Idle Gaming

I used to think of life as a competitive first-person survival-based game. That outlook didn’t do me any favors and resulted in a lot of anxiety. And as a result, my assumptions were all off – life wasn’t aligning with my expectations. Finally, after many years, I gave up on my warped perspective. Though not gonna lie, the transition is taking longer than you’d think.

Truly, and after decades of proof being thrown in my face, I understand that I was wrong. Oops, my bad. But despite that understanding, I still can’t reside in a place of peace. I’m still a bit suspicious and somewhat unconvinced of the benign nature of existence. Is life out to get me!? Hm….

Well whatever. As best I can, I’m going to treat life as a chill idle game. Am I in first-person anymore? No, I’m in a fourth-person perspective, which means I kinda just watch my character do his thing. I don’t reside in the world, I’m more of an audience to it. All my previous direct-action strategies pretty much failed anyway, so.

In an idle game, oftentimes there’s clicking or tapping involved. So what’s my “clicky-tappy” interaction as the player? It’s focusing. Essentially, my character makes his way through the game on his own, but I kinda influence him based on my focus. For example, if I focus on a dying dog, my character might cry. Whereas if I focus on chocolate cake, my character might eat some soon. Therefore, a lot of my energy is directed towards focus-management.

Thoughts are the limitless resource that comes pouring onto my screen. As the player, I must direct these granules to the appropriate processing-centers located around the board. Negative thoughts go in the trash basically. Currency is acquired through tranquility, accumulating through extended periods of well-managed focus. There’s no real winning or losing, it’s just having fun through the process of resource-management.

Confused Ignorance

I’ve been investigating the fundamental nature of reality for a few decades now. The fact that I still don’t have an adequate explanation reveals that the foundation of existence is elusive – or that I’m a moron. But if I’m really dumb, that in itself demonstrates how my intelligence is set to a point below an ability to understand the underlying principles of the world I’m in.

Therefore, the structure of existence is hidden from inhabitants. And this makes sense, it’s like a character in a video-game – he has no idea about the computing-device running the game. Even the player himself doesn’t understand the underlying electrical engineering involved to run the device’s hardware nor the programming-code that powers the game’s software.

But of course, there could be another reason for my ignorance: there’s simply no foundation. Perhaps nothing exists below the surface. In a dream for example, there’s only an imagined reality in which circumstances blip in and out and often fail to follow logical pathways. I had assumed life was logical, but the longer I’ve examined it, the less logical it seems. Things more or less “just happen”.

Yet, my inability to perceive a logical pathway could in itself reveal a lack of intelligence on my part. Are the workings of the world painfully obvious, yet I’m too dumb to understand? But I’ve seen many different and wildly varying explanations of “how the world works” – so this implies that an explanation isn’t easy or obvious. Perhaps it’s like the allegory of the blind men and the elephant.

Either the world doesn’t want me to perceive its underlying structure, or there’s nothing significant to see (i.e. there are no secrets being kept). Either I’m a character in a game, or I’m the dreamer. Either I’m an ignorant pawn kept in confusion – or I’m the author, designer of everything I see. Or is there some in-between position in which I create within constraints? And why is it that I don’t know?

Why is it that I even want to know? It’s simply because I’m unsatisfied with the game/dream. When I’m enjoying myself, who cares how anything works. I don’t mind losing myself within the story if it’s fun. But if things aren’t going well, perhaps I can fix the problem if I can discern how the world works. Whenever I find a physical-world solution, I use it – but if I can’t find one, I go deeper, to the very foundation of existence itself. (Hm, it sounds like I’m trying to hack the mainframe.)

But what if the underlying structure doesn’t matter, what if the “fix” is the same no matter the foundation. What if the solution is simply to improve one’s attitude. For instance, a dreamer’s dream is often influenced by what they focus on in waking life (i.e. watch a scary movie, have a scary dream). And a gamer’s fun is based on his level of engagement and frame of mind (i.e. if he’s too serious, he’s going to get frustrated).

