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February 26th, 2019

In the mythology of most religions there is a trickster god or entity of some sort.  Shakespeare reincarnated the concept as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  In the Hindu Pantheon, this trickster is Ganesh, the elephant-headed god.  In Navajo Mythology the Coyote was the trickster, in Norse mythology there’s Loki and perhaps in the Christian system we might identify the trickster as the serpent or Satan.


Regardless of affiliation, validity or any other pedantic angles that can be brought to such traditions, the widespread allegory of the trickster god is useful.


Videogames – to switch gears for a quick detour – are in essence puzzles constructed for the player to solve.  We might think of the designers of such videogames as another incarnation of these trickster gods who design difficulties for delight.


As games become more and more realistic we may wonder about the possibility that our reality could be a simulated game.


Thinking of this life as a videogame might at first suggestion sound irreverent, but as with all mental models we must only use them in the context and the situation when appropriate. 


Using a hammer when we need to drive in a screw is a very unwise use of one’s tools.  So too with mental models.


Becoming obsessively convinced that life actually is or might be a videogame is bound to make a person nuts.  But entertaining the idea for a little while at the right time can prove very useful.  Not only can this model work to take some harmful seriousness out of our perspective, help us relax and see new possibilities, but we may even see a way to have fun with our difficulties.


Imagine for a moment if the most stressful part of your life was actually the design of some trickster entity who knows you very well, who constructed this difficulty - tailored it custom just for you because this trickster knew just how well it would get under your skin.  Imagine further those moments when frustration and anger and even depression are wreaking havoc on your mindset and somewhere in some observational dimension, this trickster is rolling on the floor with laugher, having duped you with their trickery.


This might sound like one sick nightmare, but if we employ that video-game-life model of things, our eyes might narrow, our face pulling to a scowl, our mind racing towards some new stratagem. 


Just as a videogame eggs a player on to overcome obstacles, we might hold the secret knowledge of this trickster in our mind as a kind of fuel, One that helps us look at life and it’s difficulties differently and ask:


How can I out-trick the trickster?



So many stories and movies are about some underdog rising up to topple the top dog in some clever way that the reigning power of the moment didn’t see coming. 


People talk about ‘life hacks’ as in things that people have figured out that bring results in a counter-intuitively efficient ways.  We might take this concept a little further and think about how we can hack not just reality to greater effect but even our own mind.


Entertaining the idea of some personal trickster who constantly tries to befuddle you for entertainment is a mental hack for looking at life’s difficulties with the curious, crafty mind of a child at play in a game.



The unpredictability of life ensures that we cannot find hacks for everything, but imagine that trickster god’s laughter cutting short, sitting up quick with rapt and worried attention.  The latest difficulty and trick did not land as it usually does.  Instead of getting the best of you, the newest disaster seems to evoke only a pleasant and calm smile.


The trickster god, annoyed, goes back to the drawing board and dreams up something even more painful and frustrating. 


The new difficulty steamrolls through life, but this time, instead of just a calm and ready smile, we await hungry.  We catch the launched trickster missile and gobble it up like some kind of Godzilla, usurping the explosion and savoring it like a hot sauce fit only for monsters.


Imagine looking at life’s problems like some kind of fuel that we need, like a hungry man for food, we await them and dive into them immediately, not simply solving but savoring.  Laughing in pure delight as we do, imagining the trickster god going insane with failure to get the best of our better selves.


This episode references Episode 159: Hammer and Screw.

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 317: Trickster Missiles

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