Notes from PAX East 2015 (Part 2 / 3 – Making & Selling Games)

I went to PAX East 2015! It was awesome! I took a lot of notes!

(Part 1: Social Stuff)
(Part 3: Dungeon Mastering)

Here are the notes from the “how to make and sell games” type talks.

Business Basics for Indies

Dan Adelman

This talk is mostly about video, not board games

  •  Business Strategy
  • Also: What are the barriers to entry?
    • Indie games have a low barrier to entry
    • Marginal Revenue (selling one more copy) > Marginal Cost (making one more copy)
      • Marginal Cost is 0 for video games (i.e. it is free to sell a copy. Thus selling at any price = profit). Except not.
      • Everyone can undercut, leading to a race to the bottom
        • 99 cents is expensive when your competition is free
  • Adelman’s Law of the Games Industry: “Anyone in the games industry to make money is in the wrong place.”
  • Marketing: Helping people who would love your game, find out about your game (not spammy!)
  • Product  Quality of product
    Differentiation from competitors
    Audience Expectations
    Internal Consistency (art, music, gameplay, marketing all aiming for the same audience).
    Know where your customers are
    What platforms are excited about your game? (They will give you free publicity)
    Where does your game belong?
    PROMOTION  Where does your core audience get their information?
    Establish a relationship with journalists. But! If you are at the point that you need to establish a relationship with a journalist to market your game, you’re too late.
    Price Low low low but don’t undersell yourself. This is tricky.
    Announce in advance when your price will drop so customers don’t feel cheated
    Examine the competition carefully
    Check your audiences’ disposable income
  • The 4 P’s must fit together and be internally consistent; point to the same consumers.
  • Negotiation: Know these words.
    • Specifically, make sure you understand “BATNA”, “Logrolling” vs “Fixed Pie”
  • Never be afraid to ask for a better deal than they offer. Raising your money per game from $2 to $4 doubles your profits and takes a 5 minute discussion if they’re willing.
  • Practice negotiation. Roleplay, rehearse. Make it a conversation. Remove ego.
  • (You have to work with them afterward. If either side gets heated during negotiation, is this really a partnership you want?)
  • Get to know people before you need them (see: Promotion, above). But don’t be disingenuous!
  • Everyone will remember everything you say. Good and bad.
  • Everyone starts at the bottom.

Heads Up: the Art of Interface and Graphic Design in Video Games

Vicki Ebberts, Alexandria Neonakis, Kate Welch, Eric Monacelli

  • Read this article by Anthony Stonehouse
  • Fiction Geometry Notes Example
    Diagetic Yes Yes You and the character can see the same information, in the same way. Pip Boy
    Meta Yes No In-game elements “seen by the character” projected against the 2D HUD Plane Blood Splatter
    Spatial No Yes Elements that you see, that exist in the game world, that are invisible to the character. Floating Money
    Non-Diagetic No No The classic “HUD”, which is removed from the game world and doesn’t exist in the game fiction. WOW HUD
  • New UI problems will present themselves in nontraditional games.
    • Oculus rift is going to be AWESOME AND WEIRD AND INTERESTING
    • Hearthstone is already breaking this model – the entire game is a user interface – there’s almost no “fiction”.
  • What do companies look for in designers?
    • Graphic Design
      • Ability to organize information in a smart way.
      • Ability to organize information in a hierarchy clearly.
    • Being aware of what’s new and fresh, and also what’s out of date
    • Fail a lot and don’t give up
    • Ability to think like a user of any product
  • Process
    • Get clear goals. What problem are we trying to solve? How does this help the player?
    • Sketch out ideas on paper. Don’t discriminate against bad ideas.
    • Whiteboard user flow. Confirmations. Transisions! User Feel. Buttons.
    • Wireframe. Prototype anything new/risky/tricky. Use physical paper to prototype quickly.
  • Pair. Work with a developer until things feel right. User test frequently!
  • If anyone is noticing your UI, then it’s probably in their way.
  • In AAA Shooters, the UI is not the content. In nontraditional games (hearthstone), the UI is the content.
  • Watch playthroughs on youtube to find elements that work well. But make sure it works in your game.
  • Just go on twitter and search #UX and #UI. See what happens.

 Do You Have What it Takes to Publish an Indie Board Game?!

