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What Video Games Taught Me About Life

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

It seems like a week does not go by without the media putting out a report or hearing somebody say that video games are a waste of time and that there is very little value in spending time playing them. Despite what others think, I can personally say that video games have been hugely beneficial to both my social and professional life. I have learned first-hand many of life’s lessons from video games and I constantly draw upon my experience as a gamer to be successful in any goal or challenge that I face. Here are some of the life lessons that I have learned from playing video games.

Playing video games has taught me…

1: …to set goals and overcome challenges.
On the surface, the goals in most video games are clearly defined and easy to understand. When I first started playing video games, as I met the challenges of overcoming a level or a boss in a game my self-confidence grew. By setting goals to achieve and persevering to meet my goals I was learning the foundation of what it is to be successful in life. Just like in life, as your video game playing matures, the goals in games become more self-appointed, like climbing a competitive ladder or beating a game at its highest difficulty mode. With video games, I was given a safe place in which learn and grow and take on self-appointed challenges. I began to learn about self-reliance and being able to see the growth in my abilities and learning to trust in myself to accomplish my goals. The self-reliance and confidence in my abilities does not leave me when I turn off the game. It carries through as I set and meet goals in life as well.

2. …to fail your way to success.
Video games are unique in that they provide a safe environment in which to learn by making mistakes and failing. Thomas Watson once said, “The way to succeed is to double your error rate.” It is natural for people to learn by failing. In fact, people learn more from failing than being successful. In life you cannot be afraid of failing or making mistakes, otherwise you will never have the will to achieve anything.

Video games taught me that each time I failed, if I analyzed what the cause was and attacked the problem from a new angle, eventually I would succeed. Nearly every video game reinforces this valuable life lesson. Ninja Gaiden is a good example of this effect. Ninja Gaiden has relentlessly hard bosses and each time I failed and reloaded I tried something new and before long I started recognizing the weaknesses of the boss. What was happening was that I was learning by attempting over and over and formulating a strategy and executing it. I asked myself the question of “is my strategy or execution flawed?” If it is the strategy then I will have to change it, if it is the execution I will have to practice it until I can perform it sufficiently. In life when you fail it is possible that there are severe consequences, but in a game you can fail and the only thing that you have lost is a bit of time. The lesson is that if I have a goal, in this case defeating a boss and continue to learn from my mistakes and adjust my strategy accordingly I will eventually succeed. Life is no different, there will be setbacks and obstacles in any goal worth attaining, but if you learn from your mistakes and renew your efforts you will be able to accomplish your goal.

3: …to make quick and accurate decisions.
By playing a lot of games I am able to assess situations and make faster and more accurate decisions. This includes strategic and long-term decisions whose purpose becomes apparent multiple steps in the future. Video games challenge players to take into account the weaknesses and strengths of the tools that they have on hand and apply the correct tools to the varying problems. In the competitive team game of World of Warcraft arena, when multiple opponents simultaneously attack me (focus fire), I have to assess my surroundings and break their line of sight to prevent further damage, while staying close enough to my team’s healer to regain lost health. This positioning and awareness of my surroundings has to be coupled with choosing which defensive moves (cool downs) to use that will allow me to survive without going too far and putting my team in such a hole that we cannot later turn the tempo back against the opponent. The consequences for not making the correct decisions in a timely manner are dying and more than likely losing the match for my team. With the consequence of failing your teammates when not making the correct decisions, I quickly learned to improve my situational awareness and to make better decisions for each situation. In the workplace and in life, the fast data processing and quick and accurate decision-making abilities gained from video games are invaluable.

4: …that in life there are winners and losers.
Competitive games have taught me that not everybody wins and not everybody is entitled to winning, as most of the other coddled Gen Yers would have you believe. Winning in competitive games require hard work and practice. How badly you want to win and what hardships you are willing to put yourself through to win is a huge part of whether you win or lose. You have to persevere and put in the time and effort to continually self-improve to win any competition. As I previously mentioned, often you learn a great deal more by losing than winning.

Do not be a good loser. Be a bad loser. By this I do not mean be a poor sport when you lose, but when you lose it should hurt because it is the failure to achieve a goal. When this happens, do not just accept it. Take action by looking at what went wrong and analyze what could have been done differently to change the outcome and then figure out ways to get better from a strategy or execution standpoint, which leads me to my next point.

5: …that talent is overrated.
Talent can be overcome by hard work and deliberate practice.

