. Chaos performance stats are shown at the end of every mission.
  • There are compelling and creative nonlethal assassination options, and they often become unavailable if you alert the target or make some other error.
  • Being judicious about stealth and killing aligns with Corvo and Emily’s story goal of stabilizing and regaining control of the Empire.
  • Perhaps most importantly, there is no limit or penalty for save scumming.

Screenshot of the Clean Hands trophy: complete the game without killing anyone.

Unlocking the “Clean Hands” trophy was challenging and rewarding in its own way. However, I ended up completing the game without ever engaging with the dozens of combat systems and tools the game had to offer. If this means I played Dishonored “wrong”, then I would argue that it wasn’t entirely my fault. The systems encouraged me to play flawlessly (carrot) and nothing prevented me from doing save scumming (stick).

Compare that with Deathloop, a game with similar action gameplay options but completely different high level incentives:

  • You play the levels over and over. Early runs are typically messy and chaotic, but as you gain information (both in-game and as a player) the puzzle-box options slowly reveal themselves.
  • Messed up your intricate plan? You haven’t permanently tarnished your save, just try again tomorrow.
  • The presence of Julianna adds chaos, complicating any attempt at a “perfect” run.
  • Killing eternalists doesn’t conflict with Colt’s morals or story goal. They’ll come back tomorrow anyway.
  • You can only save between levels, and lose most of your day’s progress on death. However, to offset this, the game is quite forgiving in other ways (the Reprise slab, regenerating health sections, infinite power regen, etc.)

By actively disallowing my boring perfectionist strategy, Deathloop gave me permission to have fun. Rather than reloading when my plans went awry, I improvised. I engaged with all the combat and weapon systems I’d been neglecting all these years, and had a blast doing so. I got out of my own way and just enjoyed myself, knowing that the game systems allowed me to do so.

This shift in mentality could not have been accomplished with incentives alone. Even with the forgiving nature of the time loop, save scumming still would have been a temptation. Rather, the enforced permadeath and limited saves completely removed my ability to adopt a boring tactic.


As designers, why is it necessary to solve the problem of players ruining their own fun? Shouldn’t players naturally avoid making themselves bored, and actively seek playstyles that are engaging? Why isn’t this a self-correcting problem?

The answer may lie in the concept of “double consciousness”, which in a general sense refers to the fact that “games are multilayered in terms of identity experience”. While studying D&D players in the 1970’s, sociologist Gary Allen Fine split the player’s identity into three. These ideas were later further developed by Harvey Smith (co-creative director of Dishonored) and Matthias Worch. The three parts are:

  • Character: “the fictional character embodied by the player”
  • Player: “the player acting within the framework and the rules of the game”
  • Person: the person with life demands and self-perception outside of the game

Uniting these three frames is one of the challenges of game design. When they are not aligned on shared goals, they risk drifting apart and undermining the player’s investment in the game (i.e. ludonarrative dissonance).

Identity is composed of character, player, and person.
Slide from Matthias Worch’s 2011 GDC talk “The Identity Bubble”

Playing Dishonored as a pacifist is compelling because it’s reinforced in all three parts of the player’s identity:

  • Character: Corvo and Emily want to bring peace and stability to the Empire
  • Player: Low chaos mission rating perceived as good performance
  • Person: Identifying as a good person, therefore seeking the good ending

If there’s a countervailing incentive towards a more expansive and improvised playstyle, where is it seated within this identity framework? Trophies for creative kills provide an incentive within the game rules (i.e. “player”). If it’s a desire driven by emotions such as curiosity or boredom, this is also an aspect of the “player” identity (since we bring our emotions into the “magic circle” of a game). Within the “person” frame, it could be driven by self-perception as “someone who expresses their innovation and creativity within games”; Mark Rosewater calls this player archetype a “Johnny”.

Depending on one’s personality then, some players could have a completely different identity experience:

  • Character: Corvo and Emily are badass supernatural assassins
  • Player: I’m going to pull off cool assassin moves using all the tools in the toolbox.
  • Person: “I would do cool stuff like this if I was Corvo”

The fact that both interpretations and playstyles are valid and supported within Dishonored is a testament to the range and versatility of the immersive sim genre. But it also suggests why the “boring tactics” problem isn’t self-correcting; players align a game’s narrative and mechanics with their own perspective, preferences, and values. Players aren’t really choosing their playstyle, it’s a manifestation of who they are.

