“Dwarf Fortress unfolds as a series of staggeringly elaborate challenges and devastating setbacks that lead, no matter how well one plays, to eventual ruin. The goal, in the game’s main mode, is to build as much and as imaginatively as possible before some calamity — stampeding elephants, famine, vampire dwarves — wipes you out for good.”
– The Brilliance of Dwarf Fortress, The New York Times
How Dwarf Fortress sparked my interest in mathematics
I’ve spent the last three years trying to master a video game called Dwarf Fortress. There are months where I play that game like a part-time job.
The game is complex and requires you to study hundreds of different inputs and conditions. There’s nothing else like it. Just to establish a base you need to know about 30 different processes.
Anyway, I’ve spent a ton of time playing this stupid game. It’s frustrating and requires extreme dedication before you can make any progress.
This isn’t something fast-paced or polished. You’re basically just looking at numbers and symbols on a screen and then deciphering their meaning. Learning thousands of symbols and what they represent isn’t instant gratification. It’s a long and slow process that requires serious time investment.
The other day I went on a nature hike. While out in the woods I saw some birds I didn’t recognize. When I got back home I consulted my Birds of the World and quickly identified them.
After doing so I had an epiphany. If I could spend countless hours mastering a frustrating game or documenting birds, I could learn to do anything.
I didn’t know anything about business and still managed to become self-employed. If I could do that, I had no excuse for not being smart enough for other fields.
I don’t know how to do math beyond a ninth grade level. Public school in Iowa isn’t exactly Phillips Academy Andover.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. can’t read and I can’t do math. It’s something that has always secretly bothered me.
For years I did nothing about this. I’d play the victim card. “Math just isn’t my thing.” And, surprise of all surprises, it didn’t help. I’d defer the blame and my math skills would continue to decline.
It got to the point where adding up large numbers was a struggle for me.
I got sick of this and decided to do something.
Within a few months my basic math skills were on-point. And after about a week of studying Calculus I’ve already learned about limits and derivatives. It isn’t that impressive, but it’s a start.
Memorizing math symbols isn’t too dissimilar from keeping track of Dwarf Fortress icons. The same basic principles apply to both. Everything is absolute. And when you get something wrong you start over. It’s actually kind of fun.
Sometimes I’ll meet people who will know everything about a certain subject. They can talk your ear off about football, video games, Chess, or philosophy. Yet they’ll claim that some other skill is too complex for them.
There are talented athletes who are intimidated by personal finance and accountants who are scared of hitting the gym.
If you can become a master of one field, there’s no reason that you can’t become competent in other areas of life.
Even if you’re good at something as trivial as a video game or poker you still possess the intelligence to expand into new territories.