I played Super Mario Bros. on SNES when I was a kid. I played it over and over for years. I had Donkey Kong Country I and II, Tiny Tunes, and a couple of Disney games. That’s all I needed. As a teenager, my experience with gaming was racing games on the original PlayStation and Tomb Raider II, which I never beat. I didn’t touch any more games until a few years ago when Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare II introduced me to shooters…sort of.
From there, it was my gateway game into Overwatch, then Titanfall 2, Battlefield One, Horizon Zero Dawn, Destiny 2, Monster Hunter World, and beyond. I still play today, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to quit this time. Starting at 28 though, I struggle with issues that other gamers mastered years ago–aiming, reflexes, understanding game designs and mechanics without in-depth tutorials, not getting nauseous when I’d switch from a third-person perspective in one game to a first-person POV in another.
However, I maintain it as one of my favorite activities to do, despite maybe not being the best player ever. The experience has been exciting and rewarding. I also realized that you could take away many life lessons from it, if you really looked.
Here’s what video games have taught me.
I’ve heard this one is a virtue. Also, something about good things come to those who wait? It’s because the early bird catches the worm. Ah! I can’t stop talking in cliches! Video games require a certain level of patience for a variety of different aspects. Learning fighting combos, battling difficult bosses, or navigating a jumping puzzle will teach you in a hurry to slow down and accept your fate. If you want to succeed, you have to be patient. Angry fits of frustration rarely make it happen any faster (that hasn’t stopped me from trying that route a time or two).
It’s a good skill to have in life, too. Take your time when doing important things. After all, haste makes waste. Ah! I’m doing it again. But I do have to remember patience when I’m trying to rush through something. I’ve seen the sloppy results of my rushing, and it’s not pretty. I also do this with BIG IMPORTANT LIFE DECISIONS that I should definitely take my time on. I just like to have things marked off as done, instead of waiting around. I have to remind myself that it’s not just “waiting” around though. Being patient can help you make a better decision and help you tune into your rational side, if you’re prone to impulsiveness like me.
I’ve also had to apply this to my mental health. For example, using a DBT skill or a breathing exercise for the 1000th time. It feels so repetitive sometimes and it’s hard to feel like it’s working. Just remember: it’s not about mastery; it’s about maintenance.
You don’t need to have everything figured out
When I picked up a certain popular, massive RPG for the first time (The Witcher 3), I was intimidated by the overwhelming amount of things to explore and do. It deterred me enough to put the game down. I feared I had done it wrong up to that point and had missed out on something. I later watched a video that said not to worry about some of those bigger things and just enjoy the game until you level up. It made me feel so relieved. Why did I focus so hard on having everything perfect, instead of just playing?
This correlates perfectly to the same feeling I get in my life–planning my career, figuring out meal prep, wanting to have a linear progression for mental health recovery. Like that same video game though, I don’t have to have it all figured out. I don’t have to have the perfect resume or portfolio before I allow myself to start applying to dream jobs. I don’t need to have blogger mom-style meal plans and Pinterest boards full of ideas to go grocery shopping. Things just do not have to be perfect in order to get started and to reap the benefits.
I’m detail-oriented, but I like to look at the big picture. Maybe too much. You can take that first step, even if you’re not sure what the whole picture looks like. Ah! Now I’m just mixing metaphors.
Don’t forget to have fun!
I admit I struggle to have fun playing video games sometimes. I play to win and to be good at the game. I’m very focused on my personal stats because that’s what being good at the game is to me. That’s what having fun is to me: empirical data with a measurable way to improve. So when I do poorly, I don’t enjoy playing so much. And if I’m not enjoying it, what’s the point in playing?
That’s when I have to change my approach. Do something less serious. Go work on my form in a practice area. Take a moment to chill out. I don’t want to play if I’m not having fun.