Breeze Grigas, Jeff Gracia, Sarah Como, Eli Kosminsky, Aerjen Tamminga, Luke Peterschmidt

  • Basically the answer to most of your questions is kickstarter but this isn’t a kickstarter panel so we’re going to assume you know that.
  • Why do you want to make games? Is it to quit your job? Make something with your friends? Check “make a board game” off your list?
  • ^^ Answer that question before going further.
  • As a publisher, what is your product line.
  • You don’t need a finished product to approach a publisher. It just needs to play, and show the core idea. You must make it. Test It!
  • If you decide to self publish, you’re going to spend 80% of your time not making games. You’ll spend 80% of your time publishing, and then 100% of your time selling.
  • Remember that the publisher takes the risk.
  • Retail price should be 5x creation cost.
    • 2/5 Retailer
      1/5 Distributor
      1/5 Publisher -> 1/5 of that to you
      1/5 [??? didn’t write this down]
    • Example: $210k kickstarter, had to spend $80k in shipping (incl. international).
  • Find your local game developer cabal and ask them.
  • Go to the Unpub Convention in Florida.
  • “Design toward what you can do”, “Pick something you can execute on”.
  • Get to know Board Game Geek.
  • Read The Characteristics of Games
  • Read The Design of Everyday Things
  • Playing bad games is a great way to make good games.
  • Play games that people love but you don’t like. (“Read 50 Shades, and figure out why it sells. You don’t have to love the actual product to learn something from it”)
  • Give your game to other people, then just sit back and watch! (Blind Playtesting).
  • Three Questions that you should be able to answer for your fictional character in the game / player character in the game:
    • Who are you?
    • What do you do?
    • How do you win?
  • Immersive Gameplay (top down design) > Canvasing (same rules, different art)
  • Listen to Mark Rosewater’s Podcast.
  • Playtest with new people. But also make sure to playtest with the same group for a few times so that they figure out the strategy of your game.
  • You want to hear: “This is fun, and I’d like to play it again.”
  • Play with other designers, and be able to answer their questions about why you didn’t make certain decisions.
  • You can go for an LLC or just a DBA (“Do Business As”). Actually, just get a deleware C Corp. (srsly).
  • YOU WILL PROBABLY SPEND ABOUT $10,000 BEFORE YOU GET TO MARKET. Have this money ready to go when you go to publish.
  • Have a “red button gamer” play your game. (rbg is someone who just wants to blow things up and see what happens – they’ll have different strategies and tactics and might find new ways your game is broken).
  • Go to your local game store with your game
    • Get the best local M:TG players to play your game. They will break it. Retool. Have them play it again. They will break it again. Repeat until it takes them “long enough” to break your game.
  • (Game design tip: Blind Bid events even out the game).
  • Think about weight for shipping!
  • Check out the GameCrafter site.

Birthing Board Games: From Conception to Maturity

Timothy Blank, Donald Mitchell, Lauren Woolsey, Phil Cartagena

  • Find your local game maker’s guild. Join it.
  • Games are made of: Concept, Theme, Components, Mechanics
  • “A good game gives its players interesting choices” — Sid Meier

[this panel wasn’t particularly information dense!]



Notes from PAX East 2015 (Part 1 / 3 – Social Stuff)

I went to PAX East 2015! It was awesome! I took a lot of notes!

(Part 2: Making & Selling Games)
(Part 3: Dungeon Mastering)

Here are the notes from the “social media / dealing with people” type talks.

