By Jaye Sonia
It’s easy to think about what we want out of a game.
Some of us want in-depth role-playing and others of us want first-person shooters; some of us want sports games with team-building challenges and others want post-apocalyptic zombie-infused islands. Some of us crave the thrill of rolling dice. Some of us aren’t happy unless we’re running fractals, our fingers ripping across our Razor Naga at lightning speed. It’s probably safe to say the games we play say a lot about who we are, what thrills us, and what commands our attention – at least when it comes to our games.
However, once we move beyond the achievements we’ve unlocked (see Achievement Unlocked, bazaar Magazine, February 2012) and we’ve clearly established what we want in our games, where do we go from there? More to the point, if we learn to use our powers of discernment to pick the best possible games (and make better choices), does that mean we could argue that some (no, not all, just some) games might be good models for how we plan our lives? While I would never dream of suggesting we use World of Warcraft or Battlefield 3 as models (that’s just asking for trouble, after all), I think there is some merit in the whole process of developing a character. Clearly, there are correlations we can make between leveling and real life. I would argue that any character that is capable of leveling (sorry Mario) represents an expansion of potential and, by extension, an increase in ability. By this metric, you could level upon graduating from high school, level at your college graduation, and even level with the birth of your first child (hear that moms? Yup, you’re all at least level 3 humans).
That model, however, is only as good as we allow it to be. Every gamer knows, too, that leveling is pointless unless there’s some really good end-game content to be enjoyed. There’s no point in grinding to level 90 if you’re not going to enjoy that level when you get there.
Think about your parents, their parents, and your eventual retirement. Think about your victory conditions. Think about your end-game content. Unlike a lot of the games we play, human programmers do not define the parameters of our lives – we do. We determine what we seek out, what gifts we allow ourselves, what fetters we forgive ourselves, and what goals we ultimately seek out. Some of us will seek out treasure, some of us knowledge, some of us love, and some of us security. Some of us will throw our heads back, laugh, and launch ourselves fully into adventure – as soon as we’re able, but it’s up to us to decide. Sure, most of us will seek the council of our elders (parents, grandparents, and so on), but a lot of us will just venture out into the mass of random mobs until we find our individual quests. For some of us, this might take years. Others of us will get lucky, roll a 20, and determine where they need to be pretty early on. It’s never concrete, though, and we must be the ones to decide our ultimate path. Anything else is just swimming up river.
All of that said, determining those victory conditions isn’t always the easiest thing to do for us. In fact, it’s been a phrase that’s been stuck in my head – that little voice gnawing at my sense of stagnation – for several months now. (I blame my friend Mikal for asking good, tough questions of me during her recent visit to Kuwait).
What are my victory conditions? I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.
What are your victory conditions?
Gaming sort of puts everything in perspective (well, at least for me). You venture out of the proverbial castle, kill some random mobs (no, you shouldn’t do this in real life – duh), find your quest-giver, level, then grind for gear (a perfect allegory for working, it seems). Once you are suitably prepared (degree, job, marriage, what-have-you), you start to plan the end game. That end game, however, is pretty standard for everyone playing a particular game. It involves raids, more gear, and an end-boss.
It’s not so clear (or easy) in real life. Maybe you’re after your doctoral degree or seeking your true love. Maybe you’ve always wanted to travel. Maybe you’ve wanted to visit the pyramids in Egypt. Maybe you’ve always wanted to win a Pulitzer Prize. Maybe you want a life of solitude with a simple garden outside of your Swiss cabin, somewhere outside of Winterthur. Maybe, like me, you’re not quite sure precisely what that one thing is.
I think it’s a little intellectually dishonest to say we all know what we’re supposed to be doing. The fact that some of us change careers (or spouses) several times in our lifetimes is testament enough.
I guess it’s safe to say we learn as we level.
Until next time, happy gaming.
Check out Victory Conditions, Part 2 for the second part of this two part series.