awarm.spacenewsletter | fast | slow

Seasons and infinite games

"A Finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play" James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

It seems to me that learning, though it often threads its way through many a finite game, is infinite. We learn so the way may able to learn more things, and expand our experiences outwards, continuing on. We have goals, but those goals rarely conclusively end, but evolve and branch out as they're fulfilled.

Recently, the video game industry has been realizing the money making potential of infinite games. Or, more charitably, they've realized that players were gravitating to the infinite ones. Whatever it is, we've seen the rise of "Games-as-a-Service".

These games consist of an ever-evolving core of content and social interaction. Fortnite is the canonical example, it's both a place to hang out with your friends, and a place where massive, world shifting events happen on a regular basis.

Another, slightly older example (but still massively successful) is Path of Exile, and it's co-founder has an absolutely fascinating talk on Designing Path of Exile to be Played Forever.

In it he talks about how they figured out the cadence of releases, and how they construct each one, and the game as a whole, to keep players playing, and the game growing, forever.


The game is constructed around these few core pillars, and it's the interaction between them and the larger structure around them which really interests me.

Path of Exile, and other games like Fortnite, operate on Seasons. Every cycle, the entire game resets, and players start at the beginining of their journey, with new content added to the game for them to explore.

Seasons provide a ton of benefits for infinte games. One of the main ones is that a fixed cycle gives players opportunities to come back. They know that at the start of every season there's going to be new things for them to play, and that everyone will be starting them together. And the developers then focus on making sure that all of their pillars are represented in each new season, giving all kinds of players reason to come back.

Each pillar seems like it's explicitly designed to enable infinite variations over time. Random generation of course, but even the visceral combat, the customization, and the economy, provide infinitely deep wells to draw from.

This combination of stability from the seasons and novelty in the core pillars is incredibly powerful.

Seasons of learning?

I don't think you have to look very far to see parralels in the education system. The entire thing is incredibly cyclical, and even has similar resets, your grades start again each school semester after all.

But schools, I think, are really just scratching the surface of what seasons of education could be. Schools tend to think of progression purely in individual terms, with a student moving up thorugh classes or through grades, instead of thinking about how the system as a whole changes. Could a school introduce new mechanisms just for a semester to try them out, while keeping the core system the same?

On a different tack, how can we incorporate seasons into our individual infinite games of learning? Writing a newsletter certainly is one way to give a cadence to your exploration. Picking one or two big ideas to explore every year could be fascinating. Throwing a big party at the start of every season to announce what you're going to learn next.

Perhaps it would be useful to think of all the things that you enjoy about your learning experience, and try to have something new for each thing every season. A new big question, a new interesting book, a new subject for discussion with friends.

There's an interesting phenomenon in nature and society, where agents that loop faster tend to outcompete the others. They just have more cycles to learn and incorporate feedback. Seasons offer an interesting tool, to take these small tight loops, and place them in a larger context over longer periods of times.

This all especially on my mind as I finish up this first cycle of the newsletter, and simulatenously am getting started with Season 2.

Speaking of which, here's draft two (more like one) of that essay I promised!

This is more of a second draft to be honest. I'm going to be publishing it for real sometime during the week, so keep an eye out for that. I'd love feedback you have! I'm especially interested in ways to structure the middle section, where I am listing ideas we could take from game design and how to apply them to learning. I don't like that it's just a big 'ol list.

Anyways, I've had a ton of fun with this first cycle of this newsletter. What comes next? You'll have to read next week to find out!

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