Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Known unknowns

Lots of people mocked Rumsfeld for his classic ‘known unknowns’ and ‘things we don’t know we don’t know’ speech. It was an easy target, but it’s also an interesting topic. Although in theory, the older I get, the more I know, in fact I think the older I get, the more I know I don’t know.

My politics changed a lot between ages 18-30. When I was 18, like most 18 year olds, I could put the world to rights and know I was definitely correct. I was totally wrong, and I just didn’t know it. Now, I have different political views, but I know enough to know I’m not sure I’m right.

It’s not different with my job. Ok, I rant about me knowing more about customer interaction than big companies, and I’m pretty confident there, especially after this, but that whole episode just went to show that what I thought I knew about piracy (all pirates are cheapskates) was just wrong. It is very very difficult to change your views on a topic you feel strongly about. The chances are, everyone reading this has some views that are not based on their objective evaluation of the situation, but views they got from their parents, their friends, from TV, religion,  from an experience as a child, from irrational fear or emotion.

I used to be very anti-fox hunting. I was bought up that way, as a city dwelling son of trade unionists, and never questioned it. I knew nothing about fox hunting, or the countryside, it was just the de-facto position for me. I became less and less fussed about it over the years (It’s now banned in the UK, at least the fox-killing aspect is). Very shortly after moving to the country, I actually saw (for the first time ever)  a bunch of people on a hunt (I think they just go through the motions now), and it is quite a spectacle. I can see why people feel its part of their culture, community and history. It gave me a different perspective, and one I really lacked. I’m not neccesarily pro-hunting now, but I am at least aware that my teenage views on it were colored by my surroundings and not the facts. I now know what I don’t know. Experience has actually made me less certain.

Here is a scary admission. When I started working at Elixir, I didn’t know how to use a debugger. I’d heard of them, but never known how they worked. I was gobsmacked that you could step through code and look at variables. Holy crap that looked really cool. And I had already shipped 4 games at that point (yes, they were damned hard to make). I was suffering from that classic problem of unknown unknowns. It’s not that I didn’t know how to step through code, I didn’t even know it was an option.

I’m still learning how to code, learning how to run a business, how to design games , how to balance games. I always will be. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s what keeps life interesting. Try to find out what it is you don’t know you don’t know :D

5 thoughts on Known unknowns

  1. all i know is that i don’t know, all i know is that i don’t know nothing…

  2. Wisdom is one of those things that you never understand until you experience it. And wisdom compounds itself, but never makes itself apparent. It’s like a discovery and realization of new facts, when really, they’ve been there the whole time, but you’d just been ignoring it because you THOUGHT you were right.

    Wisdom never makes you right, but it opens you up to the possibility that what you know might just be wrong. :)

  3. And that’s why being Indie is so much cooler than the other options. You have the ability to learn whatever you want to learn, without someone telling you what to do (like in a big company). Just like Greg just said, its all about Wisdom, or I’d like to say, thinking for yourself.

    All that you describe comes from learning to think for yourself. That can only come from age, life experience, and open-mindedness. People who have lived in multiple countries learn to think differently, and that’s why we know most Americans have a daft view of the rest of the world. They’ve (or “we’ve” since I’m American) never been forced to question the way we’ve been raised and taught to think like. Things have been nice and peaceful, with the only wars happening on TV. Just look at all the people who will never buy Epic games again, just from your post. What a large world-view that represents, eh?

    What you just wrote makes me think of me (we’re similar in age I think). I know enough to know that I don’t know much, and I want to know more! Life is so enjoyable when I teach myself everything I ever wanted to learn.

    A good read, thanks.

  4. So true, Cliff.

    When we’re younger, we soak up the opinions and beliefs of our parents. As adolescents, we want to know all the answers and we tend to dislike being seen to be ignorant, so we trot out those opinions that we’ve heard all our lives to that point. What I’ve personally found as I grow older, is it can actually be an fascinating intellectual exercise to challenge those long held beliefs that you’ve had. I’d go as far as to say it can be fun. If you can open your mind up to accept that your perspective may not be as categorically correct as you might at first think, and take the time to actually explore the issue more – as you did with the piracy issue, for example – you can learn so much – about the issue in question, and occasionally, about yourself.

    “…I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s what keeps life interesting” – I couldn’t agree more.

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