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Ernest Hemingway, Iteration and Games

December 16, 2008

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are stronger at the broken places.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929

About 10 years ago, I made a decision to read nothing but classics for a year. I started with the old stuff – Aristotle and the like – and eventually worked my way up to Steinbeck, Hemingway and Faulkner. What was supposed to be a year lasted close to three, and even now, I have a tendency toward the classics or, barring that, non-fiction.

I tell you this story because I shared the quote above with an acquaintance of mine who’s going through a difficult time. Though I remembered the quote, I couldn’t recall which book it came from.  A quick search turned up A Farewell to Arms as well as the remainder of the quote that I’d forgotten:

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.

The message, of course, is that change is necessary. You break. You become different. You change in response to circumstances. If you resist that change…

A few hours pass, and I come to write something here and find the same search window with Hemingway’s quote still open. It occurred to me that Hemingway could have been talking about a game just as well and our odd tendency to hang on, hang on and hang on to stuff that would be so much better if only it were broken and made stronger at those broken places.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2008 3:26 pm

    While I don’t have a lot of game industry experience, most every resource with good advice for game designing says this. In fact, it goes so far as any form of designing.

    What I find sad is the misunderstanding and prejudice that is sometimes leveled at those who change when needed. I usually can this being a poor winner, because it sounds like they refuse to let you loose gracefully. In several ways it reminds me of the scenarios mentioned in your recent post “Team Meltdown”.

  2. December 16, 2008 6:06 pm

    I suspect that most quotes you’ll find that seem like general truths about life and living, are applicable to games (which often as not imitate or simulate life) and game development (which is just one instance of real life).

  3. December 16, 2008 6:37 pm

    @Steven – that is unfortunate. I don’t know the specific instance you’re referring to, but have seen similar instances.

    @Ian – That’s a pretty cool point. Games allow us to do things that we don’t often get to do directly, too… or allow us to do things with a visible and tangible ‘win’ state that we can express. Many of us are competitive in our daily lives and want to do well at something. We can’t walk up to someone and openly declare our win, tho.

  4. December 17, 2008 6:39 pm

    @bb – It isn’t a particular instance, merely a behavior I’ve noticed when somebody convinces me they are right and I switch positions immediately. I don’t think it makes sense to most people. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Emotional attachment to concepts muddles one’s logic. So it makes sense to me to switch to the position I’m convinced is right, even if that means saying I was wrong.

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