video-games

5 Lessons Video Games Taught Me About Winning At Life

video-games

Hi everyone, my name is Michael and I have a confession to make:

I’m a fucking nerd.

I know, I know, I’m doing my best to stay strong and take it day by day.  No, please don’t cry, I’m okay…really.  It all started back when I was a wee lad (cue dreamy flashback).

My earliest memories were of terrible graphic resolutions and the screech of dial-up.  My parents bought me the Independence Day game for PC and I’d spend hours flying around in bad ass jets blowing the shit out of aliens.

It was awesome.

After that, I started dabbling in games like Crash Team Racing and Spyro on PlayStation 1, Pokémon on Game Boy Color, Fire Emblem on Game Boy Advance, Runescape on PC, Soul Caliber and Super Smash Bros on GameCube, and Halo on Xbox.

I soon came to crave the harder stuff and found myself sitting alone in a dark room, illuminated only by the glow of a monitor projecting mythic lands, strange beasts, and epic story lines.

Warcraft 3, Diablo II, World of Warcraft (multiple expansions), League of Legends, and Pokémon Go slaked my lust for conquest and glory and fueled the ferocity of my nerdaholism[1].  Memories of 40 man raids, legendary item drops, and godlike killing sprees still haunt me to this day.

I’ve been a nerd for about 17 years now.

Some days are harder than others and it’s an unrelenting struggle.  I’ve relapsed a few times.  I am confident, however, that if I stick to the program and abstain from anything game-related, I just might have a chance at beating this terrible disease – wait what am I talking about?! I love being a nerd!

Here are a few lessons I’ve picked up from being a nerdaholic:

1) How To View And Overcome Failure.

I used to love playing Super Mario Bros on Game Boy.

The goal was to jump and stomp your way through hordes of minions, unique levels, and Machiavellian traps in order to rescue Princess Peach from the insidious clutches of Bowser.  If you were able to bypass all the grumbling Goombas, man-eating plants, and hammer-throwing turtle kin, you’d have a shot at taking on the behemoth himself and rescuing your beloved Princess.

The first time I charged into battle against the massive-spiky-dragon-turtle I lost…pretty fucking badly.  I wasn’t about to quit after one try so I wiped the sweat off my brow, restarted my game, and plowed in again, only to meet an equally demoralizing defeat.

This cycle of running into battle, dying almost instantly, and trying again continued for a while.  I can’t be sure, but my device may or may not have received the brunt of my frustration in the form of me throwing it across the room.

Losing over and over sucked, but it gave me the opportunity to improve each time.  I refined my strategy, gleaned a better understanding of the fight’s context, and enhanced my reaction time.  Eventually everything came together and I beat that son of a bitch, rescued the Princess, and felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

Although it may have just been a silly game, it taught me a lot about the nature of failure and what it takes to overcome adversity.

We rarely possess all the knowledge, skill, timing, and luck required to win at something the first time we try, especially when it’s outside our comfort zone.  While our initial reaction may be to chalk it up to being stupid or bad or something else, it’s really just a byproduct of dipping our toe into the pool of the unfamiliar.

Through failure, we learn about ourselves and the challenges we’re up against.  If we’re able to swallow the pain, tweak our approach, and eat the Magic Mushrooms that come our way, we drastically increase our chances at succeeding.

The alternative is realizing our goal really isn’t worth all the crispy plumbers it would take to get there, which isn’t all that bad either.

2) Hard Work Pays Off

Non-gamers might think this is a joke but I am 100% serious when I say the following:

Video games are a ton of fucking work.

Yes, I am aware that I used the terms “video games” and “work” in the same sentence but hear me out.

Many of the games I played – especially the role-playing ones – required hours and hours of figuring out how to play the game, mastering the mechanics, grinding experience, completing quests, collecting items, and doing all the other stuff that would hopefully one day make your character less shitty.

Even though these games were fun for the most part, the effort you had to invest to move forward could be incredibly time consuming, tedious, and frustrating.

  • It took hundreds of League of Legends matches to reach Diamond rank[2].
  • Years passed before I earned enough gold in Runescape to buy my first Party Hat[3].
  • I played World of Warcraft for over 1000 hours within a year while being full-time student before I was competitively viable.
  • I’ve captured over 3000 Pokémon in Pokémon Go and am only around 5% of the way to the highest level.