So perhaps it’s a waste of time to attempt to discover the fundamental nature of reality when such an understanding might not solve the actual problem, which is “dissatisfaction”. In other words, just knowing how something works doesn’t make you a skilled user. In that sense, the fundamental nature of reality could be a red-herring that wouldn’t lead to the intended goal of “satisfaction”.

I suppose it comes down to the ole gamer’s taunt: “Get good, noob”. In other words, I’m complaining that a difficult game is difficult instead of putting in the time and effort to get better. I guess that’s a fair criticism. I expect to be good at the outset, have everything go my way, all while dominating opponents with my mad-skills. But I’m sitting here cursing the dumb game-controller for not working right.

I dunno man, this game is hard.

Bragging Rights

To me, it feels like I’m on a reality gameshow in which I’m thrown into an unreasonable situation and must persist to the end despite the constant challenges. But what’s the prize? It’s certainly not the process itself right? As I find this game difficult to appreciate. And like those gameshows, I feel like any structure I create will only get torn-down by the producers when I leave. Therefore, I don’t have a desire to invest my time into anything significant – I’m fine with a temporary structure that simply gets me through the day.

I stay close to my small structure. I do little projects to stave off boredom. I talk to myself, trying to find the motivation to make it one more day. I wrestle with whatever challenge comes up that day. I celebrate minor victories, lament the losses. And like all other contestants, for whatever reason, I feel like I have to see this through – quitting isn’t an option. If it was, I’d have quit many times by now. Where’s my radio!? “Hey guys!? Yeah I’m done. Get me outta here!”

To me, there’s nothing in-game that provides a sense of satisfaction. It’s like a bootcamp where you’re relentlessly drilled and pushed until you break – a torture-chamber making you scream “I can’t take anymore! Please stop!” But apparently I can take more, and I do, running up the obstacle course again and again – day after day. “Please, may I have another!” Sicko. I might just be a masochist, using pain as a means to feel alive.

I used to lift heavy weights as a hobby, I know what it’s like to consciously push myself to failure. Who’s to say I don’t do it unconsciously too? Is this some other-worldly training facility? But am I any stronger because of it? Is my spirit actually improving? Is my soul some buff dude flexing amongst his peers? Or am I merely a pitiful weakling in this world, barely scraping by?

Or perhaps I’ll be sitting at a bar with other-worldly pals one day, bragging about the time I spent on Earth. Their eyes looking on in astonishment as I retell the hardships I experienced as an Earthbound being. “Believe me boys, it was rough stuff, the kinda thing that puts you into a higher tier of toughness. Why the things I did and the things I saw would melt your socks off.” They’ll be buying my drinks for eons to come. “Another round for Rich! The toughest S.O.B. in here!”

Wait Not Want Not

At first I thought I was randomly born into a harsh and brutal world that didn’t care if I lived or died. Then after a few decades of living in abject anxiousness, I realized I misunderstood. I was in no danger, there were no threats – the world simply sustained me without effort on my part. Knowing that, I then surmised that the world must want me to prosper and enjoy myself within its walls. That theory has unfortunately not proven correct – I’m not saying it’s wrong, I simply don’t know if it’s true at this point.

For example, you’d want to keep your lab-rats or livestock alive, but you don’t necessarily care how happy they are. Unhappiness might even be a state that’s encouraged for research purposes as part of an experiment. Or this could simply be a game – and like any game, challenges are built into the world as obstacles to overcome. Games by their nature introduce stressors into a player’s life. Over and over, players jump hurdles and chase fleeting rewards.

I have to surmise then, that existence is like a Role-Playing Game. It’s not a movie in which you sit passively watching the scenes go by. I tried that approach and it doesn’t work. You literally end up sitting there waiting for the movie to begin but it never does. You have to actually press forward and manipulate the buttons here and there. I think life assists you, but you have to deal with challenges along the way.

