In the game Factorio, your goal is to create a well-oiled factory that produces objects which are then used in other parts of your factory. I had a flash addiction to this game, meaning I played it intensely for a period of two weeks, then never touched it again.

The game was dangerous. It synthesized the human incentive loop into a mind-wrapping game one could not help but be mercilessly sucked into. The game's purpose was mostly up to you, but, in order to upgrade your factory parts, in order to research new scientific methods of production, you needed to produce certain items at certain levels of scale. And so began the endless puzzle.

At every point in the game, you sort of have a silent objective: you want your factory to be "stable". You want it to produce goods, you want all the assembly lines to be running smoothly, and you want your natural resources flowing orderly into the machines that need it. In the beginning, you have coal and iron deposits close to where you begin, but after a while, you'll deplete these, and you'll need to build a railroad to ship resources from remote locations. So you revamp your factory to produce a whole other industry of products and parts, creating a perplexing logistics nightmare requiring high doses of problem solving. And you really want to solve it, because you're this close to stability.

But it never comes.

You never get stability. You tell yourself, surely I have all the parts, strategy, and experience needed to get this factory flowing smoothly and with high levels of autonomy.

But things break. They need repair. Resources dry up here and there. Assembly lines get backed up. So you beef up your operation further still, installing new machines and enforcing new procedures. Things look great for not more than ten seconds before you realize your entire factory seems to be operating with less zeal, less intensity. Ah, electricity production is low. Need more steam engines. Need more generators. Need more towers.

Tragically, no matter how close you get to seeming operational bliss, the cycle of upgrades never end. And so, two weeks into this strangely grasping game, I said, why? Why should I keep playing? More resources, more machines, more production...more problems.

We've been here before haven't we?

My inability to find stable contentedness clashed with my desire to grow. And so the only way through it was to cycle. Content for a day, growth-seeking for a week. Contentedness for a day causes no problems, in the long run. It's a no-op. Growth-seeking for just one day, however, creates exponential future responsibility that may be impossible to absolve yourself from.

So how do you play this game peacefully?

With Factorio, I couldn't find a way. I couldn't find a way to play it without being relentlessly capitalistic. A company, of course, is a factory no different. The goal was to create a factory so simple, that it could achieve autonomy merely by fact of nimbleness. But a factory is living. And as with things that live, growth is as inescapable as the air we inhabit. Growth is time + adaptability.

So the question becomes, if a simple factory isn't within the realm of physics, does one pursue a simpler factory? Or is it all the same. Complex, simple, and anywhere in between: is it all the same?

My nihilistic side says, of course it's all the same. Everything's the same. And nothing matters.

My optimistic side, my hopeful side, my ambitious side, says: of course they're different. Of course less problems is better than more problems.

But infinity minus one is still infinity. Infinity cut in half is still infinity. It would seem, that if optimizing the stability of my consciousness is the goal, then consciousness seems to have a wrapping effect around anything that it encounters, such that it occupies one problem with the same intensity it would occupy a hundred problems.

So cheers. Cheers to this lovely game we find ourselves in. Cheers to the physical laws in whose arena we play out the relentless process of consciousness. Cheers to instinct, emotions, chemicals, disease, drought, destruction, production, and competition. And a huge cheer—nay, a standing ovation—for the mystery.

This is one hell of an experience.

You'll only receive email when they publish something new.

More from Mo
All posts