This series is based on a real-life event, many years ago, when I was teaching game design at Digipen School of Computer Gaming, a one-of-a-kind school at the time, principally funded by Nintendo. (It’s now called Digipen Institute of Technology.)

The class was comprised of about seventy guys (one gal, but she dropped out pretty fast) from every part of the world, most of whom just wanted to make their childhood obsession into their career. Nintendo complained that Digipen was turning out good programmers and great animators, but without any training in game design.

Problem is, when it came to electronic games, in the early ’90s, nobody really knew what game design was. Since I had already established myself somewhat in educational technology design, I thought I could take on the job and figure out game design. As one of the executives put it to me, “The game industry needs to go through the same phase as Hollywood in the late ’20s, determining such things as genre, form, and just what makes a good game and what doesn’t.”

I was teaching while learning, so my students became my teachers. Class lectures turned into focused, exciting discussions on topics such as what gamers want in a game, what makes a good plot, how much control should the author retain, and how much should be relinquished to the player. Outside of class, I observed these guys playing, and just chatted with them, always learning something new. Much of what I learned at that time appeared in feature articles I wrote for Game Developer Magazine (some of that is still online at

Each of these guys fascinated me. Their language was not the same as the rest of ours—in many ways. For one thing, they didn’t speak of simulation games; they spoke of G‑d games. They didn’t say they were programming or coding a game; they said they were creating a world. In their narratives the introductory phrase “In the beginning . . .” was a favorite, almost thematic motif. To them, the experience of building a game was the experience of playing G‑d.

Dave was a mature student who held a master’s degree in psychology. I asked him straight out, “After all that work in psychology, why are you switching now to a whole new career?”

The question was really a bait, to get inside his brain. I already knew that game design, like user interface design, was nothing more than human psychology with a machine involved. And the bait was fruitful.

Dave spoke of his lifelong love for video games, and of his ultimate frustration: the characters never truly become real. They remain manipulatable toys, with no mind or will of their own. And once you get good at playing these things, no matter how much artificial intelligence is built in, they become all too predictable. Dave wanted characters with which he could identify, characters that could be capricious and prone to unforeseen moodiness, just like himself and his friends. For that to happen, he felt they needed to be self-aware—and he was determined to figure out an algorithm that would do that.

Our conversation went much like the conversation here, between Rabbi Infinity and Ari. The idea of characters backing themselves up to a remote server was Dave’s idea verbatim.

It was then that I finally understood the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, the whole idea of creating a being with free will, and asking that creature, “Please don’t muck around with the tempting tree I put in the middle of my garden.”

G‑d’s prime creation was a hacker.

More next week . . .