Bragging aside, I’ve learned that effort is one of the few things we can control when it comes to getting what we want in life.  Whether you’re after a shiny new item, a promotion at work, or a morning of regret following a seemingly harmless one-night-stand, you have to put in the work and there’s no way around it.

It’s the small, repetitive, daily steps towards progress that pay off in the long run.  Think about the goal you’re after and make sure it’s worth all the effort it’ll take to get there.  If it is, you’ll find a way to commit the time and energy while having fun along the way.

3) The Importance Of Surrounding Yourself With Awesome People

World of Warcraft had (and still has) these things called raids where groups of 10, 25, or 40 players would come together to take on exceptionally powerful antagonists and bosses of legendary proportion.

Strong communication was essential because each fight required a unique approach in order to win.  Everyone had to be on the same page and fulfill their role because even one mistake could spell catastrophe for the entire group.

I was involved in a lot of these raids back in my day and experienced every type of team composition imaginable.  What set the teams that kicked ass apart from the teams that blew terribly were the people – plain and simple.

Good teams had competent players that performed well, communicated efficiently, understood the strategy, and applied their strengths in a way that synergized with the group.  Shitty teams had sub-par players that lacked focus, communicated poorly, didn’t work well with others, and, as politely as I can put it, just kind of sucked.

The people we surround ourselves with have the ability to either lift us up or drag us down.  You can be the best in the world at what you do but without the right supporting cast behind you, your chances at pulling off something impressive suffers dearly.

Make the choice to surround yourself with awesome people (without being a dick to the less-than-awesome people) that elevate your game, bring out your strengths, and mitigate your weaknesses if you hope to accomplish big things.  Otherwise, you run the risk of ending up in a raid group that was formed at 3 a.m. Friday morning and we all know how those end (I’ll give you a hint: not well).

4) Success Comes At A Price

In my 17+ years of gaming, I’ve had a couple of episodes where I chose to immerse myself in virtual reality more than actual reality.

I fell into the habit of playing World of Warcraft between 5 and 12 hours every day my Sophomore year of high school, weekdays and weekends.  I was madly addicted and determined to be the best.  I felt that if I achieved all the things that only the most hardcore players could achieve, I’d be happy and life would rock.

Well I did achieve most of the things I set out but quickly found that life did not rock.  In the process of becoming awesome at WoW, I severely damaged my trust with my parents, performed well below my academic capabilities, and stopped getting invited to get-togethers with friends.  It took massive life reprioritization and effort to remedy those wrongs.

Our culture puts success on a golden pedestal, but it doesn’t do a great job at detailing the sacrifice it takes to get there.

You can’t be great at everything.  You can’t have it all.  You’ll have to prioritize certain things above others and even cut things out of your life in order to free up extra time to commit to your endeavor.  If you want to be great at something, by all means go for it, but don’t be ignorant about what it takes to get there.

I learned that while having a Gladiator[4] title is cool, having people that care about you to share it with is even better.

5) Not To Make Something Bigger Than What It Is

At the end of the day, video games are just what their name implies – games.  Sure, they can teach you some pretty cool lessons about life and success, but they’re meant to be fun and shouldn’t be made into something bigger than what they are.

It’s the times that I made video games into something bigger than they were – a testament of my worth, a lifestyle, an escape from responsibility and maturity – that my life suffered.  I got the most value and entertainment out of them whenever I was on top of my other priorities and made the decision to spend a little time slaying Goblins and shooting bad guys.

Whenever you’re doing something in life, whether it’s crushing your opponents mercilessly in virtual combat or something of greater substance, remember to keep it in perspective.  People won’t remember you for your kill-to-death ratio but they will remember you for how you made them feel and what you contributed to their lives.

Happy gaming my friends :).


[1] Nerdaholism (noun): A word I made up to characterize an obsession with and/or addiction to video games.

[2] This rank was bestowed upon accounts in the top ~.5-2% of active players.

[3] A Party Hat is a small paper crown that your character can wear on their head.  They come in different colors and were only released when the game first came out making them extremely rare and valuable.  They ranged between $150 and $500 million gold in price when I was playing.

[4] The highest possible rank you could achieve playing Arena (competitive PvP) in World of Warcraft.  Only a dozen or so players on each server would receive this rank.




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