It therefore behooves designers to thoughtfully craft their game story and rules to incentivize the ideal / desired / most fun way of playing. Assuming the developers at Arkane Lyon wanted to promote an improvisational playstyle, they skillfully reinforced it within the player’s identity frames:

  • Character: Colt is brash, audacious, and willing to do anything to escape the loop.
  • Player: The game’s structure rewards improvisation, not perfect play. No long term disadvantage to killing or going loud. Mistakes are impermanent, try again another day.
  • Person: “If I was in Colt’s situation, I would do the same thing.”


In my work as a systems designer at Naughty Dog, I’ve grappled with the same problem archetype in more low-level mechanics. We run frequent internal playtests when our games are in development; whenever I see a tester adopting a boring tactic to progress, I start thinking about how we could tweak our systems to push them to play more dynamically.

1. Staying put

For instance, consider the problem of the player choosing to stay put. They pick an attractive cover position and try to clear out the entire fight from that one spot. Playing this way is a very safe option, as enemies typically need to expose themselves to advance or flank. It’s also appealing to timid players who would rather stick to the section of the layout they know rather than move forward into the unknown.

However, this is a boring strategy. Playing this way won’t deliver on the fantasy of being a climbing / swinging / jumping treasure hunter (Uncharted) or a scrappy smuggler surviving on the ragged edge on their wits and grit (The Last of Us). It fails to engage with the complexity of the combat spaces or the knowledge model of the AI. If we condone players using this tactic, then it’s our fault if players come away from the experience with the impression that our games have lackluster combat.

Screenshot from Uncharted 4 with debug circles for the grenade manager.

We have several systems that are designed to make this tactic ineffective. The most direct method is grenades in the Uncharted series (and to a lesser degree molotovs in The Last of Us). The grenade manager detects when the player has remained within small radius x for more than y seconds, which is a heuristic for the player staying in place. When this condition is detected, it requests the AI coordinator to throw a grenade, flushing the player out of their position and forcing them to move.

A subtler system is baked into our enemy accuracy model. Like many things in video game AI, baseline enemy accuracy is calculated by multiplying together a set of tuning parameters, each expressed as a float in the [0,1] range. Some of these parameters are based on curves that ramp up over time. One of these parameters slowly ramps to 1.0 while the enemies know the player’s current position. Players who stay in place are penalized with enemies who gradually hone in their accuracy on a stationary target.

We also use enemy design to nullify this tactic. Brutes in Uncharted and Clickers in The Last of Us are tanky high-threat enemies that charge right at the player’s position. They function as “spiky balls”2 that force the player to maintain their distance and continuously reposition. Other enemies provide area denial, creating dynamic obstacles that limit where the player can fight from.

Venn diagram of various enemy types. Clickers are a spiky ball.

2. Charging at enemies

However, one of the unintended consequences of disallowing staying put is that players might pivot to charging directly at enemies instead. This is also an undesirable tactic, and for the same reasons; it short circuits other systems and flattens out the combat experience. This tactic is a particular concern for The Last of Us, where charging straight into gunfire unscathed would severely compromise the game’s grounded tone.

To disallow this tactic, we go as far as overriding the baseline enemy accuracy. Every frame we detect the player’s movement vector towards each enemy. If that vector is within a ~70° cone directly at an enemy within ~15 meters, we consider the player “charging towards” that enemy. Enemies who are being charged towards have their accuracy parameters overridden to be nearly 100% accurate. We also guarantee that they get a “full body” hit reaction, which knocks the player backwards on hit. Furthermore, in some cases, we even give them a more aggressive firing pattern when charged. It’s effectively impossible to close the distance on an enemy except this way.

Diagram showing the logic for charging at enemies.

This tuning is heavy handed, but it’s critical for the integrity of our combat loop that this tactic is ineffective. It forces players to consider the combat layout, using occluders to regain stealth or to approach enemies without being shot.

3. Hoarding resources

Another boring tactic we actively try to subvert is hoarding resources. Ammo and supplies are scarce in the world of The Last of Us, and some players respond to this by adopting an ultraconservative playstyle. They squirrel away all their shotgun ammo and crafted items, hesitant to consume them lest their need be greater in a future encounter. However, as in the other cases, people who play this way rob themselves of the full breadth of the gameplay experience.

