Here are my notes on season 4 of GAMETHING, a podcast in which Pippin Barr and David Wolinsky play through a series of videogames. This season was programming games. You can listen to it to it here -

Before the notes though, I would love for a literary games season - Alan Wake, Elsinore, Pentiment? Historical games would also be interesting - AoE, Civ, The Cat and the Coup. I would also like to see a sampler of cozy / wholesome games because there’s something about them that I still just cannot put my finger on and I would really like to know what it is.

Shenzen I/O

  • The aggressiveness of RTFM is a good point. You kind of forget how that reads to someone who isn’t already into programming.
  • The terseness of programming languages being unfriendly is an interesting point.
    • Programmers like terseness, but it can be intimidating and unfriendly.
    • What does that do to people who program?
  • It’s interesting how many people look at this game as a way to get better at programming. Is it primarily a voluntary edugame?
  • Feeling the pressure of being a programmer playing a programming game is very real, even if the game barely resembles actual work
  • Knowing that these puzzles have elegant solutions changes your engagement with it
  • Knowing about Goto considered harmful and disregarding jump is quite funny
  • I don’t know if Shenzen has the support that makes goto obsolete
  • A question is why not just use Python? Does the real language take you out of the game?
  • The scary tech company being Chinese is quite loaded

Quadrilateral Cowboy

  • “fantasy of effectiveness” - this is key to why programmers like programming. The usage of arcane knowledge to create anything
  • The dependency that tech engenders is fascinating, especially around commands like exit - being held hostage by the tech
    • How do you exit vim?
  • These games are more scripting than programming
  • Maintaining a corporeal body is a fascinating maneuver - it’s in strong conflict with the fantasy of being a programmer - the opposite of Ready Player One
  • I do think that the code being the raw material of a game is very impactful for players. It automatically adds a meta layer.
    • For whatever reason, I don’t think this is as true for the other component parts of the game (eg; art, writing). Code is more associated with video games than any of the other parts.
  • It definitely feels in these games as though you are something of a cyborg - I think in particular the My Vision Is Augmented feeling of Deus Ex
  • The small manual, but large depth is interesting given the parallel with games like Go. The parallel of elegant games and programming is interesting.
    • It points out that programming is a lot of manual work too.
    • Are elegant games fiddly? This is probably true. It matters a lot whether you move a pawn one step or two, or if you move a bishop three spaces down a diagonal or four. Similarly, Go. There is less manual work in elegant games though.
    • The complexity of programming with unfamiliar engines / codebases is interesting.


  • Do programmers like to pretend to be 12 years old?
  • The repetitive nature of the game did help me churn. I’ve done a lot of coding in my time and I don’t get bored with it.
    • I think a key point here is that I’m always coding to build things. I’m the kind of programmer who’s in it to build things - I don’t think I would enjoy my job anywhere near as much if it were all throwaway code.
    • This was also one of my issues with Hacknet. I really wanted to be able to build things that I would be able to use later - maybe clever programs, maybe just a stable of hacked computers that I could easily access.

&& Human Resource Machine

  • Compilers do unroll loops and I was also thinking about how you cannot do that as a game mechanic because it’s so complex to understand. Most programmers really can’t tell you how to write code that the compiler will optimize.
  • The coding competitions that these games remind me of are also pointless.
    • They can be fun though.
  • What would be the most fun level of abstraction of code to write?
    • Didn’t the chemical engineering Zachtronics game have factories function as functions?

Carnage Heart

  • Highlighting the amount of labor involved in automation is a great point.
  • On that note, programmers often fall into the trap of spending five hours automating a task that would take five minutes.


  • I don’t think that there is an isomorph between the structure of a boss battle in TotK and a programming game. The former has you follow directions, the latter has you define directions. Programming games must, by definition, be emergent gameplay.
  • I don’t think that the rules of the game are equivalent to the code of the game. The rules of the game are what the player thinks they are, which can be very different from what the code defines.
  • I also don’t really agree with the privileging of code as raw material for game
  • It’s a good point about how programming is so often articulated to STEMbrain and anti-playfulness
  • The problem vs the play as a key part of games is a very good point


  • Looking up StackOverflow is a common thing that programmers do.
    • They also feel that it’s cheating though.
  • I’m going to be honest though. I think that game developers spend too much time celebrating small things done well. Let’s celebrate some big things done well too.
  • Code changing the world around you is interesting
    • It connects with the idea of games being the raw material of games
    • It also connects with the dream of programming.
  • It’s also interesting to think about if games would try out different coding styles. It’s mostly imperative with a bit of OOP, but what about functional code or LISP macros or Prolog.


  • I personally don’t like the narrative that these games are too much like work. Firstly, they’re really not at all like work. Secondly, I like writing code at work. Just because I perform an activity at work, that doesn’t mean that I should dislike it outside or work. That’s a very work-ethic chain of logic.
  • That Barth made the games to intentionally not feel like standard programming is a very interesting reflection of the context in which these games are made.
  • The question of transferability between Zachtronics games is very interesting.
    • It’s also clearly the case that programming knowledge is transferable to playing Zachtronics, which probably implies that it goes the other way too.
  • Dystopia and labor really are the two stories of programmers