Not real rabbit holes, of course - although I assume they're fascinating. Maybe I will look them up at some point. Maybe I will become engrossed. No! Today I'm talking about rabbit holes, as in research, as in esoterica, as in one of the only really great idioms - pins-and-needles is also a delight - and as in one of the things that often open up when we're trying to do something else.
Someone should make a game about rabbit holes. I say this because this week I realised that rabbit holes are the only way I ever actually learn anything. Yes, rabbit holes can be how people come to believe that the moon is hollow or that World War 2 is still taking place on Mars, and rabbit holes can lead to a Goop shopping cart, but they're also more simply how a lot of fairly standard learning journeys take place following the advent of hypertext and online catalogues and all that jazz. Regardless of the topic, and with me it's always trivial - a cake recipe, a funny spelling - I like a bit of spelunking in my fact-finding, I like to feel the rope give way and hear the distant sound of trickling water. I like to look up and think: Jeepers! How did I get here? Why have I got tabs open on Dupuytren's Contracture and deep water drilling and Hubert Julian, a legendary aviator who once skydived over Manhattan in the 1920s dressed in a red leather devil costume? Oh, rabbit holes!
There is a proper way to learn things, isn't there? Systematic, a bit at a time, follow the curriculum. A phrase returns from my younger years, a phrase that ended promising conversations. "Oh them," I would say. "We haven't done them in school." End of story. Come back later. Come back when I've done them in school.
Reader, I could fill a magical library with the things I haven't done in school. And this proper sort of learning is probably why I can count to ten in Russian and remember whether phylum comes before class - I lied, I have a mnemonic trick for all those last ones that I am never sharing with another soul - but I never found any real pleasure in it. For pleasure I need to disappear down a rabbit hole. I imagine you're the same.
This is how learning should be, I tell myself - probably incorrectly. Flighty, prone to sudden lapses of judgement, alive to brilliant tangents, perhaps not overly committed to keeping on track or checking the time. A rabbit hole starts somewhere simple: who invented the adjustable wrench? But it ends somewhere else, examining head injuries from the War of Independence, checking in on language similarities amongst South Sea islands, learning the correct name for those origami fortune tellers you can make with a square of paper.
This stuff sticks when it does because you care, and because there's a story attached to it - the story of the rabbit hole, a phrase that clearly needs to be rendered in French and stored near 'l'esprit d'escalier.' This stuff stickers because you stick with it, you stick at exploring the rabbit hole, because you care and you continue to care, and just one more tab, one more translation from the Greek, one more eye-witness account of architeuthis.
These fact-finding journeys feel perfect for games because, down the rabbit hole, the world that emerges from the darkness is bright and sharp, a world of connections and possible connections. Games are already down here, mate, down in the murk connecting one thing to another and following leads.
Every game designer is interested in the way we learn things, because every game designer wants you to know how to jump or crouch or ask for a new hand of cards or exit and save or grasp the ladder instead of falling to your death. But the best game designers know that education never really ends, and sometimes it's just one thing that leads to another thing that leads to another thing. "L'histoire du terrier du lapin." I thought about it and that's what I came up with. I should probably have just looked it up.