Programming is the Best Game Ever

I’ve been learning the programming language Processing a little better over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been learning Processing via a book called Learning Processing, because that’s how I roll. It’s been kind of marvelous going back through all this stuff that I kind of already know, but haven’t put into practice for a long while. It gives me joy to wield my, admittedly weak-sauce, hacking skills again.

As I’ve been playing around with the language and the code provided by the book and so on, I’ve been remember what a fun game programming really is. This might largely be the case when you’re just fooling around in code, rather than seriously working on something, but just the process of coding and thinking about how your code works is highly entertaining.

Thus, many times while going through this book I’ve had some sample code up and then been invited (either by the book itself, or my own inclination) to change bits and pieces to see what might happen. This is especially good in Processing since it’s inherently a very visual language, focused on representation and interaction rather than crunching data, say. So when you tweak the code, you see the difference in a very direct way, making it that much more rewarding. You change a variable and everything gets bigger, or redder, spinnier. You know.

In this way it’s a lot like the concept of “paidia” talked about by Roger Caillois and fairly popular in literature on digital games. This is the idea that there’s a sort of “pure play” where you just fool around, playing for its own sake, rather than because there are rules driving you forward or shaping what you do. I think programming is perhaps a great example of how very real rules (code itself) can coexist with what at least seems like a pure form of playfulness. There’s no specified objective beyond the pleasure of acting (changing code) and seeing the results of the actions (and not particularly evaluating them in any way).

So what I’m saying is, if you want to have a grand ol’ time. Learn to program. And by that I mean that the learning to program will be a lot of fun. There’s no gatekeeper, just a road leading off into the distance, scattered with toys.

25 November 2010
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