I think life should be similar. Not the exact same. Like, don’t go quit your job because it’s not fun or fulfilling. You still need that. But start looking for a new one! Build skills for a job that you really want, even if you have to do that on the side for awhile. Keep your dreams alive. Say yes to more fun things. Say no to more things that weigh you down. Don’t do everything out of obligation, instead pick and choose what’s worth your time.
If people judge you or criticize you for not being a “team player” or being too selfish, remember that this is your boundaries and mental health at stake, not theirs (if you’re accused of not being a team player in a video game though, probably should listen to that a bit). You are not responsible for everyone else’s problems or feelings. It’s a crazy concept for someone like me, who took years of adulthood to figure out to put my needs first. It’s not selfish; it’s self-care. You can take care of your needs, while also being a compassionate, empathetic person. It’s about boundaries. That doesn’t sound like “fun”, but it helps you set limits for yourself and it can help you create parameters for yourself to make more time for things you enjoy.
That’s right. You can order yourself to have fun.
Know who to talk to
Knowing the right NPC to speak to can literally be a game changer. It can move the story along or give you valuable items, completely changing the course of the game. I admit I’ve been stumped while playing a game until I realized I needed to speak to the right person or do something in a specific order, in just the right way, to get it done.
You should also know who to talk to in life. Know when to ask help, know when to reach out, know who your resources are. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. This big ole world feels small and lonely far too often. But you do have those who care and who will listen and support you. There’s always internet strangers in various forums all over the world, too, right at your fingertips. It can feel weird to just reach out to someone and say, “Hey, I need to talk to someone,” especially if you don’t feel like any of your friends are “that kind of friend”. So the internet is a perfect solution to this problem! I’ve used it myself many times.
This can be applied to other things as well. Knowing who to talk to you at your job when you want to move up the ladder or get a raise. Or perhaps, like me, you fancied a career change and you needed outward advice and opinions on what to do next. You would ask people who are in that field or who have made similar moves and seem knowledgeable about the job market as a whole.
It all comes down to knowing who is in your corner. I’ve found it useful to communicate with people on Twitter, as I’m learning the blogging world and what’s “meta”. Just like I do on Reddit when I’m learning a new game.
All that matters is you get through it and you enjoy it
My boyfriend has told me repeatedly that a game he loves, Bioshock, would be enjoyable to me even if I played it on “easy” mode. Playing on easy is sort of taboo among hardcore gamers because it means you didn’t earn your way through it properly. It’s almost seen as cheating because you aren’t of the same skill level as other people. To this, my boyfriend offered: “The point of the game is to have fun. If you have to do it on easy, then who cares? It’s a video game. That’s what it’s for.” He’s right. I hold myself to such high standards when gaming (as I mentioned) and I hate using any crutches or advantages that might make me look less legit. But what he said about this really clicked with me.
Similar to the point about having fun, all that matters about your choices in life is that you’re getting through it and doing what you want.
You don’t have to do things “the right way”, like I mentioned above. You don’t have to do what you don’t want to do, just because you think you should.
This is your life. You can do or not do what you want. Your decisions are not set in stone. It is not too late. You’re not too old. It’s not impossible.
I say this not as some successful career person who has had an illustrious life filled with amazing adventures and meaningful endeavors. I’ve been here and there. I’ve made good choices and really, really bad ones. I’ve done things I’m proud of, and seemingly far too many things I regret. Nothing really sticks for too long, it seems. I find somewhere I belong and then I’m gone when it no longer fits me. I haven’t let that stop me from having a passion, from having goals. I still cherish experiences and connections above all else, and I can look at those moments from my past and present life as things that warm my soul the way nothing else can.
I sometimes do feel like it’s all over. It’s too late. I suck at life. Wallowing in that sentiment will not help me feel better about it. It won’t change anything. I try to focus on the positive, great memories, while also keeping my eyes firmly on the future. I am always in the pursuit of that which fulfills and enriches my life. From people and connections, to experiences and events, to passions and hobbies.
That’s what my 2019 is going to be about–people, passions, and a lot more video games.
What other lessons can we take from video games?