Play, Travel, & the Meaning of Life

Play, Travel, & the Meaning of Life

Sometimes when traveling, I wonder about the purpose of my trip... and my life. By the standards of many, I'm wasting time. Of, course a lot of those folks probably don't realize how much work I am doing while I travel, so as to keep my skills sharp and my travel sustainable... but that's not what I want to talk about today.

Today I want to share with you my feelings about the purpose of life and why I am traveling. I promise, it won't be as boring as that sounds.

In college I studied philosophy, which everyone knows is perfectly useless. Cute California classmates would consistantly ask me, "Why are you studying that?" In fact, I was asked this question so often that I can still remember my canonical response... I would lean over, look directly into my interlocutor's pretty blue eyes, and with a slow sophomor[ic] grin I'd say, "Well, why do people surf? Why do they dance or make love? Why does it feel so good to jump in the ocean? I study philosophy for the same reason."

Obviously, I was an insufferable asshole. But that's not the point. It wasn't even the truth...

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The Travel Experience in 35 GIFs: From Quitting at Home to Shitting Abroad

Note: due to all the GIFs this page may take some time to load. It's not broken it's just AWESOME!

Boys and girls here it is, the definitive experience of quitting your job to travel the world told in today's most important format, the animated GIF. Enjoy!


How your friends think you made the decision to leave the cushy corporate world...


How you really made the decision...


Actually, this was your first idea...


Telling your friends & family that you've decided to quit your job and go traveling around the world...









Quitting Day! Man this is scary!


During your last two weeks once you've already quit time seems to go so slowly...


Finally, your last day at the office!


Trying to get your god-damned travel visas in order...


FINALLY achieving your travel budget savings goal! $$$


Time to leave the country!!


 How it feels when you're spending a new foreign currency.... 


How people expect Americans to act abroad... 


How Americans really act abroad... 


Your expectation of how your trip will change your life.


After you've enjoyed that wonderful and authentic local street food for the first time!


How you feel about your passport...


How you envisioned on-the-road romance.. .


The reality of travel romance... 


Walking into the hostel dorm and realizing you have it all to yourself!


Your first sip of the local brew... 


Drinking the same thing three weeks later...


How having the freedom to travel anywhere in the world feels...


What you wish you could tell that street food vendor in Bangkok!


Having that same conversation about where you're from and how long you've been traveling, FOR THE BILLIONTH FUCKING TIME!


Meeting another backpacker who is eerilie similar to you... 


What you want to see when you enter your hostel dorm...


What you see instead...


How you act when you don't speak the local language... 


How you FEEL when you don't speak the local language... 


Choosing the bungalow without AC to save money.


Getting settled when you arrive in a new country... 


How you feel when you leave your camera on public transportation... 


When your friends ask you when you're planning to come back home...


If this post made you laugh share it with friends and fellow travelers. Hit the share button below now!

Are You Wasting Your Life?

Now, before I answer the question posed in the headline, let's review Jordan's Law of Headlines: 

If a headline asks a rhetorical question, the answer is always "no.*" 

*I have since learned that this is Betteridge's law of headlines, not mine.

This law, being a universal law, applies just as well to my own post. Therefore, you don't have to worry, you are not wasting your life.

How can I be sure?

Simple, because your life is already wasted and there is absolutely nothing to do about it. Even if you're the next Shakespeare, which you're not, everything you do will be long forgotten in a few bats of the universe's eyelashes-- say 10,000 years. So, go ahead order that extra glass of wine tonight.


Q: If living has no higher purpose, what's to stop me from ending my life today? 

A: Nothing, and you already knew that didn't you? But life is pretty incredible so why miss the show? 

Q: Jordan, if we have no higher purpose won't we become amoral? 

A: No. Morality is built into humans, like arms and legs. Changing your beliefs can be very powerful, but it won't make you a psychopath.

Q: If we're just hanging out with nothing much to do, what makes life meaningful?

A: You do. Good luck.

Wandering Through Dublin's Temple Bar

I had the great pleasure of visiting Dublin a few weeks ago and while I spent most of my time recovering from jet lag and working with a really talented team, I did take one lazy day to wander around the city with my OM-D EM5. I put together some of the clips so you could get a sense of what it's like to just sort of stroll around this ancient and lovely city.

Volcano Boarding in Leon Nicaragua

One of the most (but not the most) exciting adventures I had in Central America was throwing myself down a volcano on a thin piece of wood. At 40km/hr bits of volcano rock were flying in my face, and these things were no joke. In fact, I put two holes in my backpack while going down the volcano. Check out this video for a first-person view of this wild sport.

