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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