If you’ve ever played a good video game, chances are you spent a lot of time on it.
Whether you’re shooting them up, messing around with your in-game character or planning a strategy to defeat your enemies, games bring a lot of joy. However, as we grow up, we eventually abandon games in favour of more productive activities.
We come to deal with reality and approach matters more practically. Those who spend long periods of time on games are scorned and deemed to be immature. As we move away from games and concern ourselves with more solemn matters, we inevitably lose our sense of wonderment and ability to take ourselves less seriously.
Life doesn’t have to be stale. We can confront reality the same way as we do in the virtual world. In fact, we live better when we approach life like a game.
Here are eight ways gamifying your life will make you more successful.
1. Banish Your Fear Of Failure
“Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street” — Zig Ziglar
Have you ever been defeated in a game and declared that it was the end of you? Probably not. That would be absurd.
Yet in life, we often do that. As we grow up and become attuned to social norms and conventions, we develop a fear of failure. This fear of failure becomes etched into us; some regrettably never overcome this fear altogether and spend the duration of their time on earth without having lived at all.
We see failure as a mortal blow instead of a scar that reminds us of the mistakes we’ve made. As a result, we live timidly and are afraid to take risks and explore new beginnings. The fear of failure becomes crippling.
That doesn’t happen in games. Gamers rarely give up and lose their motivation when they fail at a mission. Instead, they double down and learn from their mistakes before attempting the same scenario again. Often there is a feeling that they are on the verge of getting to the next stage or discovering something important that leads them there.
This could perhaps be best explained by the term “urgent optimism”, coined by American game designer and author of SuperBetter, Jane McGonigal. She defines this in her TED talk as “the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.”
Why the difference in the manner in which we approach life and gaming? The answer is that we understand we can always restart and try again at overcoming the obstacle before us. However, that too is true of life — we can always recover after each defeat.
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” — Winston Churchill
While the stakes are certainly higher in reality than in the virtual world, the optimal strategy is still the one we use in games. All the more reason we should approach life without fear of failure.
2. Establish The Mission
Games often come with fixed objectives. Nowhere is this more apparent in first player shooter games, where game modes such as “capture the flag” exist. In such modes, winning isn’t defined by how many times you kill your opponent, but whether you achieve your objective.
Interestingly, this has spawned the term “objective gaming”, which seems odd by itself because what are you doing if not meeting the objective? Yet, that seems to be what everyone is doing. Like gamers obsessed with kill: death ratio, we chase metrics such as money, prestige, and social status, even if they are not relevant to our goals.
Games are interesting because they provide a narrative that adds context and meaning to our lives. They provide purpose and direction — why we do what we do. This is often seen when quests are handed out, with clear directions on what we are required to do for the story to progress.
Similarly, we are the protagonist in the game of life. We each have a unique quest to complete. A few lucky people are born knowing what their quest is, others have to find it, and the remaining need to create one for themselves. Without a quest, there is no goal to accomplish, and by extension no possible sense of fulfilment.
The main reason people are addicted to games is because they find more purpose in the virtual world than in reality. Jane McGonigall cites research by Carnegie Mellon University, which discovered that the average young person today in a country with a strong gaming culture will have spent more than 10,000 hours playing online games by the age of 21. We can keep going if we have a purpose that we are deeply committed to.
What would our lives look like if we created a quest for ourselves?
3. Embrace The Grind
If you think gaming is easy business, think again. There’s a reason why the competitive gaming and e-sports industries exist.
10,000 hours is not a short period of time. According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, 10,000 hours of practice is what you need to master your craft. That is what it takes to ascend to the top of your field.
Think Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams.
Unfortunately, the average young person never really specialises; most wouldn’t make the cut to be a professional gamer. However, it’s clear that we excel at the things we love. Children and adolescents can put hours grinding endlessly in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), exhibiting a kind of discipline that even the strictest of adults must reluctantly revere.
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion” — Simon Sinek
With purpose naturally comes productivity. Gearing your life towards a specific goal that you are concerned with allows you to progress quickly. Games are unique in that they allow the individual to focus intensely over a long duration of time.
More importantly, games have a distinct bias towards action. No matter the genre of your video game, there will be no game mechanic that intentionally causes the user to twiddle his thumbs. There is always something to do in a well-designed game. When you take that approach in gaming towards that of life, you will undoubtedly achieve more.
Life rewards execution, not planning and thinking.
4. Reward Yourself
Games often provide rewards in the form of new gear or content after the completion of each objective.This not only advances the game’s storyline, but it also provides motivation for the individual to carry on towards the next mission.