Volcano Boarding is one absurd and outlandish way to get an adrenaline rush. Isn't it amazing what people will do to get a buzz? A woman broke her arm the same week I was there.... supposedly it was the bone showing kind of injury. Can you imagine that kind of injury in such a remote place? She had to wait hours for any medical care.

But the funny thing is, I felt perfectly safe and would absolutely do this again. The good folks at Bigfoot offer a discount if you're a repeat Volcano risk taker.

And here's some pics of the adventure:

Photo Post --Fire in the Sky-- El Tunco, El Salvador

One of my best friends arrived in El Tunco and, though an ill chill was blowing through my bones, the night was hot and beautiful and we went to dance at El Rocas, the beach resort next door. The band must have been playing smash latin hits-- everyone but the gringos knew every word.

After bobbing about for a short while I decided it was time for me to go to bed. But our own hotel's band was playing killer latin instrumental music. They played with the soul of immortals and the music put some interest and enthusiasm back into me.

That's when I turned around and realized that the heat lighting dancing across the ocean needed a photograph, toutsuite. The bounce of photographic opportunity in my step, I quickly hopped to my room and grabbed my tripod and camera. I only had a chance to take a few exposures before a very friendly, very "borracha" man was so enthusiastic about what I was doing that I couldn't really focus on my task. I think he said something about the local TV station, but I doubt he will remember in the morning.

That's ok, I'm happy with the night's result.

Sony NEX-6, 35mm f1.8

ISO400, 35mm, f/5.0, 25sec

Things That Won't Save You

Jesus, your 401k, art, apple products, omega 3 fatty acids, drone strikes, cashing out your 401k, moving to brooklyn/oakland, lots of good eye contact, choosing the PPO, making sense of the past, freedom, organic locally grown foods, new sexual partners, ten million dollars, meditation, learning to bake, index funds, taking a nice long break, obama, psychotropic chemicals, a deep tissue massage, getting your own place, texting “Haiti” to 90999, yoga, Radiohead, calling your mom more often, opening a roth, smiling more, a motorcycle, something truly beautiful, the google nexus one, riding your bike to work, god, finding your community online, living on a sailboat, being fluent in Cantonese, getting inspired, street protests, pastured beef, free range chicken, the bar method, watching the sunset, inbox zero, a restricted salt intake, faking it until you make it, going freelance, finally making your art, running a marathon, Gravity in 3D IMAX, skinny dipping, carbon offsets, an mba, really following through this time, marriage, a truly fabulous bottle of wine, a puppy, a child, a grandchild, a mortgage, a second mortgage, paying off your mortgage, eating clean, MCT oil, TED talks, coming to respect Yoko Ono, resveratrol, vitamin D, vitamin K, getting that promotion, sleeping in the nude, being in the present, future medical breakthroughs, finally watching season one of Orange is the New Black, learning to surf, Thailand, keeping a journal, a good cry, love.

Sketches of Sayulita

I'd like to update everyone and let you know that I'm currently in sunny Costa Rica enjoying the sun, sand, and pura vida.

I'd like to tell you that, but I'm still in Los Angeles. I actually had a ticket in my hand, but the day before my flight I decided to cancel my flight. More on that soon.

In any case, I am still leaving the US again very soon, and have been slowly preparing. Ensuring my gear is in order, charging my camera batteries, and freeing up room on my memory cards and hard drives. Revisiting these memories is such a pleasure, and when I found a few videos of Sayulita on my phone I knew I had to make a short video with them.


Putting this together reminded me just how much I enjoyed that sleepy little surfing town, along with it's little brother San Pancho. It also has provided me with a nice little love affair with the song, April Kisses, which dates from the 1920s.

For Americans, Sayulita is a cheap, convenient, and altogether lovely destination. It's an easy flight from the US, either into Puerto Vallarta or Guadalajara. I'd suggest  Guadalajara. First, it'll save you a bunch of cash to fly into a metropolis rather than Vallarta, which is a resort destination. But second, and more important, Guadalajara, is a great city to visit in it's own right. I spent only a couple days there and wish I could have spent more there. But that's OK, ya know, I like to leave things undone as I travel so that I feel there is a good excuse to go back.

These Burning Man Portraits Will Make You Want To Go

Burning man was so many things. A respite, a revelation, an ordeal, and the time of my life. Shooting photos there was overwhelming-- far too much to see than I could handle. So I decided to focus on shooting portraits. This also gave me the chance to give something away at Burning Man, which is a big part of the culture

Here is a selection of my favorite portraits from Burning Man. More thoughts about the experience to come. In the meantime, enjoy!