Enabling Co-Op Mode

Tracy Hurley, Christine Chung, Georgia Dow

  • Social Identity Theory
    • We need to form groups to survive. We want to protect our group. We like to form an identity with out group. We form “ourselves”, and “belong” to the ingroup. The outgroup is the “other”.
    • We protect our identity as part of our own self-esteem. We think of our ingroup as better than they really are.
    • Now we have globalization which goes against this.
    • Actors in Planet of the Apes took to ingroups that matched their ape costumes.
    • Power and Identity
      • Conflict due to differences in identity
    • It’s the self-esteem connection to identity and connection to in-group (views) that is “the problem”
    • Cognitive Dissonance
    • Social Resources
      • What are they?
    • One of the things to do is contact, actually meet the outgroup to realize that they are more diverse. We see our ingroup as diverse but the outgroup as monolithic stereotypes. (“varied” / “unrealistic” )
    • Just putting people in the same place doesn’t work, but getting them to work together does.
    • Replace the “instance” of the outgroup with an actual human being.
    • Use gaming to reinforce, or, hopefully, break down these stereotypes.
      • Stereotype break down is not about repetition but about diversity of experiences with “The other”
      • Aggressiveness breeds aggressiveness.
    • We want to be seen and accepted. We want our feelings to be seen and accepted.
    • Remember that some [trolls] may be upset about something else.
      • Don’t build up ammo
      • Aim your weaponry, just not at each other
      • Accept that you do not have to agree, to win
      • We don’t have to be right
      • We want peace, space, and reception, if not agreement
    • Look for common ground (what do both people care about?)
    • People who are uncomfortable with uncertainty are more likely to end up in conflict.
    • Use “I” statements, not “You” statements [when dealing with trolls]. Also pay attention to body language (this doesn’t translate well online).
    • Accountability.
    • Don’t feed the trolls?
      • The trolls aren’t ususally actually upset about *this*, but this is the forum in which they express the anger.
      • Games as *escape*, to get away from other *anger*, which follows them into the game.
      • Remember that you’re not just speaking to the troll but also the audience. So make sure you speak in a way that brings people together, not divides them.
      • Pause, wait, breathe, calm down before posting.

Player Select: Identifying with our virtual selves (video)

Alexa Ray Corriea, Neha Tiwari, Mitch Dyer, Elisa Melendez, Mike Laidlaw

  • Background Reading One: Leveling Up for Dummies
  • Background Reading Two: The Proteus Effect
  • More attractive avatars walked closer and divulged more information in game
  • People rarely (3%) create “scary” or “unattractive” avatars
  • Men trended toward average avatars, women toward attractive avatars.
  • Katrina Fong is doing cool research. Also Aria Bendix.
  • People who are comfortable with themselves don’t have such strong tendencies to create heroic or beautiful avatars.
  • Character creation is intentional.
  • Convince the player that the relationship is real and not the result of some systems.
  • Samantha Traynor is a good example of a character who breaks the “sex as reward” system (for male Shep) by turning him down no matter his advances.

Blog is Back

I recently migrated from to, and I’m slowly getting all of my sites back online.

I recommend Inmotion if you’re looking for a managed hosting solution, by the way – one of their techs went way out of their way to get me a backup of the site after I was dumb and let my subscription expire without saving everything first.

From Brooklyn,

–Erty Seidohl

Soylent Soylent Soylent Eggs

I’m trying Soylent as an experiment. This is my 7th day eating it. Here’s my blog post for the past 6 days of Soylent if you’re interested.

Woke up today tired, but enjoyed myself a glass of Soylent in the morning, made with some vanilla (for flavor) and salt (for not keeling over). Definitely bodily tired – a kind of dull aching tired that wasn’t exhaustion or sleepiness. It went away after I was up and about though.

Work went slowly today. I worked from home, and I’m either just checked out already for my upcoming wedding (I leave for Michigan next Tuesday and end a year of long-distance relationship for good!) or the Soylent is slowing me down. I’m actually going to say it’s the wedding. Body-wise I felt pretty great today.

Soylent for lunch, dinner. I had two cups of green tea with lunch which was enough caffeine to propel me until the end of the workday. Again, not tired today. I usually get exhausted at 8pm since that’s right after I eat a heavy dinner, but on Soylent I just kind of coast across these previously rugged ups-and-downs. This is pretty similar to what some other people have reported.

Way less gas today either. I didn’t eat as much Soylent as I did yesterday. The Chinese food is out of my system as well, I think. Plus I’m just finally getting used to the fiber and high Glycemic Index.

I was really craving some salt-and-pepper scrambled eggs around 1 a.m., though, so I just made those and ate them. I’m actually writing this blog post with my laptop perched on the stove. They were fluffy and delicious.

I think that means I’m still not getting enough salt, because salt tastes really good to me right now. Soylent only contains 45% of the RDA of salt, so that’s not a surprise. How does one go about monitoring their … blood-salt percentage? Should I keep track of my blood pressure?

