My wife heard “Curse you, Spirit of Adventure Pete!”
What I actually said, in a moment of melodramatic frustration, was “Curse you, spirit of entropy!”
I was looking at a broken stove-top knob. I say broken—actually the budget contractor had not done his job properly.
But it summarized my frustration with the world in general. Nothing lasts, and most people put in minimum effort. On a long enough timeline, everything falls apart. And it’s all because of Adventure Pete.
Why we can't have nice things
Entropy: “Lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.”
Growing up in the country, entropy was visible everywhere. Grand old barns, slowly crumbling under weather and their own weight. Beautiful farmhouses, gnawed by rats and warped by rain. Outdated, abandoned farm equipment, rusting away on the back forty acres. It’s romantic when viewed from a distance.
But up close? All I saw was decay.
I hated the constant, inevitable destruction. Entropy is why we can’t have nice things. No matter how much time, effort, energy, or money I put into ANYTHING, it has a finite lifespan. I wanted everything to stay nice, in good working order. I did not want to keep fixing things. My parents taught me how to work hard. But what’s the point of working hard when nothing lasts?
What’s the point of working
hard when nothing lasts?
You may be thinking of the teacher’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes: Everything is temporary, so honor God and enjoy life. I believed this conclusion to be true, but it didn’t ease my frustration when things broke. It felt more like passive acceptance.
Matthew 6:19-20 is the other common church answer regarding the transitory nature of life: “Don’t focus on accumulating stuff on earth, because it’s all going to break or be stolen anyway. Instead, focus on treasure in heaven, which can’t be taken away from you. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I see truth there as well. And I am increasingly changed by that truth. But for much of my life I was so focused on hating entropy that nothing else mattered.
Surprisingly, it was a podcast that turned my perspective upside down.
I’m a Gamer
Mark Rosewater is currently the head designer for Magic: The Gathering. Magic is a trading card game now in its 25th year of continuous production. For context, that’s absurd. To my knowledge, no other game has produced new content for 25 years straight, while maintaining a player base that spends an average of 10 years playing the game. Think back—were you playing any games ten years ago that you still play today? If you play Magic, you might be.
Mark has made transparency and teaching two of the cornerstones of his career as head designer for Magic: The Gathering. He writes a weekly article and records two podcasts every week, in part to share lessons that he has learned over the course of his life. His podcast episode “Live Like a Gamer” is based on his article by the same name. I, of course, recommend that you check out one or both of these sources directly. For now, let me share a little of my story and then summarize some of Mark’s insight.
We love games because
we believe success is achievable.
My roommate introduced me to World of Warcraft around the time that I graduated from college. World of Warcraft is a multiplayer online game based around completing quests and achieving difficult tasks, often with friends. The next few years of my life pretty much revolved around that game. I went to work, cooked for myself, and maintained friendships. But I spent a large chunk of each day achieving new in-game successes and rewards.
According to Mark Rosewater, we love games because we believe that in games success is achievable. At the same time, success isn’t assured. There is an element of danger, of striving, testing myself against a difficult experience. I get to ask the question “Do I have what it takes?” in a safe environment. The stakes aren’t too high if I don’t. And within the context of the game, I know that with enough effort on my part, I can achieve success. In Mark’s words, “When presented with the goal, gamers always start with the attitude of, ‘How am I going to accomplish that goal?’”
Moment of Truth
Mark’s podcast was playing as I stood at the washing machine in the basement. For a couple weeks, the washer had been making an excessive banging noise when spinning out the load. My frustration with entropy was, predictably, high. And then Mark asked the question: “How am I going to accomplish this goal?”
Is this true? I thought to myself. Do I love games because I love to test myself against the world?
My perspective suddenly flipped. Much of my life had been immersed in games, seeking happiness. But now, instead of an annoying distraction, this washing machine itself became a quest. I found a new test, a new arena in which to strive.
It didn’t stop there. My car needed new spark plugs and a new wiring harness. No, I had no idea how to change them, but I figured it out. A downspout on the rental property was plugged, until I climbed up on the roof and cleared it. Patching small holes in the drywall, re-caulking seams, and packing our possessions to move out: all flipped. They were no longer just tremendous hassles. They each became yet another challenge to be solved, a test to be completed.
I found quiet validation as I
battled the forces of decay.
This new mentality changed my perception of myself as well. For years I had sought validation through gaming. When I won, I felt on top of the world. Beating my opponents or completing quests gave me a brief rush of euphoria. But that feeling always faded. My brief moments of glory meant nothing when the game was over. The context that told me I was successful was now gone. This meant that I had to dive into another game, striving again, chasing the high of success. It was a vicious cycle of dependence.
Much to my shock, my successes over entropy had a different result: they gave me a self-confidence I had never found in games. The quieted washing machine, running car, and draining downspout all stood as ongoing testaments to my success; these wins were additive, not singular. Knowing that I had solved the washing machine problem increased my confidence that I could change my spark plugs. I found quiet validation as I battled the forces of decay.
I still believe that the world is broken. And I used to associate that brokenness with entropy, viewing them both as my enemies. But I now believe that entropy is a gift.
Entropy means there will always be tests to measure myself against, quests for me to complete. Yet brokenness is no longer the inevitable end for everything. I fight to bring healing in place of brokenness, just as I am being made whole by Christ.
Now I view the world as a game, and I’m gaining the confidence to play in it. Thank you, Adventure Pete.
posted on June 22, 2018
Meet the Author:
Joel Jackson is currently pursuing faithfulness, wisdom, and peace in Michigan. He enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, and playing Magic: the Gathering. You can find out more about him and his ongoing projects at www.joeljackson.us and on Twitter: @inexplicably8
Other Rivulet Collective articles by Joel Jackson:
I Might Have a Superpower