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I couldn't make it too easy. I was responsible for all the pirate encounters that year.

I still had the deck they used last year. Of course I couldn't repeat all the same encounters. Not only would it be too easy to overcome difficulties he'd seen before, but he may have developed a sense of déjà vu that would endanger his playing of the game.

We had to keep him immersed.

Most of the cards I kept in the deck. We needed continuity for the world, but I took out the most unique incidents. Things that had little probability of recurring in successive years.

I sent some ideas over to R&D. After a few weeks, they sent back a collection of suggested cards. Some of my ideas were included, and done quite well. Others were completely new. You had to give them credit for their originality. It wasn't a crowd of dummies down there.

I spent a couple weeks sifting through the new cards. They couldn't all go in the deck. The year wasn't long enough. Some would have to be set aside, perhaps for the future. Others, if I really wanted them, would have to replace cards from previous years, changing the environment of the game.

That was the first year they allowed me to set the difficulty level without review. I was no longer an apprentice. I had learned that if he became bored, he would start looking beyond the game, creating difficulties for us that we were not prepared for. Similarly if he became too frustrated, he would attempt to attack the underlying framework of the game itself, threatening to bring down the entire world.

Keep him occupied. Keep him optimistic. Keep him looking forward to the next card that would be dealt.

It wasn't always a game of pirates. The change from the previous incarnations of the game highlighted our past failures to keep him immersed, to keep him from crashing our world.

But we learned from our mistakes with each passing generation. We even prepared for the next world, in case he broke out of the current one. Others already had decks prepared for different worlds, but those would be ones I was not involved in. It would be back to the drawing board for me, but I preferred to be part of the action. To have a daily say in what the game was going to throw at him.

I was gaining in seniority. Not yet among the most respected of deck designers, but also no longer among those regularly ignored when they spoke. His world was increasingly showing the results of my workmanship. Another reason I didn't want him to move on, I suppose. I didn't want to see so much of my hard work destroyed.

I was in regular contact with the psyche department. They didn't design game mechanics there. Instead they analyzed the players, and helped us decide what to introduce next. I didn't always have time for them in the past, but I was getting used to the work. As I became more efficient in the basics, it freed up time for deeper research. That helped maintain immersion.

At times I would have to personally intervene, take direct control of one or more of the pirates around him, in order to help preserve the stability of the game. The larger the number I had to control, the more difficult it was. That was usually only reserved for emergencies. The most effective control was taking the place of one pirate at a time. It allowed for much more nuanced interactions.

Pirates, of course, were my department. I wasn't the only one changing his world. Usually I coordinated with the other deck makers there. But we weren't perfect. There were certainly many times when we ended up working at cross-purposes around him, usually with humorous results. We didn't laugh until long after though. It was never funny watching disaster unfold around you. It was only funny after realizing it was due to our own lack of coordination.

Fortunately for us, those unplanned disasters could usually be worked into the game. An additional challenge to keep things exciting. And as long as we deck makers remained in good communication, we could easily fix problems before they got out of hand.

The following year, we planned to intentionally add an additional level of indirection between our efforts at coordination. We theorized it would make the game appear more realistic, and prevent him from suspecting there was some kind of conspiracy going on around him.

It did have its risks of course. Realism came at the price of greater chances for disaster. We needed a kind of in-game firefighter on call to save the day, in case our lack of coordination began to show its ugly side.

They were doing some trial runs in R&D already, in preparation for the following year. Those were good folks down there, people I was thankful for. They always had my back, which was good to know whenever I descended into the exciting world of our own creation.

I was envious it wasn't me playing sometimes, but at least I didn't have to constantly fear death. At least I could escape whenever I wanted.

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