I made it two full days on Soylent before eating something else. But midnight super-salty eggs are delicious and I’m glad I made them. I’m thinking that after I get back from my wedding (where I won’t be able to eat Soylent since I won’t have it with me) I might switch to just having Soylent for Breakfast and/or lunch. We’ll see.

From Brooklyn,


Six Days of Soylent So Far

I promised Pedro that I would start blogging when I started on my Soylent diet, so here goes. I’m a bit late, considering that I actually started in on Soylent a few days ago, but preparations for my wedding have kept me away from the blagosphere.

I’ll assume the reader is familiar with the purpose and origin of Soylent. Otherwise, I recommend this well-written article on the matter.

I ordered Soylent ten months ago, and it is finally here! The wait is over, and I get to embark on this crazy experiment in food hacking.

Day 0: Paraphernalia

My Soylent Starter Kit arrived today. I’m excited.

Everything I Need To Make Soylent, Apparently

Everything I Need To Make Soylent, Apparently

That’s a 2L BPA-free container with a great twist-off top, a scoop, and some instructions. The actual soylent arrived the next day.

Day 1: Soylent Begins

A rather large, white box arrived at work. It contained four smaller boxes, each a week’s worth of powder, supplemented with seven tiny bottles of oil.

2014-08-01 19.47.16

The Soylent Arrives

2014-08-01 19.59.59

The large box contained four of these, each a week’s worth of powder and oil. Instructions were laid on top.

Instructions for Soylent

Instructions for Soylent. The full (amended) instructions are available at

I’ve been anticipating this for a while – I was in the first batch of backers when the kickstarter-esque purchasing opened. I can’t eat gluten, dairy, or chocolate. So, while Soylent is *barely* not gluten free, it’s at least better than trying to figure out what will and won’t make me feel awful on a daily basis, and sometimes guessing painfully wrong.

Who knew couscous was pretty much entirely wheat?

Let’s make some Soylent!

Just add water

Just add water

2014-08-01 21.35.22

I added water

I describe the taste as “purposefully nondescript”. As Rob says on his blog:

I assumed I would quickly get tired of the taste but this does not happen. I accidentally stumbled on what the soft drink industry uses to make sure people never get tired of Coca-Cola, “sensory-specific satiety”. If a taste is pleasant, but not very specific, the brain does not tire of it.

I think of it as chalky pancake batter, but a bit thinner. It’s not bad. It’s not particularly delicious either, but I can see myself not getting tired of it.

Day 2: Soylent For Breakfast

With family in town, I didn’t have a chance to go full-on Soylent. I had Soylent for breakfast this morning, but nothing more.

No changes in appetite or anything else so far – it’s as though I ate a full breakfast. No gas, normal mental state.

Day 3: Soylent for Breakfast and Late Night Meal

Again, a light Soylent diet. Don’t worry – things are about to get interesting.

Day 4: Dizziness

This was the first Soylent workday! I poured myself a glass of the stuff, another liter into a Nalgene for later, and hopped on the subway.

At work I could already tell that my brain was off – I was feeling somewhat light-headed and definitely wasn’t all there. I would forget small things and push really strange errors in my code that I definitely would have caught if I had been running at full power.

Around 11 a.m. I was definitely light-headed and nauseous. I excused myself and sat in the bathroom for a while. Was it time to call off the experiment, so soon? Did I just need to push through this – navigate the Columbia River on my way to the Willamette Valley?

I posted on reddit. Responses indicated that I was either low on blood sugar, or there wasn’t enough salt in my Soylent. Not having a quick way to measure my glucose levels, I went with the latter and put some salt in a cup of Soylent and drank it, washing it down with about a liter and a half of water.

By 1 p.m. I had pretty much returned to normal.

Even today (day 6) I am still somewhat “distant” – as though my brain were operating on some sort of low-power mode. My memory is shoddy and I can’t do the kind of high-level abstract reasoning that is required for programming. I’ve heard from some other “Soylent Pioneers” that this goes away after a few days and the brain starts to run at 150%. We’ll see.

One of my friends had a birthday party that night so I decided to get some real food in me. For lunch I had a burger (no bun) and fries. I attended an excellent Hacker School talk by Daniel Espeset that night, and ate the delicious (Indian?) food provided.

I drank just under one “drink” of alcohol at the party, since I wasn’t sure what Soylent would do to my tolerance. Some reports say that it lowers your tolerance quite a bit, and for myself at 130lbs, I’m already unable to deal with much.