The most straightforward solution to this issue is to have a low maximum inventory. This means that hoarding players quickly find themselves in a situation where they’re walking past pickups unable to pick them up. There’s no benefit to hoarding once you’ve hit the cap, so players have permission to use their items less discriminately. Since weapons have individual ammo types, this has the added benefit of pushing players to cycle through every capped weapon in their inventory.

A more pernicious solution to this problem is to dynamically spawn fewer items based on current inventory. While this does penalize hoarding, the increased scarcity simply reinforces the player’s mental model; stingy item drops validate a conservative playstyle. We have some systems like this in The Last of Us series, but we keep it a light touch to avoid this issue.

Counterintuitively, on The Last of Us Part II we found it more effective to use starvation prevention logic to preempt players from developing this mindset entirely. This means loading the dice, favouring high-roll drops for players with low resources. However, we wanted to avoid rewarding players who were simply playing carelessly by resupplying them mid-fight. To that end, we ensured that the starvation logic only triggered in the exploration spaces between fights. This helped maintain the player’s long term supplies, and bolster their confidence that the game wouldn’t leave them stranded.

Another effective prevention measure is to limit the opportunities to spend their resources. In playtests, we often noticed players hoarding supplements (player upgrades) while reliably spending their parts (weapon upgrades). This is because player upgrades are available anytime from the backpack menu, whereas parts can only be spent at a workbench. Since there’s usually at least an hour of play time between workbenches, the same loss aversion that causes hoarding works in our favour. Might as well spend your parts now, as you may not have another chance for a while. (Deathloop also limits upgrade opportunities this way; you can only spend residuum between missions.)


Here are some additional examples of designers responding to boring tactics.

League of Legends – Lane Swapping (2v1)

Around 2015, a new strategy emerged in high level League of Legends play. Rather than following the traditional metagame of sending two players to the bottom lane, teams would send their duo to the top lane to face a lone opponent. Depending on the champion draft there can be various incentives to do this: dodging an unfavoured matchup, starving the enemy solo laner, and the gold and map advantage of taking an early tower.

On the surface this seems like a valid and interesting strategy, an alternative choice that players can situationally opt into. However, it has a number of deleterious consequences for League of Legends as a whole. Firstly, it drastically shrinks the number of viable top lane picks, placing an enormous premium on the small pool of champions that can cling to life in a 1v2 lane. Secondly, short circuiting the typical “lane phase” in this manner takes a lot of excitement out of the early game. Both teams are forced to play conservatively as they strategically concede their weak side of the map, and the action doesn’t pick up again until midgame. This staid opening is particularly problematic for League as a spectator esport.

Riot have pursued a number of approaches to limit the effectiveness of this tactic, with two in particular having stood the test of time. Firstly, they have made turrets more resilient in the early game, first as an emergency patch before the world championship and later more officially as a “turret plating” mechanic. Secondly, despite a stated desire to “find a more nuanced approach” that preserves map symmetry, they have made the bottom turrets a little weaker. Only the top and mid lane towers get a “fortification” buff for the first five minutes of the game.

Destiny – The Loot Cave

Less than a week after Destiny’s initial launch, a curious strategy emerged. Players found an effective strategy for farming engrams by massing together in communal spaces and mass firing into a narrow cave, instantly obliterating the continuously respawning enemies.

I wrote a lengthy post back in 2014 about how the runtime interaction of various mechanics created the Loot Cave dynamic. Needless to say, the developers at Bungie felt like this was a boring strategy in comparison to the intended pathway to progression: “shooting at a black hole for hours on end isn’t our dream for how Destiny is played.” They hotfixed this particular area and made their activities more rewarding.

Metal Gear Solid V – Enemy Preparedness

Once players find a playstyle that works, it can be very difficult to push them to try other approaches. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has a unique “enemy preparedness” system designed to do just that: dynamically reacting to the player’s tactics and deploying enemies with countermeasures.

Players have documented six categories of preparedness, though they are not specifically identified in-game. For instance, if players frequently approach bases under the cover of darkness, they’ll start deploying mortar-flares and night-vision goggles. If players assault bases aggressively, they’ll begin wearing body armour and carrying LMGs.

I think of this as a second-order design solution. It’s not that any of these individual playstyles is inherently boring. Rather, in a game with a wide array of available options, it’s boring to keep playing the same way. The preparedness system incentivizes pivoting to new strategies.

