What Game Are You Playing?

Farnam Street / The Knowledge Project recently posted a short clip from an interview with William Irvine, a philosophy author. The topic was a concept called an “anti-mentor.”

“An anti-mentor is somebody I’ve had a chance to observe, to get to know and have drawn the conclusion that they are playing a radically different game than I am. There’s one game, the social status game. There are people who live to create a certain social impression. So they buy a car, they dress, they buy a house, they do all of that. That’s not the game I’m playing. I’m playing a radically different game. So when they look down on me, I think Oh, that’s a good sign. Because they’re playing a different game. And for them to win their game, what I’m doing would be craziness. It would be like bringing a hockey stick to a baseball game. If they criticize me, I perk up a bit. Oh, good. I’m not playing their game, I don’t want to be playing their game. I think their game is kind of foolish. Not that I would tell them that. Guess what? That’s how they feel about the game I’m playing. So this notion of people who have different values or playing a different game, [wanting them] to approve of you, is a bad sign.”

William Irvine, Interview with The Knowledge Project

HOWEVER, the anti-mentor concept isn’t what got my attention. It was the idea that we are all playing different games!

And, if you are playing, as William Irvine said, a radically different game than those around you, it can cause you some social conflict. And that is true in my case. I happen to live in the imaginary city of Los Angeles, but I am not playing the same game that what I call “L.A. People” are playing. If you’ve spent any time with me, you’ve heard me complain about it. Their game is this:

“I value others based on their status in the industry (music, film) hierarchy. I will become fake friends with them. They will like me and give me a gig. This will inflate my own imaginary status, attracting more gigs and residual income. Once I have drained people for opportunities I will move on to the next until I… uh… win the game? I guess?”

I have also called it The Disease for short.

Telltale symptoms:

1 – Namedropping. Shoehorning celebrity names into every conversation and referring to them as my friend.

2 – Treating you as if you are lower on the totem pole simply because of credits, not because of ability.

3 – Wearing unnecessary accessories: sunglasses, necklaces, hats. If someone says it’s their “brand” they definitely have The Disease and you should run before you also start saying that dreaded B-Word several times a day.

Someone I know in the film industry actually said this sentence: “I would never work him. He has less photos of himself with famous people than I do.” This was said in all seriousness, and I am not exaggerating.

This L.A. Game / Disease is so pervasive, you can will get sucked in without realizing it. In an imaginary city where everyone plays it, it becomes your normal reality. Besides, given the chance, who wouldn’t want to take advantage of the benefits? Are you crazy? And yes, I have played this game myself. It’s disgusting. I hate it. The truth is, I moved here in 2006 to play the L.A. Game. 100%. And after immersing myself in it, I wanted to throw up forever, to borrow a short phrase from Mr. Vai.

Part of the problem is that income in the entertainment business is highly speculative. There aren’t enough gigs to go around. It necessitates hustling. Gotta always be out there, on the lookout for people who can help you. I believe this behavior makes people crazy. I don’t want it around me.

So here’s the game I choose to play instead:

“I invest my time in developing my own creative skills. I focus on long-term results rather than once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that come from networking. When I meet / work with people who are famous or kinda famous, I treat them like anyone else. If they are friendly, talented, productive, and reasonable and want to work with me, I’ll work with them. If not, I decline. It’s not worth playing along with The Disease. I’d rather work with someone that has their shit together, famous or not. I believe my own creative output and ability to do high-quality work is more important than who I know. I value my autonomy and trust that my own creative ideas will eventually succeed.”

This is in line with Cal Newport’s philosophy of So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

My game can be difficult, if not seemingly impossible! (Probably because I’m not so good they can’t ignore me, yet.) I have to survive through what appears to be a vast desert of failure. But I keep playing my game. I believe if I can just keep getting better at what I do, I’ll come out ahead. (To be honest, I don’t think I actually have a choice. As I said, I’ve played the other game, and it isn’t for me. But man, some people seem to absolutely LOVE having The Disease. It’s oozing out of them.)

I am sure there are people who think I am totally wrong and cynical. They would advise me to give in and play the L.A. Game. “Do the things you’re supposed to do, Carl! Come on, buy that fedora!” But I just can’t.

In the meantime, I will sell my creative skills to a few select clients, try to be a normal person, and keep putting out my crazy cartoons and music.

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