Game Design is Dead
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Crisis in the Infinite Library

Infinite library What am I going to read in my lifetime? The challenge, I think, comes down not to what I shall read, but what I shall choose to exclude from reading.

In practical terms, something might as well be infinite as finite but beyond our capabilities – it matters not to us as individuals whether the universe is infinitely large, or simply larger than we could possibly perceive or conceive. Except as an abstract point of argument, these two situations are indistinguishable. So it is with the problem I face in what to read. In the twentieth century, the number of books that had been printed escalated to the point that for the first time in human history it was impossible for any one person to have read them all. It is as if our libraries transformed themselves into infinite spaces, shelves without end bearing books without end.

When I look at the list of books sat on my 'waiting list', I find many things I'd like to read but haven't found the time or reason to justify. If everything I have even thought about reading were upon this list, it would be too daunting to tackle it at all, for it would take me hours to read even the titles of the books that would qualify. At the moment, the bulk of my reading is within philosophy, but even within this single field of enquiry I cannot hope to achieve anything close to comprehensive philology. (And to be honest, I do not want to be condemned to read solely philosophy for the rest of my life, since I do have other interests). Some things have to be excluded –but what, and how shall I demark my area of interest? By domain, excluding (say) epistemology and logic in order to focus on (say) ethics and metaphysics? By era, excluding (as I have done thus far) anything prior to Descartes? By author, perhaps preferring the dead to the living on the practical grounds that this choice excludes the greatest number of books?

I am trapped in the infinite library, trying to find my way out whilst carrying an every heavier burden of bound volumes that continually threaten to trap me in the stacks forever. That no-one else seems to be in the same situation only adds to the sense of anxiety – what do they know that I do not? Or perhaps, what is it that they do not know that I might also get away without knowing? Why, ultimately, must I acquiesce to the necessity of knowing at all? Plenty of people live perfectly contentedly without one iota of the pointless trivia I have accumulated over my meagre lifetime. Yet still, I am compelled to read more, to learn more. The obvious course of action – to stop reading – appeals to the Buddhist in me, but I think there are few things I should find as hard to give up as books.

So it is that I wander the shelves of the infinite library in the eternal pursuit of the impossible hope that I might someday have read enough...


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So make it concrete. To have read enough *for what*? It's terribly easy to get stuck on the abstract: "Am I a good enough musician?" is a very different question from "Am I a good enough musician to get paid to play music?"

Perhaps write, rather than read?

I know this predicament quite well. I keep a wide collection of books and audiobooks (check out if you don't know it) and I have enough reading material to occupy me for at least a lifetime. That's considering that I won't re-read my favourite books (the notion of 'favourite books' is slightly suspect anyway) and the new books that come out.

I say, think of this like a good computer, how do you rank your preferences? Does the compleat works of Terry Pratchett come as a priority, or Plato? Does chicklit come into the list, or cookery? It's important to have wide interests. I like humour, sometimes I even like lowbrow works of fantasy, or old 20thC science fiction.

Choosing your list of books is choosing your individuality. It is also a matter of showing your collective affiliation. I've also lately gotten into comics. Although that isn't terribly a secret that I've liked comic book characters for a while.

I also recommend to keep a track on your readings.


Peter: "So make it concrete. To have read enough *for what*? It's terribly easy to get stuck on the abstract"

True enough! I think, perhaps, that what this piece expresses is the tension I am feeling between my interest in philosophy - which looks to be impossible to turn into cash flow - and my background in games - which I am earning a good living at, but which is pretty intellectually unchallenging for me these days. This tension manifests itself in my anxiety about my reading list, because every day I spend working on my philosophical work I am dropping the ball on keeping the money coming in. I'm at an age now when I start to wonder if my intellectualism is a luxury I can no longer afford, especially with a kid on the way...

Chairman Bill: "Perhaps write, rather than read?"

Reading is the raw material for writing, is it not? I have made much more of an effort to read recently because I fear I have already wasted so much of my life in a narrow, personal discourse when I could be contributing to the public conversation. But I welcome an outsider perspective on this, because I don't know what to think about my writing these days beyond frustration that I can't make much money at it.

Michael: nice to hear from someone else who understands this plight, but still, you seem to be quite comfortable with it. To you, the problem seems akin to that of where one goes out to eat for their next meal - a pleasant dilemma. Personally, I am finding it a crushing weight these days. And so I feel that something must have got out of hand.

Thanks for the comments everyone!

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