Call of Duty – Infinite Respawns

While the use of this technique has waned in modern titles, a mainstay of the classic Call of Duty games was that enemies infinitely respawned until you pushed forward and triggered the next phase of the fight.

While this type of encounter design can be frustrating, it’s designed to prevent playing passively. Without infinite respawns it would be very effective to hang back in cover, snipe the enemies from afar, then saunter forward when the coast is clear. However, this would fail to deliver on the fantasy of being on the frontlines of a war.

Modern shooter games tend to use different approaches to solve this same problem. For instance, creating combat layouts with shorter sightlines and more legible flank routes. Within the AI, developers can adjust how enemies peek and aim from cover to make them less susceptible to being whittled down at long range.


How does accessibility fit within the designer’s responsibility to disallow boring tactics? The common argument is that overcoming difficulty is core to the experience of certain games, and that options that reduce difficulty would enable players to ruin the game for themselves. In this view, using options to remove challenge is a boring player choice, and thus is fair game for a designer to disallow.

As an accessibility advocate I do not agree with this position, but I don’t believe the core concern is completely without merit. Rather, I believe that it is also the designer’s responsibility to frame these options. Players need context and clarity to determine whether their experience would benefit from enabling certain options.

The accessibility messages shown in Celeste and The Last of Us Part 2

For instance, consider this message that Celeste presents as part of its menu flow3:

“Assist Mode allows you to modify the game’s rules to fit your specific needs. This includes options such as slowing the game speed, granting yourself invincibility or infinite stamina, and skipping chapters entirely. Celeste is intended to be a challenging and rewarding experience. If the default game proves inaccessible to you, we hope that you can still find that experience with Assist Mode.”

Based on focus test feedback, we added a similar information screen to our “combat accessibility” submenu in The Last of Us Part II. It says:

“These settings are designed to make combat accessible for all players. As such, they can significantly alter the gameplay experience.”

In both cases, the developers are framing the intended audience for accessibility features as players with “specific needs”. These are players for whom the “default game proves inaccessible”, rather than the intended “challenging and rewarding experience.” The designers do not condone tweaking these options haphazardly; they are intentionally designed to support a player base with a spectrum of diverse needs.

Those who choose to enable these options are doing so with the clear understanding that they are changing the rules of the game. The “magic circle” of the game is bounded by these rules, so modifying them must be done from the “real world” outside the circle. The designer has relinquished a small measure of control, and put the burden of tailoring (literally “to make fit”) the game experience on the player. With their cooperation, we remove the barriers and rejoin the intended experience within the magic circle.


In the MDA framework, game designers define the rules of the game (mechanics). In motion, the rules interact with each other and with player input (dynamics), creating an emotional and intellectual experience in the player’s mind (aesthetics).

At its core, what I am arguing here is that designers are also responsible for the negative space of aesthetics. There should be intention and craft put towards the experience that the player is NOT having. This is a kind of shadow game design, where the goal is to surgically cut holes out of the possibility space where boring options used to be.

1. To prove I’m not alone in playing this way, check out this poster who has a similar revelation about perfect runs while playing Prey: Mooncrash.
2. No clue where I picked up this name, it’s apparently not a term of art.
3. I am quoting the modified version of this message, which was adjusted in a 2019 patch.

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48 days ago
Santa Monica, California
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Starving the Beast

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Willie Sutton robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.” But if he was still alive, he’d probably be studying pension funds.

Chances are you’ve heard of Harvard, which is why it was big news when after a ten-year campaign the school finally relented, divesting its $40 billion endowment from fossil fuel. And in the weeks that followed, many others took the chance to follow: Boston University (whose president said the school wanted to be “on the right side of history,”), the University of Minnesota, the MacArthur Foundation. Ten of the twenty richest colleges in America have now divested, the result of countless hours of work by activists; they’ve helped rob the oil industry of its social license, tarring its once-good name. The students and others who have done this work are heroes of the first order.