Geoff Colvin details something he calls deliberate practice. This is different from regular practice in that it emphasizes relentlessly practicing what you are bad at instead what you are good at. I had unknowingly stumbled on this concept many years before reading Colvin’s article “Why Talent is Overrated” in the game Street Fighter II – The World Warrior. In my youth, I played Street Fighter II endlessly with a group of friends. Some of my friends picked up on the intricacies of the game much faster than I did. I was tired of being beaten at the hands of my friends and set about getting better at it. I practiced the game on my own time and refined my skills. I targeted the areas of my game that were the weakest. In Street Fighter II players would either start on the left side of the screen if they were the first player or the right side if they were the second player. The player on the left entered commands into the controller in the opposite direction as the player on the right. As I generally played the game as the first player, I could execute the moves very reliably when my character was on the left side of the screen. The problem was that on occasion the players would switch sides if your opponent jumped over you or threw you to the opposite side. When this happened I was a much less effective player as I could not reliably execute the reversed commands. I began only playing as the second player to practice the reversed commands over and over. By the next gaming session I was equally competent on either side of the screen and started to take advantage of my friends’ weakness in this area by purposely throwing or jumping over them to place them on the side they were less comfortable with. Through hard work and correctly applied practice I learned that I was able to overcome my group of friends’ greater natural talent at the game and that talent is indeed overrated.

6: …teamwork, communication and friendship.
For myself, gaming has always been a social activity to be enjoyed with friends. Cooperative and team objective based games cater to this almost exclusively. Competitive team based games, like first-person shooters and massively multiplayer online role-playing games place an emphasis on working with team members to accomplish team-oriented objectives. These games reward player teamwork, communication and cohesion and punish teams without these qualities. As a result, teams constantly work to refine not only their individual skills, but also team based strategies and communication. The lessons I have learned from playing team based games have translated directly into my team-oriented professional workplace. The ability to work in teams and producing at a high level in groups is something that holds true whether in a game or in life.

Even for single-player games, stories are shared between friends on how a specific scenario was tackled and defeated or recounting moments in a particular game that had left a lasting impression. Gaming as an experience begs to be shared. This is why every moderately successful game has a community of gamers who participate in message boards related to the game. In fact, the quality of the community surrounding a game greatly affects the players’ enjoyment of the game. One of the main reasons behind the success of World of Warcraft is the size and how enthusiastic the community for the game is.

I have had many strong friendships developed through gaming. All those hours of playing video games with my friends have solidified our friendships and we still retell stories about some of our greatest shared video game moments and continue to create new ones together.

I am not here to tell you that there are no differences in life and video games. I will be the first to admit that when taken too far, games can be a serious distraction from real world responsibilities. While I may be biased because I turned my favorite hobby into a career and I owe so much to games, I am relating my personal experience that there are some valuable life lessons that can be taken away from playing video games. The most important thing is to set the right goals. How do you know your goal is a worthwhile goal? Ask yourself the question of “why you want to achieve this goal.” If your answer is strong enough, then you know that you have a worthy goal.

Life is much more abstract than a game. There is no experience bar guiding and charting your success. Life is much less predictable and a definitive approach to success is not defined like in the game rules that are set down by a game designer. Setbacks in life and the consequences are much harsher, but games teach you to pick yourself up again and to strive for and to ultimately reach your goals by trying new strategies and having better execution. It provides you with a safe environment to experiment in which to fail and make mistakes. It allows you the ability to continually self-improve and to work together to accomplish what you could not do alone. These are lessons from games that translate into real life.


See my other related articles:
8 Ways to Make Your Goal a Certainty
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character

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8 Ways to Make Your Goal a Certainty

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Fuck the Detractors
Thanks to Berenice Limon for the use of her image.

I am sick of people telling me to take the safe route and to not take chances. There will always be people that will advise you to live comfortably and not take on any risk or hardship. Get away from these people. They will only derail you from achieving your goals. Being comfortable never prompted anybody to change their situation or achieve their goals. Being comfortable should make you feel uncomfortable. People will allow themselves to be pushed around and bullied in order to remain comfortable. People will act in a painful situation to ease the pain or remove the source of that pain. Security and comfort is not afforded by a job, it is provided by your ability to produce.

“When you are tough on yourself, life is easier on you.” – Zig Ziglar

1. Achievement starts with a goal

Start with a goal. Desire and enthusiasm without direction is wasted. A goal will give you a direction to channel all of your enthusiasm and desire. How do you know your goal is a worthwhile goal? Ask the question of “why you want to achieve this goal.” If your answer is strong enough, then you know that you have a worthy goal.