Think about it this way: participation in sports is most rewarding when you push yourself close to your limit. Who cares if you can do something easily? It’s the training and straining that accompanies difficult tasks that produces the most satisfaction. A larger investment begets a greater reward. BUT: if you take a game too seriously, you’re going to have a bad time. Games are ultimately mechanisms-of-fun and your perspective should be broad enough to include this aspect.

Year Eight

Life IS a quandary, and the answer to this puzzle isn’t mere realization, that’s too simple. The answer lies in a life well-lived. To complete any game, you have to actually overcome the obstacles it sets forth, not simply realize their existence.

Spoiler Alert! To live life well, one must cultivate and maintain the right attitude and perspective. It’s not what you physically do, it’s how you perceive what you do that counts. But make no mistake, finding and retaining the right outlook is a difficult task.

I’ve had revelation after revelation over the years. “WOW! That’s IT! I’ve got it now! I finally understand!!” But those moments quickly pass and life returns to what I’m used to. I haven’t had the tactics or discipline to maintain the momentum of my epiphanies.

This blog for example, is the primary method I’ve used to log my thoughts. Tomorrow will mark the 8-year anniversary since my first post. I have written-evidence of all those insights over the years. So in one sense, I get it. But in another sense, I’ve been unable to consistently apply those insights to my daily life.

Therefore, that’s what I’m working on nowadays: the consistent application of a greater perspective into my daily life. To do that, I’m attempting to maintain an awareness of “now”. Because in this moment, right now, I have the ability to select whatever it is I want to focus on. And what I want to focus on, are thoughts and experiences that evoke appreciation and delight, comfort and contentment, confidence and competence, lighthearted amusement and an overall enjoyment of life.

In so doing, I’ll achieve a life well-lived and therefore win this game.

Small Scale

Sometimes I play video-games. Oftentimes it’s for research purposes. If life is a simulation, a simpler and smaller-scale implementation of it can aid in understanding the larger game I find myself within. The way in which I interact with games can provide clues as to what I’m doing wrong in regular life.

For example, I notice that I’m often fighting with the controls. I’m often blaming them for my poor performance. Ah, these friggin buttons! Gah, this touch-screen is slowing me down! If only I had better tools to work with!! Yet, it’s the same interface everyone else is using — but for some reason I’m having a major problem with it.

That’s an issue because I focus on the controls as the sole source of my problem. Rather than adapting to them and working within provided parameters, I struggle against them in a hopeless battle of attrition. You WILL submit to ME!!! Yet being just a collection of buttons, they sit there silently and never change.

It’s true in this game as well. I’ve been complaining about the interface forever. I honestly don’t get it. I don’t know how to do anything in this world so I sit staring at the scenes flashing by. And when I do try to engage, I crash. No not an actual crash, but things get unpleasant — fast. Therefore, I simply resign myself to watching.

In games I complain the entire time, yet due to an inherent masochism I keep at it — losing 20 times for every 1 win. I get a rush when the odds are stacked against me — the hopelessness and frustration is intoxicating. It’s like poking at a sore-spot just to feel the tingling sensation of pain. BUT it’s stressful and ultimately I don’t enjoy it. Therefore, I don’t want to experience that kind of scenario anymore.

So what are my options? I suppose I have to accept and appreciate the controls for what they are — and NOT criticize them. I have to adapt, not them. It’s MY timing that needs work, not the control mechanism. I have to seek aspects of the game I DO like, facets I can comfortably enjoy. And I think it’s fine to watch other people play, but I might try to squad-up more — isolated adventures are inherently harder.

I tend to default to solo-mode, trying to do everything myself. Yet in games, I know my stress-levels are higher when all the pressure’s on me and there’s no room for goofing-off. It’s nice to be part of a team and allow other members to fill in the gaps. When alone, I have to know everything, whereas in a team I just have to do my particular part.

