Please welcome to the stage… Nicky Case!>>Thank you! So… Here’s a story. I was
born in Singapore. It’s this southeast Asian island somewhere. And bubble gum is illegal
there, for some reason. So when I was five, I had this dream. I would make the life choice
and go down the path of becoming a bubble gum dealer in the black market. [laughter]
I would become this Willy Wonka, Walter White-esque figure, I would run this operation all around
the city, and when the Feds would finally catch me, my final words would be, “Well,
I guess I got myself into a sticky situation.” [laughter] That did not happen. So, I was born in Singapore.
And my family and I, when I was pretty young, we moved to Vancouver, Canada. And I wanted…
Woo, Vancouver! It sure is rainy! [laughter] And I wanted to make my parents proud, you
know? And being Asian parents, I was thinking… Should I be a doctor? Or a lawyer? No, I decided
at the age of 10, I was going to be a doctor and a lawyer! I would practice all the medicine,
and then sue myself for malpractice! [laughter] It’s a profitable revenue stream loop thing.
Yeah! It would be great. That did not happen. So… Here’s a story. And it’s the real story
this time, up to now. I was born in Singapore, moved to Canada, and I did not make my parents
proud. I came out as queer to them. And I’ll be talking more about this later. And, you
know, kind of crappy family dynamic for a while. So I had to move out. So I moved from
Singapore to Canada. And now to America. ‘Merica! Woo! And it was good. I moved to the Bay Area,
so very supportive people there. And I was doing independent creative work. But so, now I had to think about my next dream,
since Willy White isn’t going to work out. Willy White? So my life goal at the beginning
of 2014 was to become a hit independent game developer! I would make this magnum opus,
I would make the next Super Meat Craft. [laughter] It would be great! Yeah. Not as cool as a
bubble gum kingpin, but hey, I’ll take it. But… You know, is anyone here an independent
game developer? You know it’s pretty stressful. And also, not just the present stress, but
also anxiety about the future. Because if life is a whole infinite branching path, where
in one I can be a game developer, in one I’m a doctor and a lawyer, then… If I just make
one wrong choice, then everything falls apart. I’m off the path forever. So it’s the present
anxiety, future anxiety, and also the past anxiety, because what if I’ve already made
that mistake? What if I shouldn’t have come out and still stayed in school? What if it
was already too late for me? What if I was already broken? So… That’s chaos. Life is a chaotic system.
And I’m going to contribute to the long, wonderful legacy of butchering science for the sake
of some things, I guess… So chaos theory. A chaotic system is defined as a system where
small changes in input can result in large changes in output. Sensitivity to initial
conditions. You know, the butterfly effect. A butterfly flapping its wings can cause velociraptors
to escape from their pen. So today I’m going to butcher chaos theory to ask the question
I was asking myself at the start of 2014. How can I get rid of life’s chaos? First,
let me get some water, because I am… [drinks]. Middle of 2014. I’ve been working on this
magnum opus for a year. A multi-year long game dev project that I was just working on
by myself. I thought I was halfway through it. You know it’s never… Who knows. And
I already had a crowdfunding campaign, I had pushed out an hour long demo, got lots of
press, and I was like so hyperfocused for that entire year. Except for, like, one little
small side project, which I’ll talk about. It was this interactive explainer, which taught
you the code and math behind how to make the lighting effect that was in my game. Spoopy! And yeah, it was a little small side project
I made in two days and then forget about it and went straight back to work. But later
on, halfway in the year, June 2014, I just got this itch to make another small side project.
There was this small game jam that was going on for three weeks to make… The game jam
was about making narrative-based games, and since it was only three weeks, I decided to
go ahead and make Coming Out Simulator 2014. [applause]>>The title is a horribly bad inside joke
about Surgeon Simulator and Goat Simulator. It did not age well. Anyway, it’s an interactive
story — a semi-fictionalized account of my coming out as bisexual to my Asian parents,
which I’ve alluded to before, that all of the shit hit all of the fans. Yeah. It was
a half true story about half truths. And so my goal with this was to try to convey the
anxiety of coming out to the player person. The anxiety, the nerve-wracking decisions
you would have to make, that would have huge consequences. And to give the player that
feeling, here’s what I did. Pretty standard. Branching tree of life stories. But game designers
would know that this solution does not scale. If you add just one more choice at the end,
number of outcomes doubles, things go exponentially, everything goes to crap, crunch time, everyone’s
sad, basically typical game dev life. But I only had three weeks. I didn’t want to make
that exponentially growing story tree, so here’s what I did. In addition to all those big choices in between
the story, there were lots of these little small in between choices. And they would unpredictably
affect and subtly flavor the later parts of the story. And the important thing is that
the player wouldn’t be able to tell in advance which ones were the big ones, which ones were
the small one. So that’s where the anxiety comes in. Yay! That you can’t tell which are
going to be the big or small things, like… Something you thought was small was going
to have a huge big unpredictable effect. Anything you say or do could bite you later on. That’s
chaos. If I haven’t hammered that down enough yet. So I published that, and it did really well.