If you click on the images themselves it will take you to my smugmug gallery where you can see all the photos. To just see my selections, just use the arrows on the sides of the image below.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Today I'm working from a public library in Door County Wisconsin. It's an island on Lake Michigan. Which, by the way, is the largest lake that lies within a single country and the world's fifth largest lake overall.

Ok, back at the local library. A woman sitting at my table had a sticker set on her MacBook integrating the Apple logo into a classic scene from The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. We chatted about it briefly and the whole experience reminded me how much I loved that book as a child.

So, I found this video online and it's wonderful. Shel himself is narrating and performing all the music.

It was beautiful to experience this classic story now as an adult. If you have a few minutes to spare, I think you might enjoy it too.

How did that make you feel? Let me know in the comments.  And thanks for taking the time to watch. I hope you felt it was worth it.

Money, Insects, & the Renaissance Life

A quick lesson from micro economics 101: If I'm really good at harvesting coconuts and you're really good at picking berries, we should focus on our respective areas of expertise. Instead of me wasting my time trying to track down berries, or you flailing about climbing palm trees, we can both do what we're good at and then trade with each other. We both end up with more coconuts and berries than we would have had if we tried to do it ourselves.

Sounds pretty good. 

But as this trade system evolves it naturally becomes an even more efficient one: the money system. Let's each trade what we're good at for this imaginary commodity (we'll call it a "currency"). Because it's imaginary it's incredibly fungible and convenient. We'll all have more wealth, and we'll be able to use this ephemeral money stuff to easily get whatever we need.

And this too-- works damn well. Division of labor is great for the economy. But because it's efficient it has become the norm. People believe it makes sense to build their entire lives around maximizing revenue. The logic is that "productive time" is best spent cranking the single widget that produces the most money. 

This is a trap!v

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Making Your Experiences in Life Count

You and nearly everyone you know live a life of absurd luxury and opportunity. So do I. We travel in carriages more luxurious than those kings and queens did just 100 years ago. Electronics dazzle us with phosphoric feats choreographed by tens of thousands of uber-talented designers, writers, and engineers. Any song your heart desires is yours, on demand, at any time. A cornucopia of the world's finest food is available at our beck and call. Too lazy to beck or to call? There's an app for that

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How to Get Your Life Back

If you're anything like me, you find our modern hyper-connected world both wonderful and terrifying. 

We have the freedom and power to instantly start reading millions of books, songs, games, and movies. We can message or be messaged by almost anyone we've ever met, or meet millions of new folks on social networks. There are thousands of fascinating blogs to check out. (Just today I discovered and We can instant order any product, download a hot new app, or read one of the million emails sitting in our inbox. But this abundance of choice comes with downsides that all of us know too well: overwhelm, analysis paralysis, self-blame, and increased regret. If you don't know what I'm talking about, make sure to check out the Barry Schwartz TED talk.

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3 Secrets to Kindle Lending Library Bliss

Since consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, I thought I'd follow up my post railing against numbered lists with a very short numbered list. But the difference is this post will be VERY useful to some of you.

If you have a Kindle and you have Amazon prime, and your interested in easily enjoying all that free book goodness, watch this video and thank me later.

You see, I'm traveling the world with my Kindle and even though I don't need the shipping discount, I'm finding my Prime to still be very useful because of the Kindle lending library. But in order to make using this service easy and enjoyable I had to learn a few totally non-obvious trick. I thought I should share them.

Oh, and a small piece of housekeeping. Based on your feedback, you can now like and comment without having to log in to the system. Please do, it makes me feel good!

Back to the Present, Part 1 - Traveling Light

Back to the Present is a series of posts chronicling my trip up until now. After all, I've been on the road for over a month!

I left the US for my international saga with only a modest backpack… not quite the tiny napsack I had hoped for, but still pretty diminutive. In the planning phase of my trip I had aimed for "fast and light." I dreamed of being a nomadic ninja with just a few wispy filaments between me and Mesoamerica. After all, the smaller the bag, the larger the adventure. Hold on, I'm going to go tweet that right quick… 

Ok Done.

The bag & I

The bag & I

Quickly, my quest for paucity took on questionable dimensions: I broke my toothbrush in half. I fetishezed wool clothes for their superior odor control. I hemmed and hawed over the necessity of deodorant. Who needs it when you have the power of Merino!? And yet, despite forsaking everything good and holy my bag never made it to the rucksack status I craved. I could ditch Malaria meds but I couldn't part with my iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air, OM-D Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera, Amazon Kindle, and GoPro Adventure Camera. And my collection of gear required it's own collection of gear: tripods, battery packs, battery pack chargers, AC adapters, AC Adapter Adapters, adapter cases, case protectors, and so on. You can see where I netted out on the left. I did actually need a lot of this stuff for the wanderplay project and for my work designing games & mobile apps. 