I came into this world with my back to the wall, not trusting anyone. “Those suckas won’t catch me slippin.” And they never did! They never actually tried, but I was ready! Hm, what I think this all boils down to is this: it’s NOT the controls, it’s NOT the game itself, it’s the fact that this is a squad-based game and I’ve rejected team-play in favor of trying to do things on my own — yet my character is not capable of performing every role, and consequently fails at the overall objective.

Therefore, to succeed at this game, I need to be an effective teammate. I can’t do it all on my own, nor should I attempt to do so. There’s no trophy at the end anyway — the overall objective IS the squad. Who cares about attaining arbitrary goals, it’s the camaraderie you develop along the way and the shared experiences that make team-games worth playing. It’s not about how well YOU succeed, it’s about how well you contribute to the success of the team you find yourself within.

Without a team, you’re just a freak on a field with a ball and no one to pass to. As an individual, you obviously can’t compete in the larger game. No matter how hard you train, you simply can’t fill all the positions. And even if you tried, what a boring experience it is without a celebratory victory party and no one to high-five — nothing but you struggling against impossible odds for a trophy that isn’t there.

So here is the lesson for today: strive to be the best teammate you can become.

Grind to Win

How do you want to win? Grind to win, pay to win, have luck to win, or use skill to win? In gaming, I’ve typically employed the grind to win strategy. Not all games offer pay-to-win and I’m not very lucky or skillful — so I just keep at it with dogged determination until I gain so much that I become a force to be reckoned with.

It seems I prefer an unbalanced gameplay — one stacked against me. It’s always the same: I start out slightly over-skilled for the beginning levels, then I get roughed-up throughout the intermediate levels, until finally my perseverance pays off and I achieve a dominance that can’t be denied. But being at the top gets old fast — it’s time for a new challenge.

It’s weird because I quite enjoy the idea of having indomitable power, yet in practice I don’t appreciate it. Whenever I get good at something, it’s time to sabotage the experience or move on. That could be a symptom of masochism, a tendency to thrill oneself through pain and suffering — it’s a nasty habit I’m trying to quit.

Grinding-to-win is itself pretty masochistic: it’s the act of accumulating minimal gains over a long period of time. I want that to change. Now I want to win by skill, luck, or even paying — I really don’t care. There’ve been times I’ve won upgrades in games and I was thrilled by the experience — I don’t mind that route.

I don’t want obstacles on the way to the top — I just want to be at the top and see if I can enjoy myself there — that’s the challenge. I suppose I’ve played this game long enough that I’m sick of grinding. But here’s something weird: although I’ve been grinding away, I’m not sure at what. I’ve certainly been doing stuff, but nothing related to any in-game roles as far as I can tell.

After all these years, I’m not particularly qualified to play a specific role. It just seems as though I’ve been grinding away at shaping my perspective — like a guy on a spiritual journey. And the conclusion of the spiritual portion of that quest is this: lighten up and have fun in the physical realm. But I’m still sitting around wondering what I should do here.

In essence, I feel as though I want to buy stuff and play with toys. Which given the world I’m in, seems to make a lot of sense (i.e. this is an amusement park filled with thrill-rides, snacks, and shopping). I was so serious early on that I couldn’t accept it. I had believed the world to be a realm of gloom and suffering, and fun should be the LAST thing on my mind.

Well, it’s too late now — it seems as though I’ve already done the grinding. Decades have passed and my indomitable status is imminent — I can sense it. The only thing frustrating me is my impatience for what I know will be. Oh well, the struggle was fun while it lasted, but I’m on to new adventures and fired-up about the future: “An exciting future, full of wonder & possibility, out among the stars” — Elon Musk

P.S. Things to Come (Last 3 minutes)

Focus Game

Think about it this way. Perhaps life doesn’t know exactly what you want, plus the process of “selecting” is fun. Shopping is an example of this: it’s enjoyable to evaluate, reject, and eventually select an item that’s “just right”.