That one “drink” got me comfortably warm but not buzzed. So, yes, I think it does lower my tolerance even further, which I didn’t think was possible. Further testing is needed.

Day 5: Sleep In

With the full understanding that actions – not intent – is what matters, I’m pretty proud of myself for this being the first time I’d overslept since starting my new job. I have a pretty solid excuse as well – I woke up, hit the “one hour less” instead of the “one hour more” button on my alarm clock, and dozed peacefully until noon.

But, maybe this was the Soylent’s fault as well? I just (day 6) tried to turn on the lights in the room I’m in and spent a good five seconds swiping at the wrong wall, wondering where the switch was.

Either the Soylent isn’t powering my brain properly or I’m already becoming an old man. Hopefully the former.

Upon arrival at work, however, I was feeling better about the whole thing, and had a pretty productive day.

Chinese food for dinner – still not ready to commit 100% to Soylent.

Day 6: The Gas

A lot of people have reported having pretty bad gas on Soylent. There are some hilarious posts about this. From the second:

It was bad. These weren’t mere ha-ha toot kinds of emissions; this was hair-raising. It was room-clearing, horse-killing, World War I mustard gas-type gas. I migrated from room to room in the house like I was giving up territory to the Kaiser, my face fixed in an expression of horror as green hell-fumes trailed behind me, peeling paint and wilting plants.

Now! The chinese food I ate last night *probably* contained gluten, so it’s entirely possible that my sudden onset of why-don’t-you-work-from-home-tomorrow flatulence is from that. More testing is needed on this as well. This testing won’t be nearly as fun as the former.

I am working from home tomorrow, just in case.

I also tried drinking some caffeine today. Here’s one great thing about Soylent: I haven’t felt like I needed a cup of tea or can of soda since I started. I’m always comfortably awake, which also makes it a lot easier to fall asleep naturally. I have some problems with caffeine, namely that I’m very sensitive to it and drinking a coca-cola after about 3 p.m. makes me wide-eyed until 5 a.m.

I had one can of coca-cola today and It’s provided me with the power to write this post. Hopefully I can get to bed at a reasonable hour.

For the third time, further testing is needed. It would be neat to be able to run my brain at full tilt for an entire day on a cup of green tea.

I’m going to have Soylent for dinner, which will make this my first 100% Soylent day.

From Brooklyn,


Meditations on Meditations – 1:4

It’s been a little over six months since my last meditations post. Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?

To avoid the public schools, to hire good private teachers, and to accept the resulting costs as money well spent.

(Hays, 1)


My parents were huge believers in this method. As the story goes, they took me at the age of three or four to see Linda Silverman at the Gifted Development Center. Linda ran some tests on me and said something to the effect of, “this child has a real mind for learning, but you’re going to need to send them to some very expensive schools.”

My parents spent the next twenty-some years going in to debt on my and my sister’s behalf. We both attended private schools – namely, Rocky Mountain School for the Gifted and Creative. At RMS, as we affectionately called it, each student had an individualized learning plan, and teachers were careful to foster creative thinking, critical assessment, and a broad worldview.

I did not do well in public school. I spent six months at the public Red Oak Elementary in California and became so depressed, angry, and self-harmful that I can’t really even remember that time. I’m sure it was a wonderful school, but I was a really weird kid – extremely sensitive and emotional about everything – and couldn’t handle the “real world” of a 30-student classroom. I spent one year at Boulder High School before leaving for a private boarding school in Wisconsin.

I’m incredibly grateful to my parents and to my privilege that I’ve been able to attend private schools and have individualized education. I fully acknowledge that my position is only possible because I have parents who cared about my education enough to throw the full weight of their financial support in my direction.

I fully support the public school system and know that it’s a great option for thousands of students in our country and worldwide. I’m sure there are students in places around the world who would love to have a chance to go to public school. But for those who can afford it – and I work toward making that more accessible every day – I think that having an individualized, validating education with a focus on creative, social, critical, and abstract thinking is worlds better.

Someday I’m going to build that school.

