Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Gaming Analogy for the FIRE movement.

Image result for rpg gamer

There are many interesting parallels between the FIRE community and Board gamers.

As it turns out Tabletop Gaming magazine talks about different attitude towards tabletop gameplay last month which can be applied to the FIRE movement.

In tabletop gameplay, players can be arranged around a 2x2 matrix. On one axis is respect for the rules and, on another axis, respect for goals.

This creates four categories of different "players" that can be found in the board-gaming world our society today.

Let's look at each category one by one.

1) Conventional Player / Believer in the Singapore Dream.

The conventional player is the kind of player you meet most of the time. Those who respect the rules of gameplay and respect the goals of the game. In D&D, the fighter tanks; the cleric heals; the thief opens lock; the wizard Fireballs.

In personal finance, respect for the rules means that the person respects the conventional way money is being made - study hard, get a job/start a business and put aside some of that for a rainy day. Also in Singapore, the ultimate conventional goal of traditional masses is to get married, start a family, buy a home, and have kids.

2) Cheat / Criminal

The kind of player that board-gamers universally hate are cheaters. Cheaters still want to win so they respect the goal of the game. They just do not believe that are constrained by the rules. A common approach to cheating is to miscalculate your victory points or in the case of Magic the Gathering, miscounting the amount of life you have left. One player did it so often that the community named a cheating manoeuvre after him.

(Can't name the person because I am now considered to be the same profession as that guy and some gamers do read my blog.)

In personal finance, a cheater is someone who is looking for a short-cut to gain financial success. One example is someone who commits a criminal offence like embezzlement or corruption. The proceeds from criminal enterprise would then go into buying big cars and homes to show that they have arrived. ( Some do arrive - in Changi prison )

Cheating is also a continuum, some behaviours in society may not be criminal but are unethical. There is a lot of conflict of interest in society today. Would that be considered being disrespectful of the rules even though it is followed?

3) Gamer's Nightmare / Hipster

There are players that are quixotic that they are even bigger nightmares than cheaters. The are the  folks do not follow the rules and don't respect the goal of the game.

There was once a really unpopular DM that was hated by the gaming community in 1990s who ran a Vampire the Masquerade game for a friend of mine. Once the game began my friend kept badgering the DM by repeatedly asking him "Is there a rock on the floor?". The DM got impatient and finally said,"Ok, you find a rock on the floor." My friend then said,"Ok, I hit myself on the head until I die ! Toodeloo muthafucker ! Kakakaka ! "

In personal finance, this may be more akin to someone who takes an unconventional view about life. Maybe someone who refuses to work, and dumpster dives everyday for example to champion some arcane anti-capitalist cause. They are very much like hipsters from Western culture. They may not have families, but everyone else is wrong because they are corporate drones.

4) FIRE / My approach to gameplay

Interestingly the board-game article did not cover the fourth category of gamer which I belong to. Gamers like me respect the rules but we don't really care about the published goal of the game. We won't cheat, but we invent our victory condition throughout game play to amuse ourselves losing many games we play but having immense satisfaction while doing it.

For me, my consistent victory condition is that the sore loser / asshole does not win and I am willing to lose the game to make that happen. I play normally when there are no sore losers in the group.

Beyond my approach to gameplay, there is always this player whose sole goal of playing Dominion is to collect all the Harem card in his deck so that he can be some Harem master at the end of the game. In Settlers of Catan, these are players who try to build the longest road. Finally, in Twilight Imperium, these are the hilarious jokers who role-play the alien race and and expect everyone to negotiate with them as if it is an RPG.

In FIRE, most of us respect the rules on how to make money. So much so that I believe that FIRE aspirants are more hardworking than conventionals because they know that every cent they make can be used to compound towards a better future. Where the FIRE community differs is that they don't really care about the ultimate goals of the Singapore Dream.

I would not blame them for that.

Every mortgage you get last about 25 years. Every child takes 23-25 years to grow up and start being able to earn money on their own. Your degree's half life, on the other hand,  is only 6-8 years. Your career may last 15 years at most.

A true gamer who attempts FIRE knows that, these days, he has about 8-10 solid years to offset his basic expenses before he runs out of luck in his career. Those with degrees need to be be careful, recent surveys show that most retrenched professionals in 2018 are degree holders in their 40s.

By discarding the ultimate goal of the Singapore Dream, a FIRE aspirant can gain the freedom to breakaway from corporate work.

In the short term, however, there is not much functional difference between a the most effective FIRErs and BBFA. This weekend, I will discuss the BBFA's affinity with FIRE in a separate post.


  1. I run out of luck 12 years after graduating.
    Halfway, I took part time masters without sacrificing my income. Maybe it is just me, should have use the money for grad school to invest, start a business or just put it as part of down payment for a house.
    Like D&D, I just got to change my character from a fighter to maybe a cleric or ranger. In real working life, I just got to find other career, maybe more meaningful work.

  2. Heheh I would argue that FIRErs are a subset of Group 1. Like you said the vast majority of FIRErs study hard, work harder, believe & maximise the system as much as possible ... hell, most even believe in CPF. Most if not all aspire to get married, have kids, own a home etc. Even better if home is a bungalow & kids are confident, articulate, straight-A students in top schools. The main difference is FIRErs use their means ($$$$$$) differently to achieve the ends (the Dream).

    Group 4 are more like the eccentric mavericks / geniuses / egolomaniacs who tend to focus on achieving & perhaps being overly consumed by a certain desire. They also tend to be loners, especially during the stage of achieving. They may fall into Group 1 tendencies once they have achieved. Some examples off the top of my head are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jim Rogers, Mark Zuckerberg.

  3. Really like the gaming references. It does appear that the FIRE community is replete with gamers.

    I view FIRE as something like building the ultimate Health regen character in Skyrim, think Argonian with Alchemy/Enchanting perks to pimp out Health bar and Healing Rate.

    At some point, you can just stand there and allow the enemy hack hapkessly at you, but your health bar would stubbornly refuse to go down. That is, to me, like reaching FIRE.

  4. Your career may last 15 years at most and a person has about 8-10 solid years to offset his basic expenses before he runs out of luck in his career. Totally spot on and this apply especially to the technical folks.
    From the 1988 batch, I been doing tech support for close to 8 years; started as a desktop engineer and now having a decent paycheck at a MNC as an IT Executive currently studying for PMP as I am trying to go for the next value chain to increase my capital injection and warchest.
    But I also realized that at the most I can only be in this sector for another decade and I risk being obsolete or have to settle for a lousy pay.
    Started my FI 4 years ago, hoping that in 8 years time, I can have a portfolio that can empower me to transit to the next career or whatever I want to do!

  5. I really like the more meaningful engagement on this thread.

    There is room for one more gaming related article on Sunday.

    Catch you guys then !