It got half a million plays, and it was nominated this year for best narrative at the Independent
Games Festival. [applause] Oh, thanks! But above all that popularity stuff, it was really
awesome to see that it was affecting and helping real people. All these hundreds of emotional
fan mail from queer teens around the world. I still remember many of them specifically.
Like, my game really helped them. Or it was closure for them. That was really powerful. And just like in Coming Out Simulator, or
the whole chaotic tying-in thing, that small choice to make that small game for a small
game jam affected my life personally in a really huge way. Because prior to making Coming
Out Simulator, I had only known the story that actually happened to me. But in making
that interactive version with all the different possible outcomes, I had to, like, think about
and write about every single thing that could’ve happened but didn’t. And every ending had
its own pros and cons. Like… If I didn’t come out, I would have had a better relationship
with my family. And, you know… I would have had a better relationship with my brother.
But at the same time, I wouldn’t have been really honest to myself. And also, would I
have had the drive to have made my own life otherwise? I can’t make that decision. That’s
not better or worse. It’s just… Different. And seeing all these different possibilities
was kind of therapeutic. And as a teaser for the end of this talk, it’s going to be another…
I’ll give you the extra ending of what happened after Coming Out Simulator with my family.
Teaser! So no time to think about that, because another unexpected change was about to happen.
From the small choice I made earlier — remember that interactive explainer I just talked about
a few minutes ago? Remember that? Remember a few minutes ago? Those were good times!
So… [coughing]>>Yay, chaos. [laughter] Let me skip back.
Remember the interactive explainer I had just made? It got on the front page of Imgur, Reddit,
and Hacker News simultaneously. And got the attention of Brett Victor, a famous interaction
designer I really looked up to. Therefore he invited me to some workshop on education
where I met Vi Hart, another popular educational YouTuber I also look up to, therefore we talked
a little bit and she wanted to collaborate with me on a project, therefore we made this.
I guess there’s one more slide. [laughter] We made… This! [applause] Parable of the
Polygons. This actually combines two threads from my
life story so far. One of interactive explainers, and the second talking about bias. Coming
Out Simulator was about that. Well, it was about many things, but half of that was that.
So, Parable of the Polygons is an interactive explainer about how individual biases can
become collective biases. So the player, reader… I’m not sure. It’s like a half blog post,
half… thing. So the audience gets to learn about this by running little simulations,
dragging little cute shapes around. All these little shapes are so cute and slightly shape-ist
against one another. But only slightly. So each shape here is unhappy if less than a
third of the neighbors are like them. So this one’s got all triangle neighbors, so pretty
unhappy. This one has only two out of seven of its neighbors. They don’t like it. It’s
unhappy. But so this means less than a third. So each shape will be okay being in the minority,
but small biases over time accumulate into larger biases. And so it’s something we really wanted to
teach. That even though today no one — very few people are explicitly sexist or racist,
and yet still, the institutions and systems can still be greatly racist and/or sexist.
So, yeah. That’s kind of a recurring theme in chaos theory. Small things becoming big,
if you haven’t noticed me hammering that over over and again. So that really took off. Parable of the Polygons got three million
plays, written up in Wired, The Atlantic, and Washington Post, also got me invited here,
so that’s a thing. And now this interactive explainer thing was becoming a whole separate
thread of my life. So I started… I kept making more, and here’s a couple that I’m
currently working on. So more teasers. So what I’m working on is an interactive explainer
about privacy and social media, and a lot of… A couple speakers yesterday were talking
about the systems and structures behind online harassment. So I wanted to make an interactive explainer
about that. Because who would have thought that social media designed to give people
exposure would leave people exposed? [laughter] Like… Who… Whoa. Who would have thought?
And the other thing that I’m working on, that I hope to publish next week, but I’m independent,
so never trust me when I say it’s coming out next week. [applause]>>Is this, about neurons. Specifically neurons
and anxiety. And showing the two simple rules of how neurons learn and unlearn. It’s called
Hebbian and anti-Hebbian learning, if anyone cares. And also talking about exposure therapy,
conditioning and cognitive behavior therapy. And hopefully letting people see that there’s
really a system in their brain that will make them feel less, I guess, helpless to their
own brains, and hopefully can help some people. So I kept on researching all these systems
and everything. And it’s a slight tangent… I think thinking of systems is not just a
better way of understanding the world, but it kind of forces you to… It’s an empathetic
exercise so see specifically how even good individuals can create and be part of bad
systems. Anyway, but related to systems thinking is complexity theory and chaos theory. And so it turns out, not only are there systems
where order arises out of chaos. Like Parable of the Polygons, where they’re equally mixed
and a small bias turns everything to crap. There are systems that thrive on chaos, like
evolution. It’s about random mutation and non-random selection. If you take away the
random mutation, everything goes extinct. It’s really amazing to think about that.