Now, I'd been saving my foreign currency through years of international business jaunts: Euros, Yen, Yuan, Pounds,  Kronor, Baht, and whatever people spend in Korea. Pre-partum, I traded it all in at SFO, pocketing nearly $100US on the transaction. It felt glorious. Getting 100 buckaroos from that motley pile of crumpled bills and dirty coins made me feel… prepared. I had executed on my sock-drawer plan and turned strange tender into substantive beer funds. I was, quite clearly, the master of my domain. Everything was going to be fiiiiiine.

In retrospect, this was a rookie move. I ended up exchanging the dollars again for pesos, so got hit twice on the exchange rate. But in even greater retrospect it was fine. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have accepted my creasy funny money in Mexico anywho. 

En route I snapped these photos of the geoscapes below. I was hungry for food on the flight, but I decided to be frugal. After all, I was entering a new world of budget consciousness. I had to be careful now. No more Taxi cabs or hipster haute for me. No more wool socks or third wave coffee. No more local organic seasonal craft  brews served in oversized bottles with names like Prairie Artisan Ales Prairie Ale, Blue Mountain Local Species, Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre, Hoptimus Prime, and Heretic Shallow Grave. No more cans of Italian tomatoes. No more full-priced Amazon Kindle eBooks. 

Yes, things were going to be different now. From now on I'd really consider what iOS apps I truly needed. I'd need to cancel Rdio and slum it with the vulgar Spotifites. I'd force myself to actually read the Kindle books I already bought before buying any new ones-- that should be a serious cash-saving measure. After that I'd plow through my collection of Kindle samples. Oh, and I'd finally listen to those Audible books I bought with my membership in 2009. Maybe I'd even listen to the audio lectures I nabbed online in 1998. Where were those, Amazon s3?

Oh yeah, I felt real good. This plane was delivering me into a new life. A better life. A life where I'd really suck every last bit of marrow from the shit I bought online.

But, would I find what I was looking for? Would I find unique play culture around the world? And if I did, would I be able to say anything interesting about it? Would the game industry care? What was I really searching for? Would I be decapitated by a drug lord immediately upon entry into Mexico? These questions swirled in my mind as we squeeled onto the Yucatanian tarmac.

I really could have used a sign.

The funny thing was, as soon as I got off the plane and in front of the baggage claim, I found one-- literally:

Can you believe this is the first advertisement I saw in Mexico?!

That's the Mayan Ball game! It's ancient religio-sport known for human sacrifice. Seeing it on a baggage claim billboard took away any Indiana Jones fantasies, but it still seemed like a warm welcome. Little did I know how difficult a subject it would prove to be…

I blinked my eyes at the omen a few more times, then saw my backpack coming down the carousel. I slung it over my shoulder and headed out, to customs and to the unknown.

Ya know what? I felt pretty damn light, deodorant and all.

In the next installment of Back to the Present: beaches, babes, and work for hire game design!

Stay tuned players- Enter your email below for the latest stories of the world at play.

Top 5 Reasons Not To Read Top 5 Lists

Bloggers be Triflin'

Bloggers be Triflin'

Dear fellow interneters. Stop clicking on blog posts that present gratuitous numbered lists. They are worthless, and I include this post amoungst their tired and feeble ranks. And yet, you will read on, won't you? Sucker.

Here's the deets:

  1. It's a scam - The post's author has no special dispensation to say what are the top 5 (or 10 or 7) of anything. She's just manipulating your elephant brain into thinking there is something authoritative about the post. It's the same psychological trick at play when stores prices things at $213.47 exactly. We assume the specificity must be due to a rationale. It's not. There was a beggar in the Mission who always asked me for 27 cents, 55 cents, and so on. I felt bad for him but I also loathed his psycho-trickery.
  2. They tell you what you already know - These lists rarely contain new information. They just repeat the same old lines. Yes, I should start meditating and cut out sugar and focus on one important thing every morning and think like Steve Jobs and learn to forgive. But reading about it one more time isn't DOING it. My advice, pick the one habit you know you need to pickup and focus on only that. If you're looking for a method, try this.
  3. The third item in the list is usually just filler - ase in point...
  4. You're making the internet worse - Every time you click on this sort of pablum, you're encouraging writers to create more of it. It's a downward spiral that leads to cat pictures. I know you love cat pictures and you know I love cat pictures but that's not the point. The point is by avoiding these articles you are doing your small part to improve the world... or at least the world of poopy blog posts. We are the change we've been waiting for.
  5. In honor of those who've suffered through the top 5 list epidemic, the fifth reason is in absentia. Instead of reading about the fifth reason, go kiss someone you love, or someone you at least like, or someone who smells pretty good today. The internet will thank you!