So there you are: center-screen like the spaceship in Astroids, and all these items come drifting towards you (like astroids). But in this game, you use your focus to capture items — like a tractor-beam. To do well, you’ll want to aim at items that interest you — while avoiding items that are undesirable. If you do capture an item that displeases you, it has a poison-like effect that lingers and lowers your stamina. Whereas delightful items temporarily boost your stamina — so keep focusing on and collecting the good stuff, it’s fun.

Sometimes big nasty things get in the way and block your field-of-view. Now what!? You can’t even see anything pleasant to aim at. You’re stuck!! Or are you? Zoom out, obviously. Stop focusing on that giant nasty object — immediately. Concentrate on pulling-back — keep going until that nasty object becomes as small as everything else. Don’t curse its presence, don’t poke it to see if it hurts, simply zoom out until you find something better to focus on. Widen your perspective, go beyond the smallness of your ship.

The items coming at you consist of EVERYTHING, so you have to be choosy. Don’t like it? Don’t pick it. Complaining about its presence IS focusing on it. You must only contemplate the things you truly want to collect. That’s the game, and games are challenging. Sometimes a nasty object will capture your attention and you won’t realize until the poison-like effect kicks-in. It’ll take all your effort to stop staring and zoom the heck out. But good luck out there and have a great game!

Being Yourself

As per usual, I was listening to Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations. In this one, Oprah herself was talking to an audience. Being that this is a simulated world, I believe people like Oprah are high-level players that come in with an insane skill-level. My friend has a natural ability in games for instance, and it’s frustrating to play against her because she easily wins and achieves all the objectives. Whereas my gameplay-style is dogged determination despite insurmountable odds, along with a clumsy progression.

Hm, I guess that’s how I play in real-life too. But anyway, Oprah’s point was this: Be yourself and be rewarded. That was her formula for success i.e. being herself — and this world rewarded her for it. That sounds right to me. Take War Robots for example: if you use a fast-dash minimally-armored robot as a heavy-hitting bruiser, you’re going to get smashed. Whereas if you use a tank-like bot to snag beacons, you’re going to be too slow. Characters are designed with certain attributes that must match the selected task.

For example, when I imagine myself, I picture “Hulk Hogan” ready to rain-down a leg-drop on my much weaker opponent as the power of Hulkamania surges through my veins. Yet, this is an absurd characterization that isn’t even close to the truth. I clearly didn’t get the dossier that explained my character’s strengths and weaknesses (okay, I ignored it). But that’s dumb because it’s not my character. I’m NOT physically intimidating NOR charismatic NOR do I light-up capacity-crowds with my limitless energy.

It’s like when Oprah tried to be a monotone-sounding news-anchor, it just didn’t work, it wasn’t her. It turns out, I’m not designed to effortlessly steamroll my way through obstacles like a Mack Truck. Oops, my bad. Although maybe my character IS supposed to be so clueless that he doesn’t realize he’s a chihuahua yapping at a pack of Rocky Mountain wolves — perhaps for comedic effect. That’s why it’s hard to “be yourself”, you’re not always sure what aspects are the “real” you.

But I think the “real” you is usually located slightly below the frenetic and easily-frightened ego. Oftentimes it takes quiet reflection and the power of meditation to get there. And luckily, Oprah provided some advice. The tasks you should engage with are those that produce “flow”, they get you “in the zone”, they cause you to lose track of time yet you remain energized, they’re things you could do for hours. And if you do these things, you too will receive the rewards life has to offer. Whereas if you do something unbefitting to your character? Suffering is the only possible result.

So, what are some things I do in which I lose track of time? Hmm. Watching shows/videos. Playing video-games. Talking to my friend. Writing blog posts. Shopping. Toying around with tools/gadgets. Problem-solving. Having discussions/debates. Hm, is that me in a nutshell? Well that doesn’t seem powerful at all, no wonder I chose to think of myself as a “Hulk Hogan” type. But there’s my problem: a distorted definition of power. I didn’t want to be some nerd that got his lunch-money stolen, I wanted to be the biggest baddest dude in the ring.