Perfect Craft, Imperfect Art

I was talking with my good friend Evan, discussing our philosophies of making things. Evan, a classically trained pianist, recalled an aphorism of one of his mentors:

Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

This makes sense in some fields. In playing a piano, if one practices sloppily, one will perform sloppily – incorrect finger positions practiced over and over again will be nearly impossible to correct. I worry about this when I play StarCraft 2: Without guidance from a professional, are the keystrokes I make a thousand times going to be so ingrained that I won’t be able to adjust myself to the practices that will take my skill to the next level?

Attempting to apply this method to creative works fails miserably! A writer cannot write perfectly every time, nor a painter control to the molecule what their paint will do. Designers cannot always know what the user is going to want.

A programmer attempting to make a thousand perfect programs will leave themselves mired in a death by a thousand cuts – they will have no code reach and no output. Which is why I strongly argued that Facebook’s old motto was better for any artist:

Move fast and break things.

What better way to learn the intricacies of impossibly large and complex systems? Even experienced programmers write bugs all the time, and better to do so at some speed which allows progress to be made.

What I was missing during this conversation with Evan was a distinction between Art and Craft. Art being the ability to create works (move fast and break things) and craft the skill that it takes to create art (practice perfectly).

A writer who does not take the time to practice sentence structure and when to break it will find themselves unable to write coherently. A painter who does not attempt to make each brush stroke perfectly will be left frustrated when their paint seems to disobey their hand. A designer who does not use their knowledge of color and proportion will be unable to guide users effectively. A programmer who does not use the right data structures and algorithms will find their code slow and unusable. All of these are separate from the actual “pieces” that each creates.

I think then my goal is to create lots of imperfect art, but practice my craft with skill each time so that I can avoid ingraining bad habits. Perfectionism in craft is important; perfectionism in art leads to procrastination.

Edit: Hacker School facilitator Allison Kaptur points out an excellent article that puts this very clearly (pun intended) at

Meditations on Meditations – 1:3

Some rather late-night rambling here, but a post nonetheless, so that I may move forward with this exercise. I attended a talk on blogging today by @jessejiryudavis which encouraged writing as practice for writing, so I’m taking that to heart.

Her reverence for the divine, her generosity, her inability not only to do wrong but even conceive of doing it. And the simple way she lived – not in the least like the rich.

(Hays, 1)

Marcus demonstrates agnostic tendencies later in his Meditations, but here praises his mother for her worship. However, in the Casaubon translation, the first clause is rendered “Of my mother I have learned to be religious”, which has a wildly different meaning.

A skeptic myself, I am fond of Hays’ translation – he allows that religion has a place in some peoples lives, and even more praises it, but (in Hays’) doesn’t say that he himself needs to follow.

I’m fascinated with the idea of Marcus’ mother not even conceive of doing wrong (pregnancy puns aside). I attended quite sheltered private schools for my entire education. For me, to cheat on a test was literally unthinkable – I didn’t even consider it. I remember being shocked the first time I thought “wow, I could cheat on this and nobody would notice.”

I don’t share this story to brag, but to examine myself and wonder in what ways I’m following what I think is right without making a conscious decision away from wrong. And: more worryingly, which ways I’m committing small wrongs every day without making a conscious choice to do so.

To live simply is something that originally attracted me to Buddhism. (As an aside: I enjoy Stoicism because it echos many of the tenants of Buddhism without requiring a belief in the divine, or reincarnation, both of which bothered me). The idea that with simple living comes clarity of thought and purpose strikes me. Try to purchase only that which you will actually use.

Meditations on Meditations – 1:2

Integrity and manliness.

(Hays, 1)

Marcus’ lost his father at three. I am fortunate to have ever attended just one funeral. We can say what the average life expectancy is for our day and age only for those that die during it; perhaps the first person to live forever is already doing so.

We will see the philosophy of this in book two.

Integrity. We know someone with integrity when we see them: they do not lie, cheat, swindle, or back down from bullies. They do what they say they will do, and they do not stray from it except to improve.

Integrity is wholeness in ones self. If you do not know something you may unintentionally lie about it. If you want a thing more than your willpower can handle, you will cheat or swindle it. If you are not assured in your own power and strength, you will back down from bullies.

Integrity is having a coherent philosophy. It is understanding where you fit in to the web of all things, connected. It is power that comes not from adoration, or wealth, but from within.

