The Longest Path

One of the strangest things about video games is the way they encourage you to take the longest path. Most games have some system of progression: a storyline, levels, or a map you move through methodically. However, there are also many things to explore in each area, and when you move on you probably won't return to them. To get the most out of the game, you actually want to avoid winning for as long as possible. In that sense, winning is a kind of loss.

I've started noticing areas of my life where I seem to avoid winning. Rather than a desire to lose, I think this reflects a desire to explore, an unwillingness to move on too soon. If I finish this today, I know there will be parts of it still unexamined. Questions gone unanswered. Experiences left unhad. Why would I want to move forward, if it means leaving important things behind?

But, unlike in a video game, progress is not linear, and not even in a consistent direction. There is no helpful-yet-insistent arrow ushering you from one idea to the next. What is finished today can be even more finished tomorrow. Winning doesn't have to mean moving on. And moving in any direction can still be progress, even if it's revisiting old ideas.

This is a difficult lesson to learn, at least for me. My mindset is much more geared towards discovering the answer, solving the problem, slaying the dragon, and moving on to undiscovered/unsolved/unslain pastures. It's a model of progress as completion. But I think there is a lot more to be found in progress as iteration, refinement and steady accumulation.

Ironically, the key to finishing things may be knowing that they are never truly finished, and thus there is no best ending to hold out for.