Yet if I think about power today, it’s Elon Musk I envision, not the Hulkster. Modern heroes are the titans of technology. The coolest things aren’t flying-elbows delivered by muscular-physiques, but handheld computers used in self-driving cars. Though to be fair, when I was a kid in the 80s, the WWF Superstars were the biggest thing around — computers and technology were barely there. It seems like I missed the window. I guess I should’ve studied to be an engineer. I guess… I guess I failed to heed my calling….

“He’s down! Ladies and gentleman, this doesn’t look good! Here comes the ref to lift his arm and check for consciousness — oh no, it’s just flopping back down to the mat. The ref is starting the three-count. One! Two! WAIT! What’s this?! The arm is lifting!! Ladies and gentleman, there it is! He’s up!! This is impossible!! And it’s a throw into the ropes! BOOM! A clothesline and his opponent is down! WHAT!? It’s a flying leg-drop!! ONE! TWO! THREE!! Ding! Ding! Ding! Unbelievable!!!!”

Remember: my gameplay-style is dogged determination despite insurmountable odds, along with a clumsy progression. So this is just par for the course. I don’t take the easy routes. I mean, I try to, but they don’t work — so I keep at it until I wear-down every obstacle in my path. It’s the power of erosion. Sandpaper-Man, with the ability to eventually wear away even the most powerful opponent over a very long period of time through abrasiveness and grit. Rub, rub, and awaaay!

Simulated Lifestyle

So imagine this world is just a computer simulation. What do you do now? How do you live life?

Hm. I suppose I’d wonder what my limitations are. Although, I’d have to be careful about identifying limitations because they might not be well-defined or might change over time depending on conditions. I’d also wonder what resources are available to me. Will they replenish? I’d also wonder about my character’s skills and abilities. And I’d wonder whether I should wait for developer updates to fix some of the “bugs”, inconsistencies, and poor game-mechanics I’ve found (although most likely, a lot of that stuff is just user-error on my part).

I’ve been playing a couple of pretty-involved video-games recently: Minecraft and War Robots, and I can characterize my general game-play in those games, and use that as a guide.

For Minecraft, my efforts typically tend towards building a shelter, adding stuff to it, expanding, decorating. Whether I’m in survival-mode or creative-mode, my shelter scales accordingly — but either way, most of my time is spent enhancing my home. So in this world, I’d likely do something similar, which is: get a nice home and keep enhancing it. And sometimes after a bit of exploring, I’ll move to a nicer place in a nicer area. I’d collect rarities and trinkets I stumble upon and I’d upgrade my tools whenever I find something better.

Whereas in War Robots, which isn’t as immersive because it’s just a battle-simulator, I spend a lot of time upgrading my bots and their weapons. Some people tend to deride the consumer-lifestyle, but I find that’s precisely what I’m drawn to in video-games. Yeah it’s a constant upgrade-cycle — but what’s wrong with that? Perhaps it’s a problem if you start to look at people as products. I don’t think we should look toward upgrading the people in our lives. Improving relationships is fine, but trying to find “better” people tends to push the problem down the line (the problems we have with people usually begin within).

In both games, I enjoy innovation — when the developers come out with new stuff that expands the known universe. As a player, that kinda stuff seems beyond my control though. The Internet was certainly a major update when it came out, for example. I’m excited about innovations in transportation too — I like the idea of getting places with less fuss. And, I like ever-expanding options for entertainment. Shopping has gotten a lot easier too.

So just to sum up and answer the question directly: what would I do in a simulated world such as this? I’d find a great home, enhance it, explore a bit, collect stuff, upgrade tools, and improve relationships with my companions. I’d also keep an eye out for innovations in the game and try them out when they’re released.