We’re all here, all life on earth exists, because of properly harnessed chaos. But now, working on the whole interactive
explainer thing was working really well, up until right now. But it’s something that’s
left me with a problem. That previous magnum opus dream of making Super Meat Fez Craft
Boy would be… I guess I couldn’t work on that one project anymore that had been taking
a year and a half at this point. So I felt really bad. One, I already sank a year and
a half into it. I had fans, I had people who backed me on a crowd funding campaign, and
would be so disappointed if I just killed it. So… I just killed it. [laughter] So
I refunded everyone. Refunded everyone. And gave them a long explanation. [applause] Oh,
thanks. I failed! Yay. [laughter, applause] I have an incentive for you to clap longer,
because I can actually drink. So I refunded everyone, gave them a long explanation
of why I had to go, get a little bit of behind-the-scenes of game design thinking and something about
interactive explainers. And surprisingly, they were all really supportive. And they were also excited to see my new thread
that I was exploring, interactive explainers. So this was a huge, pleasant surprise. I had
no idea that killing your dreams would be so fun. [laughter] But with that old dream
dead, what next big thing would I chase? I don’t know. The Willy Wonka/Walter White thing
was still pretty appealing. And I could chase the whole interactive education dream, whatever
that would look like. But, I would be at the exact same point as I was before. Present, future, and past anxiety. And I know
life’s chaos would knock me off the path or make me find a better path, and I would have
all that invested and have to quit again and be sad. So I was kind of floating for a while.
I wasn’t unproductive. I was anxious, but… Yeah, I was really uneasy with just not having
a goal in life. About last month, after I learned about chaos theory on Wikipedia, and
so now I’m an expert… [laughter] All the pieces just started coming together. And it
started getting me to think deeper and more carefully about life’s chaos. So revisiting
that question—how can I get rid of life’s chaos? And right now I think the answer is…
Don apostrophe T. [laughter] Instead, we should ask not how we can avoid chaos, but adapt
to chaos. First, adapting to future chaos. If you just
have one specific dream that’s, like, really far out, your magnum opus, you get tunnel
vision, and you don’t see the other opportunities that are available to you, some of which you
might even like even more. So let go of your defined life path. Kill your dream. Actually,
serial kill your dreams. [laughter] Because while your dreams might look appealing from
very far away, I assure you that up close it’s… [applause] [cheering]>>It’s really not the case. This is my wallpaper
now. [laughter] Anyway… And then there’s present chaos. So if chaos theory tells us
that it’s really hard to predict the future, maybe it’s not worth it to predict the future.
And instead we should explore the present. Get a feel for all those other life paths.
Make some room for chaos. You know. Make a side project once in a while. Learn new things.
Meet new people. Prepare a talk at 2:00 a.m. last morning. Last night? This morning. And
don’t get too hung up on sticking to the path. So experiment, improvise, um… Improvise.
[laughter] [applause]>>’cause… ’cause you never know when these
threads of your life will all come back to an amazing and unexpected beautiful outcome.
And lastly, there’s adapting to past chaos. And I promised you that extra ending with
my family after Coming Out Simulator. So let me just take five seconds and just tease you
with my drink. The bottle is empty now. So… It actually happened a couple months
ago. And it actually happened here. Well, not here, but actually Portland. So yeah,
my family moved out to Vancouver, Canada, and they were I guess passing through or something.
And for context, we had not been in contact for a year. And I don’t know why… I still
don’t know why. But I was in an emotionally good enough place at the time to reach out
to them, and we hung out. It wasn’t, you know, a tearful reunion or anything. But I think
it was good. Like, closure. And it was kind of a bittersweet closure.
So they saw that I had adapted. And it was also good for me to see that they, and my
brother, had adapted as well. Because when I left, it was kind of a wake-up call for
them to be more accepting of each other in that family. They were a better family after
I left than they were when I was there. That’s good. Oh yeah. As for what this is… We hung out at the
Portland Art Museum, that’s somewhere, wherever West is. And they were showing off ancient
Asian art, including pottery. And so there’s something really awesome that I learned about
Japanese pottery. This is called Kintsugi. It is the Japanese art of mending stuff you
fucked up and broke. So with a normal tea bowl, normally you just
throw away the… After it breaks, you throw it away. But not with Kintsugi. You mend it.
But you don’t hide the scar. It’s illuminated with gold. And at the same time, its damage
does not define it. It’s still a tea bowl. It does not define it, but it is a part of
it. So if chaos strikes in your past, and things
fall apart, know that broken pieces can be put back together. Probably not in the same
way. And you won’t be the same afterwards, but that’s okay. It’s only a part of you, but it does not define
you. Damage does not define you. And there were many awesome talks earlier at XOXO about
people who have experienced trauma, and how they moved forward. And built something beautiful
out of those broken pieces. I just want to quickly state that I’m not romanticizing trauma. I’m not like… To be a true art artiste,
you have to suffer for your art. Because, no. No. But putting back the pieces… What
I am saying is that you can put the pieces back together. That you can adapt to chaos.
Because on this infinitely branching tree of life, there’s no way to go back. But there’s
every way to go forward. Thank you. [applause]