Triumph & Failure

Volume #1 Issue 8 June 1988

In my short career as a computer game designer, I have known both the dizzying heights of triumph and black pit of failure. Let me tell you about them.

Triumph is a social experience. It is something that other people heap upon you. There is, I know, a strictly solitary kind of triumph, the triumph that comes when you know that you have shaped something grand and great, and it doesn’t matter whether others even know about it. But that internal sense of triumph is always attenuated by the skepticism of one who knows the deceptive powers of one’s own ego. You can never be sure. Only when the triumph is thrust upon you by a mass of people can you take joy in its certainty.

When triumph does come, it is a powerful experience. People treat you with such adulation, such awe. They seem to treat you as if there were a gap between you and them, as if you are one of the Immortals and they are hardly worthy of your attention. For one possessed of so towering an ego as I am, this objective confirmation of my most extravagant private fantasies is heady stuff indeed.

But it is the excesses of triumph that give me cause to worry. People assume that, because I wrote Balance of Power, I must be blessed with omniscience. Programmers think that I am some kind of Macintosh guru, possessed of a super-natural understanding of this inscrutable machine. Academics think that I must have some special knowledge of geopolitical theory, some direct line to Truth. I have received offers to consult with specialists in the field of international relations. One reporter asked me to comment on a developing crisis in a foreign country.

The danger is that I might start to take these people seriously. In a reversal of the tale of the Emperor With No Clothes, I might begin to believe the image that all these people think they see. Like Ray Bradbury’s Martian-chameleon, I act like a Famous Person in front of user groups, like a Sagacious Mentor in the company of younger designers, or a Creative Genius in the presence of the press. And the dangers are all the greater because I want to believe these people, to be the unreal creature of their fantasies.

Failure is a lonely experience. People cluster close to you in triumph and avoid you in failure. They treat your failure with either accusatory silence or sympathies that only confirm the magnitude of the disaster. Left to yourself, you ponder the single question over and over: Why?

Failure is an eye whose penetrating stare cuts through every rationalization. No amount of explanation, no mature self-analysis can dispel the simple truth of failure. It stands like a monument to your unworthiness; nothing can topple it, nothing can cover it.

Failure rides with two companions, Cynicism and Bitterness. How many times have I cursed the obtuseness of the critics and the public for failing to recognize the beauty and nobility of Siboot? In my bitterness I have found blame in the public, the press, the critics, the publisher, the retailers anybody and everybody associated with the game.

And I have found blame in myself, too. By failing, I have betrayed and discredited my own ideals. My best and finest effort has only served to reveal the bankruptcy of my most deeply held values.

Failure is a poison whose only antidote is a strong dose of egotism. Only powerful fantasies can overcome such bitter, undeniable reality. Fear not for me, friends my egotism is certainly adequate to the task. Cherish and nurture your egotism, for it will protect your ideals from the icy fingers of failure.