2. Imagine the pleasure of achieving your goal

Close your eyes and see yourself in the future having achieved your goal. Think about all the benefits, pleasure and possibilities that will open up to you if you attain your goal. Doing this will help you visualize in your mind and emotionally commit yourself to achieving your goal. Remember that feeling of pleasure at reaching your goal. Latch onto this image and it will help you manifest your mental creation into the physical.

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” –Gloria Steinem

3. Imagine the pain of failing to reach the goal

Now close your eyes and imagine what the consequences are of not reaching your goal. What type of painful existence would you live or continue to live if you did not continue to move forwards and achieve you goal? Embrace that feeling of pain and let it drive you. Pain can be the greatest of all motivators.

4. Remind yourself of your goal

Reinforce your goal everyday. Keep you goal fresh in your mind. By doing this you will prod your mind to work out the problems in your way of achieving that goal. A goal that is constantly bubbled up in your mind will allow your genius to work on figuring different methods on how to achieve it. Never underestimate your genius.

Some of the methods to remind you of your goal is to write your goal on the ceiling of your bed so that you wake up and see it every morning and every evening when you go to bed. The headline of my IPhone task list is always the goal I am currently working on. I check this list several times a day to keep on task and remind myself of my goal. Whichever way you remind yourself of your goal do it at least once daily.

By keeping yourself focused on your goal you will remove distractions. I do not know who originally said this, “When you eliminate all other possibilities other than success, you are left only with success as a possibility.”

If you look up at the sun, you seldom see the shadows. – Helen Keller

5. Public Accountability

Tell others what your goal is. Arnold Schwarzenegger related a story about how he used public accountability to get the burning desire in his belly to achieve. While still in Austria and with little ability to speak English he would tell people that he was going to America to be a great actor. Because he let people know his goal, he used public accountability to strengthen his desire to achieve a goal that seemed impossible. Even when he arrived in America he was told his accent was too thick and his body too weird to ever make it. Despite it all he willed his way through all of his detractors and made it by never giving up on his dream.

Blog about your goal and give frequent updates. Here is a video of a guy that used public accountability to get to his goal. He posted a picture of himself on his blog everyday as he used public accountability to achieve his goal of weight loss.

Make a deal with somebody you care about. For instance, you could make a deal with your wife that you will quit smoking if she does the same.

Tell your co-workers about your goal. “I am going to quit smoking for the next 2 weeks” and give them frequent updates. Doing this will even encourage people to ask you for an update about your goal when you neglect to update them.

6. Do something each day that will get you closer to accomplishing your goal

Before going to bed each evening, take out a note taking device and create a stack ranked list of what you need to tackle tomorrow to get you closer to your goal. Start on the list from highest priority and focus on it until it is complete.

By doing something everyday to get you closer to your goal you will be surprised at the progress. This will also make your progress steady instead of having peaks and valleys of activity.

7. Fail your way to success

People are so afraid of failing and making mistakes that it often stops them from even trying. This mentality is completely wrong. If you want to succeed faster increase the rate at which you fail. We learn more from failure than we learn from success. Embrace and learn from failure and get back up and keep swinging. When obstacles arise you change your direction not your decision to get there.

After Thomas Edison failed 9000 times trying to create a practical electric light he was asked by a reporter whether he felt like a failure. Edison replied, “”Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” Edison invented the practical incandescent, electric light after he failed 10,000 times.

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!” – Rocky Balboa

Each misstep is an education. There are two reactions that a person can have when hit by an obstacle. One, give up. Two, redouble your efforts. When you get knocked down, how you react to it shows your character. Bottom line is: do not be afraid to start something because you could fail and if you do fail learn from it, get back up and attack. An example is investing in the stock market. Invest slowly with money that you are not afraid to lose. If you do lose money do not let it stop you from investing, instead learn from your mistakes and consider it as an educational tuition fee. You will never learn, let alone succeed if you never try.

8. Create a mantra

Mine is: “I will do what it takes.”

We need more people that don’t know what can’t be done. – Henry Ford

May all your dreams but one come true. – David Gemmel

This has been my most personal blog to date and I was very hesitant to publish it. Nonetheless, I hope this post is helpful to you.

If you enjoyed this post you might be interested in my other articles:
Why and How I Broke My Addiction to Caffeine
Bet on the US, I am
Money: What Steps I Have Taken to Save It

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