As a media specialist, who has been teaching in post-compulsory education for over 10 years, I see it as part of my job to stay up to date with the gaming industry, or at least that’s what I tell my wife.
I think it was Ultima IV on the Sega Master System that first got me hooked, and with each generation of consoles the worlds became richer and richer. From Shining Force on the Megadrive, Final Fantasy on the Playstation One, to the awesome depth and characterization of the next gen consoles, in my case the Xbox One, and games such as Skyrim, Witcher, and Fallout.
If I added up the hours I have spent exploring dungeons, finding treasures, and defeating evil, I might wonder why I didn’t spend that time learning a new language or instrument, or seeing more of the real world. Thankfully that time was not wasted for I have learned seven valuable lessons.
1- You have to keep gaining experience points.
Everything you do in Role Playing Games (RPG) is about getting experience points (XP), as this is the key to becoming the hero you will need to be to complete the adventure. At the beginning these XP have an immediate impact.
Even killing a small animal such as a mudcrab might be enough to level up. The problem in life is that we often stop seeking out new adventures in order to get this much needed XP.
I managed a wonderful independent cinema in Penrith, Cumbria, for eight years and I sadly see that some of that time as treading water. I already had management experience in pubs and a theater, and had excellent customer service skills. So once I learned the culture, back office, and technology of the cinema, I really stopped learning.
In Skyrim I never settled down in one place and did the same thing over and over again, and if I did I would expect the challenge to increase as I grew more skilled. Sadly the cinema never increased its difficulty level (other than moving from 35mm to digital) and so I coasted.
The cinema was a low level quest barely worth my time after that first year (as much as I loved the job). But if you take on too big a quest, the reward might be great in terms of XP, but you will probably die. Self awareness is key, what level quest can you handle but is also enough of a challenge to get something from it?
2- Keep improving your stats.
We need XP in order to invest in our stats and attributes. Through experience we can increase a wide range of skills such as stealth, archery, or lock picking. Sure, those are not exactly vital in everyday life, but why don’t we focus as much energy on developing our actual abilities?
Sadly we do not have an easily available character sheet to see how we are doing, or even better a heads up display that we can bring up to see a detailed breakdown of our skills, even if it’s in cooking, nappy changing, driving, article writing, or any other activity we spend time doing.
When we play games we want to max out as many skills as possible, but in life we hate doing things we are bad at, we are impatient in terms of wanting immediate results, and we don’t get a cool notification when we have made progress. Which is why it is important to build relationships with people who can support you and comment on your achievements.
3- Look out for opportunities to level up.
In Skyrim, when you get enough experience points you level up. And it’s glorious. Early in the game it happens pretty regularly as everything is a challenge. When you were a baby everything was an adventure. You went from immobile, to rolling, crawling, and then walking in probably less than a year. What have you achieved this year that can match that?
But a baby is just starting out and is level 1, whereas you are much higher and need to find dragons to kill to test your ability. We need to keep pushing our comfort zone and challenging ourselves.
Even when we finish a game, many of us play it over again at a harder difficulty level. But in life we can coast, settle, tread water, and then wonder why our lives are not exciting any more. Fear is often associated with leveling up, so jump at those scary opportunities.
4- Explore your environment.
In life we follow the same paths every day. We really don’t explore that much. We go from our homes, to work, to the shop, and to a friend or family member's house. And yet in Skyrim I will spend a ton of time climbing a mountain just to see what’s up there.
In games we are curious about the world around us and we do not feel like we have got value unless we have explored every part of it, we even try and get to places we think the game doesn’t want us to go. Take some time just to walk or drive around where you live, you might find a beauty spot, or a charming cafe, or maybe even the love of your life. If you have the chance to visit a city or country that you have not been to, go! Just to see what’s there.
5- Go on side quests and have variety in your life.
In Skyrim you have the main mission. To save the land from the evil dragon Alduin, and you could probably finish the game fairly quickly if you just focused on that. But where is the fun in that? No, you need to go on a ton of minor missions and side quests. Who knows what treasures you will find?
What is great about Skyrim is you can also fulfill major quests that have absolutely no relation to each other. You can join the Thieves Guild and then become its leader, likewise with being an assassin for the Dark Brotherhood. However you might also join the Companions as a mercenary for hire, or join the Imperial or Stormcloak Armies to help them ensure victory in their war. You can even go and become the Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold.
You get to play out several diverse roles and yet in life we can often be pigeon holed. We think that the job we have is for life, or that’s all we can do. But it’s not true. You can do anything any other human being has done, and quite possibly something no one has ever done. So fulfill your main quest, but look out for side missions.
There is no reason you can’t start a business, or write, or have an online store. My “proper” job is a media lecturer, but I also run a martial arts studio, I am setting up a life coaching company and have now also decided to be a writer. If I can run the Dark Brotherhood Assassins Guild, and be Arch-Mage in Skyrim, I don’t see why I can’t do diverse things in life. And neither should you.
6- Talk to as many Non Player Characters (NPCs) as possible.
There are two elements to this. One is a life hack I use quite often, and that is thinking of the possibility that all of you are NPCs in the game of my life. You have set things you can say and do, and you are just obeying your programming. I should therefore not get frustrated when you say the wrong thing, or block a doorway and not let me through (okay that one would bug me).
The other part of this is how much effort we spend meeting NPCs. In any given town in Skyrim I will not leave until I have spoken to everyone, just in case they have important information, maybe a new mission, or just even say something amusing. And yet in real life I can be at a party and will speak to the same three or four people, or be waiting in a supermarket queue and won’t talk to the person next to me. So many missed opportunities to connect with people, which could change your life for the better.
7- When you get hurt, seek a health potion.
Okay this one might be a little more focused on me. In 2016 I got post-natal depression and I remember having a breakthrough in fighting it when I started to think of the points I have made in this article. I related it to being poisoned or cursed in Skyrim and accepted I would not be operating at my usual 100%, and I had to do whatever I could to deal with it. But I didn’t mind as I was on a quest and I told myself I could fix it, just as I would in Skyrim.
And that’s what I did. I spoke to new people (doctor, counselor), sought out health potions (antidepressants and a better diet), went on appropriate quests (became a Neuro Linguistic Programming Practitioner), found and read magical texts (Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive) and I got it under control. So don’t accept a negative state, whether its fear, anxiety, depression, or illness. Get experience points, raise your stats, level up, explore your environment, go on side quests, and talk to NPCs. Get back to your 100% health.
So that’s it. Don’t let all those hours of game play count for nothing. You can use that experience to rock your real life and remember you are the hero of your own game. Level up your character!
Please comment below or connect on social media to let me know what you think, or how games have helped hack your life, I love hearing other people’s experiences.