Failing (Early, Often, Paradoxically)

I normally sit down to write something for this blog after I’ve gotten my day’s PhD work done. Today, that work was almost entirely smothered under work for marking, because marking is important, and when I do try and write without some burning need already in place, I tend to survey three things:

  • My incoming directory
  • My twitter feed
  • My bullet journal

Today, all three of those things are blank, because my day has gone away in a cloud of trying to mark a lot of students’ work in a timely, respectful fashion while still organising all the normal operations of the day like feeding and walking the dog. It’s been a rough one, and that means I haven’t actually done one of the things I’m finding I enjoy, and that’s readings.

One of the books I just finished reading is Jesper Juul’s the Art of Failure, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the blog by this time. It’s a really neat book, pretty short and breezy and doesn’t require a lot of specialised knowledge. Juul is pretty good at that. You could probably knock it over in an afternoon if you weren’t taking notes on everything.

In it, Juul talks about the paradox of games. He suggests that games are things we fail at, usually, and we don’t seek out failure, but we do seek out games, despite the fact we’ll fail at them. By contrast, the students I’m dealing with are examining the design side of things with the principle of fail early, fail often.

I see the word ‘fail’ a lot.

Juul’s position is interesting, as I sit up late and muse on it, because it presents a very binary view not just of human experience, but of human consciousness. That is, that humans are a single perspective agent, which has singular motivations and good, clean judgment. Some parts of us don’t believe we’ll fail. Some parts of us want to fail, to get falsifiable information. Some parts of us want to fail because we’re curious. Some parts of us are constantly redefining failure as we play.

This isn’t really addressing Juul. It’s more musing on what the book doesn’t do.

And not doing something is not the same thing as failing.

Just like how today, I didn’t read any books for my PhD. That doesn’t mean I failed my PhD today. I hope.

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