Go forth and multiply, but when it comes to top five lists, I suggest going forth and subtracting. And don't get me started on slide shows or infographics!

Of course there are exceptions that prove the rule. If you've seen a wonderful, or wonderfully awful, Top X list, post a link in the comments. 

The Second Best Time

Chinese proverb says:

"Best time to start blog was in 2002. Second best time is right now." 

I'm starting this blog at the second best time.

In 2012, after ten years working in the video game industry, I quit my job as a Lead Designer at Zynga in order to pursue a new vision for my life. I won't be able to say too much about this new vision for my life in this post, but I'll talk more about it soon.


Now, my life as an active SF yipster & full time corporate employee was pretty sweet. I deeply dug SF, regularly enjoyed world class cuisine (18th & Guerrero fo' life), cavorted with the finest and most generous SF playpals, and loved my work in game design & production.

Zynga HQ, San Francisco

Zynga HQ, San Francisco

But there were cracks in the cosmic egg that was my life. Friends and colleagues began telling me I wasn't as happy as I used to be. It took some time for me to understand why:

    • I wanted to contribute to the industry games in a more personal and meaningful way. Even though I wasn't sure what that meant or how I could do it.
    • I was working too much. This was by my own unconscious choice, and I take responsibility for it. As my friend Dan Gaylinn once told me "Workahol is a helluva drug."
    • I had been ignoring my dreams of round-the-world travel for over 5 years. The better my career went the more I deferred the world. This eternal defferal was sapping my Jordo-mojo^TM. Passions must be pursued, don't you agree?

    After ten years in the game industry, it was time for me to take stock and think about how to contribute.

    I haven't perfected the answer, but I think I'm on the right track. I want travel and to contribute to the game industry in a new way, so what I'm setting out to do is to explore the world's most unique gaming traditions... I want to find all the fascinating ways we play together, and to share it with you right here at

    After all, games are one of the most fundamental pieces of society. Play is as foundational to society as work or relationships, and games are just a step behind. So what better way to explore this planet than through the diverse games we play?

    Bottle Cap Chess - Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

    I'm excited about this project for so many reasons:

    • As a ten year game industry veteran, I feel this powerful urge to go back to the roots of games and play. I am an industry expert at optimizing games for engagement, retention, monetization, and so on, but I want to reconnect with the intrinsic rewards of play that got me into the industry in the first place. Our industry is so focused on the brand new, but games are also incredibly old and I love the idea of helping the industry reconnect with that.
    • With this mission in mind, I will go places and meet people that will make my trip even more enriching and memorable. I hope to end up in places that I never would have imagined, hunting for some unusual game I've only heard about.
    • I hope to develop a deep knowledge of worldwide game mechanics that have withstood the test of time without fancy graphics or  extrinsic rewards. I find this extremely exciting. Why did these games survive the centuries? Isn't that a question every game designer should think about?

    I've been lucky enough to be able to keep working while I pursue this dream through my freelance design business. I'm available through my own consulting company, JordanCo, as well as with the incredible team at Adrian Crook & Associates where I am honored to contribute as a Lead Designer. Feel free to check out those links if you're interested in working with me on a project.

    But what I really want is for you to join me on this adventure. There are two audiences I'm writing for:

    First, if you are in the game industry, you will learn about the world's gaming traditions past and present. You'll discover new, unusual, and bizarre games you've never heard of, and historical context for ones you have. You'll get insight into how culture impacts taste in games, and you might discover an old idea in traditional games that would work perfectly for your project.

    Second, this is also going to be a personal blog with my travel experiences and photos. If you enjoy travel, adventure, or the story of a life lived outside traditional categories, this may be up your alley. I'll write about working and living nomadically, the adventures, and the people I experience along the way. What's it like to go from a traditional corporate designer to a design Ronin? What's it like to go from city slicker to wandering traveler? It's about more than finance and gear, it's about relationships and attitude and spirit. 

     You know, if you think about it, it's nearly impossible to do anything at the absolute perfect time. You'll inevitably miss the exact bottom of the market, or the perfect second to say something sweet to your lover. 99% of the time, the second best time *is* the best time.

    So let's get started. If you want to help, please share this post, especially with game industry folks. You can also join my mailing list to get a note whenever I post something new. I'd also really love your ideas on unique games that I should check out.



    San Cristobal de las Casas