Gaming has always been stereotyped in many ways: To parents, it is an unproductive activity; to employers, a waste of company resources; to peers, it has both positive and negative connotations. But do they provide any value of constructive experiences? Looking backwards, I suggest life is made up of three indispensable stages of gaming.
Stage One: Spatial Gaming
We are born to play. As children, we are smart swindlers who cry for food and trick out parents into buying toys for us. I recall myself being a great fan of Lego sets and superhero characters, especially skilled in arranging soldiers on battlefield, punching on one another. Those were childish but fun memories when my imaginations go haywire. I guess we’ve all been tiny directors before.
Subconsciously, the goal of stage one is to train our mind to visualize. Lifeless objects come into life in the mind of a kid. It builds up the foundation of our spatial judgement, to create story plots and link them to our toys.
But nonetheless, we got tired of them. Imagine watching 10 different movies with the same ‘superman’ in, it sucks if you always have to play with the same character all the time. So we started coercing our parents for newer toys. If I do get one, I used to wake up next day feeling excited and joyful- as though I’ve found the meaning of my life. Two weeks later, I realized life is still a truckload of shit.
Stage Two: Virtual Gaming
So, we decided to move on to the virtual world (before that I think we were crazy about Pokémon cards), but anyways computers were by far the most exciting. Three things happened concurrently:
I was in another world. As a first-shooter, I just want to kill as many opponents as possible. If I win, i get a sense of satisfaction; if I lose, I “tried harder” till I eventually win. Then the cycle goes on. We boast, bond with and compete with our cyber friends. During that period of time, all my sadness and anxiety of tests or homework vanished into thin air. Magic.
For the first time, we felt like leaders. Not only am I in a virtual world, but one that can be molded to suit my taste. I was building up an empire, commanding troops and exterminating evil monsters. God-like.
In many games, there were different characters and occupations to choose from, such as warriors, bowmen, magicians etc. we want to gain as much “experience points” as possible so that we can “level up”. We seemed so much in control of life, having the freedom to choose our path and superpowers. Cool eh.
In stage two, gamers need that “aha moment” that wakes us up from the dream. The moment in which we realize “hey this isn’t real”. Some woke up but continued to play virtual games as a form of leisure throughout their adulthood. Others decided to stop it forever. It’s a matter of preference. Virtual games are addictive because they are enticing psychologically. Moreover, someone will always come up with new plots and games for us to play with. We don’t need to imagine them as hard as how we used to with our physical toys. Story lines get more intricate, challenging and fulfilling. And if we really mess up anything, all we need to do is to hit the restart button and bear no responsibility for any flaws or mistakes we commit. Who cares anyways, nothing is real, and everything is possible.
I forgot mine, but I somehow figure out that no matter how much I had accomplished in my favorite game, I eventually had to turn it off and nothing changed except having fatigued eyes after staring at the screen for long hours. I was just in another utopia, and everything I’ve built quickly fell apart after the circuit was cut off. That was when I decided to move on to:
Stage Three: Life Gaming
Can life be a game itself? A far more complicated game then the ones above but one in which we face ourselves honestly, build our own world and evolve? Mind you though, there are lots of risks in this game. There’s no restart button, the game goes on and on even if we don’t like it and we don’t know what happens after game over. No exact game manuals, nothing much that we can control externally and we can’t do a one-man-show. The good news however is that, life has no boundaries, and we too are free to choose our own paths and goals without much limitations, as long as we know how to play our cards right. Furthermore, there’s a choice to be happy, to continually discover our own potentials, grow ourselves and help one another in the path towards achieving greater milestones. We are not alone.
Gaming is just a form of activity but if we take the spirit of gaming into life, we can reap much benefits from the gamification of our lives, be it increasing our IQ or becoming a real “sniper” in life. But it needs two process of understanding: the skills required to play the game; and how that game has a correlation to our daily life.
It all started with a state of flow.
