Play in Easy Mode

Epistemic Status: Love the player, love the game

Also consider: Playing on Hard Mode

Raymond Arnold asked me, why not play in easy mode?

Easy Mode is easier. The reason to Play in Easy Mode is because it is the best known way to achieve your explicit measurable goal and get to the victory screen.

Strategies that work in Easy Mode won’t work in Hard Mode.

The key idea of Easy Mode is to keep your eyes on the prize. You know exactly what you want. You will munchkin your way to getting it. As long as you get a high enough number, or a check in the right box, you have what you want. That number isn’t just a proxy for victory. It is victory. If you break the spirit of the exercise, nothing is lost. Your values are safe. You are not here to develop skills, because the game ends here.


Consider playing guitar in Rock Band. You must choose whether to play in Easy Mode. If you do, you won’t fail. You won’t need to play the same songs over and over again. You can use tricks that rely on there only being so many notes, or going at a relaxed pace. You get to enjoy playing what you want, enjoying all the modes, advancing your band, right away. You get treated better. You play on medium, your fingers don’t hurt, and you smile as you sing along.


You have a test in a week. You cram for it. You’ve asked questions based on your desire to know what will be on the test, to resolve your confusion. You figure out what questions will be asked, what will help you in the exam. You focus on memorizing key facts, phrases and techniques, knowing you can guess the teacher’s password. When the test comes, you give back the answers. When you get the test back, you know you have passed and never have to think about that class again. A year later, you have forgotten everything, but you have a degree to build on.


You prepare for a tournament. You seek out representative opponents to help you prepare. You look for mistakes you can exploit, and ask what won or lost you each practice match. You ask how you can turn those events in your favor. You don’t worry about surprising things unless you expect them to be common. You focus on what wins matches, and don’t worry too much about little things that are unlikely to make a big enough difference this week. During the matches, you do everything you can to win, then train against next week.


You start a website writing articles devoted to the things you care about. To monetize it, you sell advertising through Google. It does not pay much at first. You keep at it, posting links where you can and tracking what vectors draw in readers. Some are your friends, others seem less special. You look at what gets you clicks and likes, and craft your posts and topics that way, sculpting articles to maximize page views. Over time you learn the tricks of the trade and periodically go viral. A community knows who you are. You quit your day job to run the site full time, and teach others what you have learned.


(Spoilers for some old movie)

You are stuck in a small snowed-in town, caught in a time loop of unknown origin. At first you have fun doing absurd things, but then you buckle down. With unlimited time, you decide to seduce the person you have a crush on. You learn to play them like a piano, to act like a character out of great literature. You listen to, A/B test and remember every reaction, until you learn what will make them fond of you, locating opportunities to get and succeed on a date. At the end of the day, after sufficient iterations*, you know you will be proud of your accomplishments, because you will get to bang the hell out of your crush. If the loop continues*, you can do it again.

* – Results not guaranteed. You are unlikely to be in a movie. Local maxima may or may not be sufficient.




You hire a moving company to help you move. With time and practice, this group of employees has gotten good and reliable. Any time, if someone needs to relocate, they’ll all be there, no questions asked. You call yourself, every so often. All your stuff arrives safely at its destination with a minimum of fuss, and you tip generously. You get some well-needed relaxation and peace of mind.


(Minor spoiler for Lost, at least Season 1 recommended)

You have an idea for a television show about a group of strangers who arrive in a mysterious place that plays by very different rules than our reality. You figure out some of the ways this place works, know some of the events that will happen, and lay out mysteries for the characters and viewers to uncover slowly over time. You use flashbacks that parallel events to examine and deepen the characters. Your production values are top notch and you produce great television. Your show is a smash hit, plus you’re not sure exactly where you are going with all this, so you let things drag a bit, padding with extra episodes. In the end it doesn’t quite fit together, but the journey was still pretty great.


To fulfill the terms of your late uncle’s last will and testament, you are forced to pursue what he knew to be your passion, and to strike out and open a fine Italian restaurant. Your dishes are sublime, but you soon learn that is but a small part of a successful enterprise. You must hire quality staff, arrange logistics across many suppliers, draw in customers and much more. Each step of the way, while ruthlessly keeping costs in check, you answer the question of what customers would need to see in your place to come in, and expand your menu to offer all the things a diverse group might want. You get to know your customers by type. A casual observer wouldn’t notice how your choices of seating and lighting make you more money, or the new cheaper sources for your ingredients; all they know is that the signs tell them the establishment here will let them have a nice evening. Steadily you iterate and attract more people, and get more of them to order the wine. Business is good. You hope you made your uncle proud and talk to an agent about franchising.


You have something to prove.

Hire a cleaning service every so often. It’s totally worth it.

Lots of applause lights.

Tell the job interviewer the strengths and weaknesses they want to hear. If they don’t hire you, learn and improve your game, and keep looking.

Find people to come to your meetup by offering them a free hat. Or at least, free pizza.

Pirate music, television, movies, software, even when the owners aren’t being kind of a dick and would sell it to you.

When you are in power, respect the minority only when you don’t have the votes, change the rules to pass the laws you want. Weaken free speech rules and silence those you disagree with, lest they win and do the same to you.

Write whatever you want on the forms. They are useless bureaucratic nonsense. No one is ever going to read them. Now you can forget this and move on to more important things.

Learn your whole speech phonetically.

At your meetup, do not allow challenges to in-group principles, so your group will be viewed better and feel more welcoming to and attract more members of the in-group, by demonstrating loyal membership in the in-group.

Tell other people what to do.

For demo day, you show something cool your system might someday do, when you get around to building one. For that you need funding.


Dismayed by terrible things, you devote your life to the promise of artificial intelligence. You discover that contrary to your initial beliefs, not only is creating AI not easy, the problem is super hard! None of your programs work! No one understands the potential. You set out to teach the AI to play games and optimize recommendations, hoping this will let them see the potential benefits, with limited  success. You schedule exhibition matches that are silly, but get you exposure. You keep coding. Machine learning accomplishes more things and starts to get more funding. People start to come around to AI being dangerous, but mostly for the wrong reasons, so you know their arguments are bad. You take some precautions, but you don’t worry about the world being doomed. You are confident that if they arrive, we can correct for any safety problems later.



You are at a meeting to arrange educational services for your son. You know that the only thing that matters is what is written on the education plan. Whatever is in that document is what will count. You let numerous falsehoods and stupid things pass, because you realize that if you just play nice, they are going to put down on the piece of paper the thing that you want on the piece of paper. They write the words you need on the piece of paper. You sign it. You walk away happy.

In conclusion:

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