Taken together, those 20 richest schools have a total worth of $322 billion-with-a-b, absolutely nothing to sneeze at. But earlier this week a single pension fund that you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re a Canadian retiree, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, announced that it too would divest from fossil fuels. And with that one announcement, it took $315 billion out of play for the fossil fuel industry. It’s Canada’s second-biggest pension fund and the world’s twelfth biggest (its other giants are under pressure to divest as well). It joins other massive pension funds—New York City and New York State, for instance, each of them over $200 billion. Others are following suit: the Maine legislature, for instance, recently instructed the state pension fund to divest—it’s “only” $17 billion, but that’s the biggest pool of capital in the state by far. (The fact that long-term fossil fuels are the worst investment you can make has helped).

These divestments are so large that they’re starting to have deep effects on the ability of the fossil fuel industry to expand. As an executive at the investment giant Morningstar explained to the Toronto Star, the “slowdown in funding for new projects means that oil companies will instead need to focus on squeezing every last drop of profit out of older ones while keeping a closer eye on environmental concerns. ‘They’re not going to be focussed on growth,’ he said. ‘They’ll be more in a holding situation, and focussing on cost efficiencies, and reducing their carbon footprint.’”

“Energy companies rely heavily on large, institutional investors such as pension funds because the oil and gas industry is one of the most capital-intensive industries around, said Adam Freneth, an assistant professor at Western University’s Ivey School of Business, who specializes in the energy sector. “When you’re going to the market for billions of dollars year after year, it’s not good when pools of capital get cut off,” Freneth said. “There are limited numbers of places where you can access that amount of capital.”


As early as 2016, it was clear that divestment campaigns were damaging the coal industry’s ability to raise capital—industry giant Peabody cited it as a cause of its bankruptcy. The oil giants are much larger, with massive cash flows, but even Shell, in a recent annual report, called divestment campaigns a ‘material risk’ to its business. All you really need to know is that the fossil fuel industry maintains a website entirely devoted to moaning about divestment and begging universities and pension funds to continue “engaging” with them instead. Remember: their only strategy is delay. There’s nothing they’d enjoy more than a few more decades of parrying back and forth with investors.

Which is why it’s such good news that the pressure on pension funds just keeps growing. The world’s biggest pension funds are often in “blue” cities, states, and countries, because that’s where most of the world’s money gets made. And from the New York State Teachers Retirement Fund to the California Public Employees pension scheme to the giant TIAA fund that provides the pension for most American academics, the pressure for divestment just keeps mounting.

It’s taken ten years to get to this point: the world’s first fossil fuel divestment came in 2012, when tiny Unity College in Maine pulled its $8 million out of coal, oil and gas. (And you should have heard us cheering). It’s also taken ten years for engineers to drop the cost of renewable energy 90 percent. In both cases that’s decades too long. Would that we’d started the divestment campaign much earlier; would that America had embraced Jimmy Carter’s 1979 plan to get 20% of our energy from the sun by 2020.

But we are where we are—in a world badly damaged by climate change, but with a chance still to avert the very worst. Reining in the fossil fuel industry is absolutely essential: please keep the pressure on colleges, on churches—and on pension funds. Because it makes no sense to invest retirement funds in companies that insure there won’t be a world to retire on.

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62 days ago
Santa Monica, California
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Learning as Investing: 7 Skills That Pay Off in Any Job

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It’s common to talk about learning as an investment. Economists talk about human capital, assuming that skills and knowledge, like machines or factories, are primarily things we can use to earn money.

Of all the reasons to learn, solely making money is hardly the best. I spend most of my learning time on things I don’t expect to earn me a penny.

Yet, since we talk about learning as an investment so frequently, I thought it would be interesting to ponder which skills have the best return on investment. If you were a portfolio manager for human capital, let’s say, what would you learn to maximize your return?

First, Some Quibbles…

The value of knowledge is not universal. For most people, knowing how to sing is not a lucrative skill. And then there’s Beyoncé. Similarly, even if machine learning experts or hedge fund managers can make millions by applying complex math, most people never use calculus outside the classroom.

So the correct, albeit dull, answer to the titular question would mirror the most economically valuable professions.

A more interesting answer would restrict our analysis to skills that are useful in a wide range of professions, abilities that you could add to many lines of work and see a return.

But we can go further. The value investing paradigm argues that the key is finding overlooked opportunities. The best investments aren’t the flashiest, but those that are neglected by everyone else. Invest here, and you can reap bigger returns than by chasing the latest fad.