I was three when I first took up badminton, motivated by my dearest childhood friend- my brother. Both of us trained hard each day and soon we finally won the state championship and got into the Penang team. But our parents were worried about our studies and we eventually had to stop our training. It was however an invaluable lesson in my life.
Skills, if you get to developed them over a period of long time, stay with you for a long time. And the better you get at it, the more you love it- that’s why we have the 10,000 hour rule by Malcolm Gladwell. When we get really good at something, we enter a mental zone described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as flow:
“A mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity”
Some people go into it through music, others through reading, yoga or whatsoever. But for me it was through physical activities. After badminton, I moved on to martial arts. Both made me realized how by strengthening my own body, I too toughen my resolve and character. In retrospect, I thought it was an evolution for me. Similar to virtual games, I too can develop different areas of my life, accumulate “Experience points and “level up”.
Our school textbooks basically encouraged us to develop ourselves “intellectually, mentally, socially and physically” but the problem is that they don’t really give us a “how” and a “why”- certainly not any inspiration to kick start an area in life in which we can really place ourselves in. How then can we come up with a manual plan for our game?
Here’s what you can do: a self-analysis:
Depending on one’s inclinations and weaknesses, one can hone certain types of intelligence in advance and even possibly push all of them forward simultaneously. Personally I commenced with *linguistic intelligence because I think of it as the “conduit of cooperation and learning”.
A sample process flow:
1. During middle school, I tried using online resources to improve my English.
2. Came across Steve Job’s inspiring commencement speech. Made me reflect upon life values and watched a series of recommended TED talks on YouTube.
3. Feeling inspired, I started joining different circles, social clubs and startup communities.
4. Became part of Incitement: had a chance to network with aspiring entrepreneurs and change makers.
5. Met my ex-boss Aaron and Daniel. They shared with me all kinds of resources on copy-writing, Aaron got me a job for half a year before coming to Japan and we both later became a part of Michael Teoh’s project to produce a book known as Potential Matrix!
6. The learning process goes on in other forms.
Conclusion: By focusing on any one intelligence, other parts will naturally follow suit, be it interpersonal, existential, intrapersonal etc.
There are no cheat codes in life, but still there are innumerable ways to hack games. The only barrier is inaction. It doesn’t matter whether we’re taking up a new sport, learning how to strum a guitar on YouTube or learning how to cook or plant, experiential learning opportunities are everywhere. Ever since the start of the game, I’ve failed many times and still failing now and then. I’m not writing this piece from the perspective of successful people like Tim Feriss, Mark Manson (great bloggers and entrepreneurs whom I try to emulate), neither am I “intelligent” enough to provide advice, but rather I am a learner here as well. I’m a complete sucker in music, somebody who’s still finding a balance in life and learning how to cope with relationships. Blogging is a game to me. It not only helps me reflect and distill my thoughts but also share them with those whom I care for and care about me. We’re all part of the game.
Before I end my note, here’s something from my buddy Patrick:
My personal 3.5 life gaming rules:
Rule 1: Everything can be computed as a game.
(Everything can be fun and the intensity depends on how you define the game。
Rule 2: In every game there is definitely a way to win it.
(This creates an innate feeling in oneself that; if at first you don’t succeed, try again, use a different method, then get back at it again as you are definitely going to win because there is always a way to win in any game)
Rule 3: It’s never over till you call it a day; and choose your battles wisely.
(Giving up is your choice, however do realize that as you give up, other gamers are still growing strong. Even if one decides to fight on, it would be a mistake attacking level 1 monsters if you’re currently at level 3 because it is too much of an easy pie. However, if you choose to attack a level 5 monster the experience harnessed is tremendous despite being an uphill battle)
Rule 3.5: Evaluation and Application
(Take some time off each game to evaluate the meaning of the game, skills learnt and its application in life to give you an insight rather than an entertainment itself.)
And good luck! before we all arrive at our final stage:
Game Over: Death
“To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”― Michel de Montaigne
Snow is coming soon. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Jin. and Patrick ^^