Transcript: Ezra Klein interviews with C. Thi Nguyen


And sometimes someone will introduce me to a belief system. And as I adopt it, it just gives me everything I want. The world seems to be starting to make sense. I feel empowered. I feel good. Everything falls into place. And I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong, because sometimes that’s what it feels like to really figure things out. But I say sometimes you just have to be suspicious.

And I feel like my evolution into someone who hasn’t eaten so much crap food that I’ve always felt like crap, now when I eat something sometimes I can get this internal marker which is like, oh, it’s just too delicious, it’s just— oh, it’s too delicious. And I immediately pause and think to myself, wait, was this designed for me to overconsume and just buy a lot of bags of?

I try to develop the same kind of instinct in belief systems. Someone hands you a belief system and you’re like, oh, that’s so good. It’s – and then you have to pause and say to yourself, wait, is this designed just to make me feel good? So the short answer is that I now distrust pleasure, which I hate.

EZRA KLEIN: While you were talking about that, I was thinking about “Baba Is You,” the game we were talking about earlier, which I started playing after reading your book. So I was very attentive to what it feels like to play the game, what it feels like to work with this agency and to work with these means. And I really noticed the feeling of pleasure when I solve a level. The emotional experience of playing “Baba Is You” is curiosity, frustration, a little more frustration, a little excitement, then even more frustration, then, ah, understood.

And I understand what you’re saying as being partly that life doesn’t really give you a lot of those moments, uh, I get it. And because part of my concern is that what really works to make these games a lot of fun, and these platforms and so on, is how they flatter our groups, how they divide into social ecosystems, then give us points for looking better and better in our ecosystem.

I think when you started looking at the world in a way where your view of your own ecosystem is, ah, we get it, we have the truth that no one else has, the moral that no one else has. ‘other did, that’s what it seems to me you really want to beware. Because you and your buddies are unlikely to have it all figured out.

C. THI NGUYEN: Wait, can I be optimistic for a second?

EZRA KLEIN: I wish you were.

C. THI NGUYEN: I both worry about the abuse of pleasure in getting us to cling to the truth. The real does not correspond perfectly to pleasure, so beware of it. But I also think that understanding what games are and how they work deeply helps us see how much fun there is in the world that we might miss.


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