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.

Fountain of You

You’ll notice that we’re all different in particular ways. Our individual preferences vary quite a bit. For example, I despise the so-called dessert known as “cheesecake” — it’s gross. Our character has a dossier full of attributes that make it relatively unique. To play our character correctly then, is to honor those preferences and attributes.

If you’re playing Street Fighter II for example, you don’t play Guile the same way you play Chun Li — that’ll get you KO’d pretty quickly. You have to learn the abilities of your character and exploit those to the fullest. Special moves and abilities are there to be used, not ignored. You don’t want to play your character like it’s generic — that’s dumb.

That’s why striving to be “normal” is dumb. There is no normal, EVERYONE has an individualized dossier of attributes and abilities. And these abilities MUST be expressed by the character in order to fulfill that role. If you don’t express your individuality, it’s like holding in a poop — your bowels will ache and strain — you will suffer until you let “you” flow out.

How do you know what your character’s preferences and abilities are? Experiment! In Street Fighter II for example, you’ll find that keeping Guile in a low defensive position while utilizing leg-sweeps will prove devastating to many opponents. In other words, you won’t know what you can do until you do it — so do an assortment of things until you find what you’re good at.

Guile is a defensive character, he’s good when you wait for a chance to attack — if you play him aggressively you’ll likely get KO’d. In other words, there really are limitations on your character and you have to play according to his abilities. But that’s the fun part — all games impose limits — it’s a puzzle to solve, it’s attempting to accomplish something within a limited set of parameters.

And the best part is: the game-of-life wants you to win. The game is rigged in your favor. IF you play the character correctly, you WILL win. Whereas if you sabotage the character, trying to make him into something he’s not, you WILL suffer — you will get KO’d. In short, discover who your character is (explore and experiment), then play to his strengths. Result: “YOU WIN!”

Dueling Perspectives

You’ll notice that much of life as a human is just trying to “keep it together”: I wanna snap! No, don’t do it! Okay, I’ll try to remain calm. Ugh! I can’t do it! I’m gonna go nuts!! No, no, smooth and steady, maintain composure. Ahh I can’t take this!! Yet if all you’ve ever known was being human, shouldn’t “being human” come naturally? Should simple daily-life contain such struggle? Hmm….

Well, unless you weren’t always human. Or maybe you’re not “just” a human. I know when I play a video-game for instance, it’s often a struggle to get the little character to do what I want. No, turn up! UP! Gah! Dumb controller doesn’t respond to my lightening-quick reflexes! Again, life makes more sense when you view it in terms of a game-character and a game-player.

Obviously, controlling the character we play-as is part of the challenge itself. The player wants one thing, yet the character sometimes does another. It’s a prevalent source of frustration in much of game playing. But the player that enjoys himself the most, is the one that shrugs it off and plays wherever the ball lies — if it ends up in the rough, then so be it.

And we know we can influence our character. We can shut him right down and sabotage everything he wants to do in this world. Perhaps he wants to go out for a nice bike ride… NO, I’m not in the mood today, we might have to interact with other people. Or maybe he wants to rent a new movie… NO, are you crazy, we can’t afford that! If you were merely a human born of this world, why would you argue with yourself so often? Hmm….

In any video-game, success comes down to syncing with your onscreen character and aligning with the timing of the game. You can only jump when the rope swings close enough to grab it. Jump too late or too soon and you fall in the hole. Oftentimes gaming comes down to practicing again and again until you can finally meld with your onscreen character.

Characters, by their nature, are limited in their abilities. The limitations are what provide challenge and make the game fun. It’s not the character that needs to change, but the player. In other words, it’s not appropriate to argue with your character all the time. The better course of action is to go along for the ride and perform the activities he wants.

But what craps that up, is when the player is too lost in the game and gets in the way of his character — the player gets anxious and takes everything too seriously. Whereas when player and character are in-sync, there’s no frustration and no need to “keep it together”. Summary: Your goal as the player is to synchronize with your character — and when you do, your life will be a lot smoother.