With these two constraints in mind (i.e., non-profession-specific, underappreciated abilities), here would be my picks for a hypothetical portfolio:

1. Being Really Good at Excel

Everyone wants to be a programmer or AI developer (at least if my newsletter replies are any indication). Excel, in contrast, is boring. But a surprising amount of business activity depends on Excel.

In a previous post, I mentioned a friend who joked that his consulting business was basically just him being good at Excel. After that post was published, I got several emails from people who do the same thing (as well as business owners looking for such people).

Many of the most valuable skills aren’t cutting-edge; instead, they involve being highly skilled with a commonly used tool.

2. Writing Good Emails

Email is the basis for a dizzying amount of our work. My friend, Cal Newport, wrote a whole book about how this results in a “hyperactive hive mind” workflow that ruins our productivity.

Many workplace email threads I’ve seen are sloppy and disorganized which leads to a sea of noise. The bar is set really low here. Being able to organize and express your thoughts in a way that makes action items jump out and reduces back-and-forth is a tremendous asset.

3. Being a Non-Terrible Public Speaker

I have immense respect for good public speakers. Holding an audience’s attention isn’t easy. Doing so while being funny, polite, informative and helpful is an enormous task.

As with email, however, the bar is set quite low here. Being non-terrible as a speaker is enough to make you stand out at conferences and meetings.

At a minimum, you should be able to deliver a talk without reading notes or slides, communicate concisely, and pivot your presentation depending on the needs of your audience. A few months in Toastmasters can make a massive difference if you don’t feel confident speaking.

4. Getting Everything Done You Said You Would

A remarkable amount of economic success just comes down to basic reliability. Did you take on a task or project? Did you finish it on time, or did you need extra reminders and prodding?

Part of this skill is simply being organized and productive. But a lot of it is also about managing expectations. Many people, who feel unable to push back against demands, reluctantly agree to work they’re not sure they can deliver on. Yet this pressured “yes” often backfires and makes them seem less reliable in the future.

Richard Feynman famously got out of extra commitments by claiming to be irresponsible. But most of us aren’t Nobel-level geniuses, so the skill of being dependable is still at a premium for us mortals.

5. Researching Effectively

We tend to associate research with academics and journalists, but finding a comprehensive answer to a question is valuable in any field. Which is the best software to use? What do our competitors do? What do the experts recommend?

Knowing how to do research is hardly automatic. It took me years to figure out how to do systematic research that went beyond simple web searches. Getting answers from other people is itself an art that requires practice.

Even if you can’t be the smartest person in the room, you can learn to access what the smartest people think.

6. Ballparking Numbers

Most of our experience with math in school is finding exact answers to precisely worded questions. This is a shame because very few problems in life are like this. Instead, we more often face vague problems where only some of the numbers needed are known.

The physicist, Enrico Fermi, was famous for his ability to develop a good approximation to such questions. His technique was to start from easier-to-estimate numbers and successively work down to the harder-to-estimate quantities.

To illustrate, try to guess how many piano tuners there are in Chicago. Hard to do, right? But perhaps you could start with the population instead—that’s easy to look up. Then guess how many of those people own pianos. How often would they need to be tuned? How long does it take to tune a piano? If you follow through, you can get remarkably close to the true number.

Practicing the ability to quickly ballpark numbers, to make valid estimates of what things should be, is helpful for any quantitative line of work.

7. Learning New Software Quickly

Getting quickly on top of new software is increasingly a requirement for professions outside of IT. Doctors, teachers, lawyers and engineers constantly face new technical interfaces with their work—if you struggle to learn new software, your core professional skills may be undervalued.

I’ll admit, this isn’t my strong point. While I’m good enough at learning new software, I’m hardly a master. Still, knowing how valuable it is, I’ve made a point of hiring people who have this knack in my own business. Being the go-to person for figuring out new tools can give you a valuable edge over the competition.

Other Valuable Skills

Which skills have I missed? I ignored some skills because they were too profession-specific (programming is still primarily useful for programmers, ditto machine learning). Others I left out because they seem to be commonly appreciated (leadership has its own shelf in the bookstore).

I imagine there are lots of skills that work well for particular fields. Figuring out what customers want to buy is huge in client-facing roles. Similarly, teaching is a tool that goes way beyond K-12.

What portfolio would you craft? If you had to invest, which skills would give you the greatest yield? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

The post Learning as Investing: 7 Skills That Pay Off in Any Job appeared first on Scott H Young.

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