Manliness is archaic. We should discard this old, tired, gendered word and simply say, humanness. Why should a man act like a man? You should act with compassion, grace, strength and thought. None of those are reserved for men.

Seek humanness in your daily action. Stand proud and tall, regardless of stature. Stand your ground when you are threatened, but do not be so stubborn that you do not retreat when defeat is certain. This is humanness – a desire to live with purpose beyond filling a grave.

I seek integrity by reaching out to the world around me. My integrity comes from my ability to speak up when something is wrong. I am not perfect with this. Nobody is. But it is something to practice and remember. Only if we have integrity can we be certain in our humanness. Otherwise we will be offensive and rude.

From Brooklyn,


Meditations on Meditations – 1:1


This will be a series of blog posts, time permitting, in which I examine each chapter of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”, as translated by Gregory Hays, Meric Casaubon, and George Long. I will use Hays’ translation mainly, as I find it the most approachable.

The posts will be personal and most likely wandering, like Aurelius’ writings.

I’m embarking on this exercise to better understand Stoicism, which I find fascinating, and to better understand myself in the context of this ancient philosophy. To any readers of these posts who have not read the Meditations: I recommend Hays’ translation, but also a book titled “A Guide to the Good Life” by William B. Irvine. Irvine lays out an approachable foundation of modern Stoicism without preaching, and I found the book both easy to follow and enlightening.

Without further ado, the first section of the first chapter.

Character and self-control.

(Hays, 1)

I always enjoy when the first sentence of a work reflects the body of the work in its entirety. It’s hard to ascribe foreshadowing to a journal – Marcus himself at this point would not have known that this would be the main topic of his Magnum Opus. Yet here it is: Character and self-control.

I found it interesting to compare here the different translations. I find that in this primary section, myriad meanings surface:

Gregory HAys (2002) 1:1. MY GRANDFATHER VERUS
Character and self-control.
 George Long (1862) FROM my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.
Meric Casaubon (2008) 1. Of my grandfather Verus I have learned to be gentle and meek, and to refrain from all anger and passion.
maxwell staniforth (1964) 1. Courtesy and serenity of temper I first learnt how to know from my grandfather Verus.

I gravitate toward Hays’ for a variety of reasons. His is concise, almost terse. The adjectives he chooses are generally considered attributes of strength (contrast the Casaubon translation, which almost seems the opposite). Someone who has character and self control is assertive.

Long’s translation falls short as well. Morals are subjective and often well intended but misguided. “Self Control” is a cleaner version of “government of my temper”.

I cannot read Greek, so attempting my own translation would be futile. I have to put my trust in one of the translators to be “the most correct”. I’ll attempt to insert references to other translations when they vary wildly in the future.

It’s somewhat ironic that I write this now, at 1:30am on a weeknight. If I had better self-control, I would have skipped on browsing Reddit and Imgur for hours earlier (and when Greta was wanting my attention as well! I’ve apologized since), written this article during that time, and been in bed by a normal hour.

My roommate Levi and I chatted about philosophy for three hours as well tonight, but I will save our arguments for more appropriate chapters of “Meditations”.

What is it to have character? Perhaps our best example comes from Calvin’s Father. Character is built through work, courage, and determination. A person who has character is someone who has been through trials and emerged stronger.

To imagine someone without character: they are ineffectual, lazy, awkward, not confident. If you ask them to work, or to motivate themselves they are unable to muster more than the minimum effort. I cannot say that I do not sometimes fit this description, yet by acknowledging a lack of character in those times, I am able to pull myself into action, and therefore into a fuller implementation of my self.

My friend Evan told me a story about his grandfather. He smoked and drank for many years, but on the day that Evan’s father was born, he put his last bottle of whiskey and pack of cigarettes on top of his dresser, and never touched them again.

We cannot verify this story but I believe it – there is a fulfillment that comes from simple acts of self-control. To delay gratitude, to spare some free time to share others’ burdens. Acts of self-sacrifice made for love. These are things that allow us to find self-actualization. People are addicted to a plethora of things. For example, I find it difficult to stop from visiting Reddit or Imgur when I’m bored.

When your basic needs are taken care of, you have no excuse to not search for self-actualization. Self control and character building take energy, inspiration, and practice. If you waste the time given to you to practice, you will find yourself unable to overcome the most minor of obstacles.

From Brooklyn,