Desert Golfing is a simple 2D drag and release golf simulator. The terrain is procedurally generated and the play consists of pulling your thumb on the screen to indicate the force and direction that you will launch your ball in. That’s it. Just endless orange dunes and hole after hole. It keeps track of the total number of strokes you have taken and submits your score to the Game Center after a thousand holes. You will occasionally see a cactus or a rock. There is no celebration if you get a hole in one, and there is no reward besides another hole.

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”
– Alan Watts

In Desert Golfing there is only the hole of golf that you are on. There is a hole coming up, and one you just completed, but they are meaningless in the context of the immediate game you are playing. There is some form of connection to the past via your score and the fact that the holes are numbered, but even that doesn’t really matter much in the course of play. The hole you are on doesn’t much matter, it is just this one shot in this one moment. No fanfare, no special treatment, just a continuous offering of the experience itself.

“If you’re doing poorly, the temptation to hit the reset button would always be lurking over you. But with no way to restart, the player feels a sense of freedom and reconciliation with life’s past mistakes.”
– Justin Smith, designer of Desert Golf

There are no menus and no restarting the game short of deleting it from your device and reinstalling it. There is just the game. No explanation needed or given. You gradually get better at playing it, but even then you are at the mercy of the terrain generator. Some holes are straight shots, some complicated negotiations trying to get on top of a tiny table-top or over a giant hill. The fact that the game seemingly doesn’t care for or about you is dramatically liberating. It leaves you the freedom to just play.

Pick up Desert Golfing for iOS or Android.


I’ve been playing a lot of Spelunky lately, and the more I play the more parallels I see with Buddhist practice. The Four Noble Truths form the core of Buddhist and are the framework of Buddhism.

One of the first things that any player realizes in Spelunky is that life is suffering. You throw yourself endlessly to your own doom. As you continue to play you come to realize Damsels, Dude-sels and Pug-sels, Cavemen, Shopkeepers, and even lowly spiders, snakes and frogs are all subject to the same rules and casual cruelties you are. Which brings us to the First Noble Truth: All beings suffer. This isn’t pessimistic, it is just an acknowledgement of how things are. We all suffer. This knowledge allows us to have compassion and connection to others. Any time you have a conversation about playing Spelunky with a fellow player, it will be a recounting of your shared suffering.

And Spelunky provides plenty of ways to suffer. Blind jumps, spikes, spiders, misplaced bombs, angry shopkeepers, the rock you threw that falls back onto your head, traps you didn’t disarm or avoid and the combinations of all of those and more. In his interview with Roguelike Radio, Derek Yu states that “when greed kills you in a game, I think it’s a good thing”. The Second Noble Truth is that suffering has a cause, and that cause is desire (or longing, or craving, or attachment). Desire is occasionally broken down into the Three Roots of Evil: greed, ignorance and destructive urges. Spelunky will promptly kill you for any of these poisons.

I think what makes all the suffering enjoyable (in a game sense) is that you are almost always the architect of your own suffering. I never feel cheated by the game. These are all my mistakes. As I learn and play and repeat I get better. I start to make the jumps, I learn how far I can fall, I can use a rat to disarm that arrow trap, my bombs and rocks start to find their targets. The Third Noble Truth is that there is a way to break free of the cycle of suffering. Nirvana is described as the state of cessation of suffering. By working to free yourself of the illusions presented in the Three Roots of Evil, you can achieve Nirvana.

The Fourth Noble Truth is that there is a middle way that can be applied to achieve Nirvana, and that is the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is the core prescription of Buddhist practice and consists of the following pieces: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Awareness, and Right Concentration. The pieces do not require an order, but are parts that support each other, like spokes on a wheel. By studying the Noble Eightfold Path, you can come to understand the patterns in your world and in your life that are at the root of suffering, and by studying you can over come the Three Roots of Evil.

So, in short, Spelunky and the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Spelunky is suffering
  2. There is a cause of suffering, and it is our attachments
  3. There is a way to the cessation of suffering
  4. That way is the Noble Eightfold Path