This happens because rewards spike our dopamine levels, which energises us and gives us a feel-good aura. Dopamine is the same chemical in our brain which causes us to be addicted to vices such as gambling, alcohol and nicotine. However, it can also be used to create an addiction to progression — the very effect that games use to entice people to spend hours glued to the gaming device.
We can recreate this environment by tracking and celebrating our small wins. This is already seen in the fitness industry, which has spawned several mobile applications that are devoted to rewarding workouts by awarding points or even hard cold cash.
While there is concern that many individuals end up doing things for the sake of rewards and lose sight of why they first started, they remain a viable option as extrinsic motivation. A better method would be to use rewards to maintain momentum and avoid burn-out as you clock your 10,000 hours in the pursuit of greatness.
5. Push Yourself Incrementally
“Every next level of your life will demand a different you” — Leonardo DiCaprio
Games embody the very essence of the above thought. Well-designed games will have scenarios that are more challenging than the previous one. As users gain experience and proficiency with game mechanics and strategies, they are called upon to take on tasks that require them to reinvent themselves.
It is this process of constant renewal that allows us to grow quickly. We are forced to adapt to new circumstances in games. Consequently, this adaptation grants us newfound abilities and skill-sets that continue to serve us in the long run and carry over to other endeavours.
The very same thing happens in life.
Biologically, we grow stronger by adapting to new demands on our body. It’s the main mechanism for muscular hypertrophy. Lifting heavier weights forces us to exert ourselves, creating micro-tears in our muscles. To cope with this new stress, our body not only repairs but also strengthens itself. The longer the time under tension, the quicker the growth.
Putting ourselves out there in discomfort can be a painful thing to do, but it is by far the quickest way to achieve rapid personal growth. Doing so allows you to learn quickly by doing, with immediate feedback of what is going well and what is not. If you fail, you are failing forward.
When thrown into the deep end of the pool and forced to swim or sink, you’ll learn to tread water at the very least. If you are looking to level up in life, the fastest way is to ensure that every challenge is at the edge of your comfort zone, if not beyond it.
6. Aggressively Seeking Support
If you’ve played any MMORPG, you will notice that there are usually a group of people who have cemented their status as the top players in the game. These players have large followings, with many players emulating their strategies for climbing the leader board.
This is similar to life, where we follow and mirror the routines of giants such as Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett. What is different, however, is that we are often afraid of reaching out for support. We avoid contact with others we deem out of our league, even though that is the fastest way to advance forward.
For instance, most MMORPGs have a feature which allows you to form parties/groups in order to take on challenging missions such as boss raids. Newer players can often leverage this feature to get help from the more established, enabling them to accomplish tasks that would not be possible with their own strength. Rapid growth occurs this way because they take on disproportionately difficult challenges with external support.
You can do the same too. Deliberately seek out people who are more intelligent, knowledgeable and capable than you. These people will serve as your mentors. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you are always in the company of more accomplished people — you can only benefit from them. As Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”.
Be the dumbest man in the room.
7. Deal With Unfairness
“It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.” — Randy Pausch
We have plenty of complaints in life. It seems the odds are never stacked in our favour. Nothing goes the way we want. A quick Google search lists some of the most common complaints people have:
- Weather — never the perfect weather
- School — just flat out sucks
- Jobs — unemployed, overworked, underpaid, unfulfilled
- Slow internet — never fast enough
- Money — seriously, is this ever enough?
As Randy Pausch says in The Last Lecture, we can’t control what happens to us, only how we react. One thing that gamers do very well is reacting to unexpected incidents. They find ways to work around bugs — which happen even in the best-designed game — and carry on with their daily business. Some even find ways to exploit loopholes in the game.
In a similar vein, the only thing we can do with perceived unfairness is to deal with it. You can either move past it or stay in the past begrudging the hand you’re dealt. You can quit playing a video game if it is not to your liking, but you cannot quit the game of life.
“Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.” — Oscar Wilde
It is estimated that 4 billion people don’t have access to the internet today. If you’re reading this, or have ever played a video game, know that you’re doing better than more than half the world already.
8. You Are In Control
If there is only one thing you can take away from this, know this: you are in firm control of your life.
The game of life is the biggest and most important MMORPG you will ever play. In this MMORPG, you dictate your own narrative and decide the path you are going to take. There is no ‘win’ condition. You are the main character in your own story — how far you go is all up to you.
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” — William Ernest Henley
A game remains fun only because it excites us and continues to be a novel experience. The same can be said of life: we must design it in such a way that we are committed and deeply involved every single day.
Begin your own quest. Take the road less travelled. Explore and experiment without fear of repercussions. Do what has never been done before. Live life on your own terms.
Above all, remember to enjoy the game of life.