Treat Life Like a Video Game

August 2, 2013

I recently had a conversation with my friend Leslie about a professional decision that had to be made. One thing in question was that I would have to live in two cities. Leslie is a talented art director from Toronto, and she also lives in New York City part time. I asked her to share her experiences. She said she loves it because there is "always has a deadline", whether it is personal or professional. She constantly has a friend to see, a project to finish, or a plane to catch. It is exhilarating to her to always have something to accomplish like this. She then gave me some wonderful advice:"Treat life like a video game."I initially was a bit confused about what she meant, but after pondering about it more, that saying made total sense. In a book or movie (I like books and movies, so this isn't to bring them down), you are being told the narrative in a very linear fashion and the result is already determined for you. You are consuming vs. interacting. In a video game, you have to make decisions and figure out ways to achieve your goals in the game.As an avid video game player, I understood it. Surely Leslie didn't mean treat life like Call of Duty or a third person shooter, but any game with an open world environment.Definition of an open world game on Wikipedia:

"An open world is a type of video game level design where a player can roam freely through a virtual world and is given considerable freedom in choosing how or when to approach objectives. The term "free roam" is also used, as is "sandbox" and "free-roaming".

Some of my favorite open world games: Far Cry, Fallout 3, Saints Row, Grand Theft Auto, Wing Commander: Privateer, and Borderlands. Note that Skyrim isn't on there because I have not played it yet. (I know, I know)Here are some aspects of video games (particularly open world games) that translate well into life:

Persistent Effort After Failure

I don't think there is anything I fail more constantly in and continue to try to achieve a goal than in a video game. If you play games, you have been through that part of the game where you are stuck and fail 100 times. Yet, for some reason, you keep trying, even sometimes almost peeing your pants because you won't go run to the bathroom until you beat this part.(Number of times I've actually peed my pants while playing video games: zero)Why is this? It is because a challenge has been set and it is something you have to do in order to beat the game. In contrast, people often seem to give up on dating or looking for a new job after a few failures, or sometimes, one. Why don't we put that same effort in life that we do in video games? We should.The way we learn how to beat that aspect of the game is to remember what we did before that did not work and adjust accordingly. That, or we just use sheer will to overcome it.

Level Up

In a lot of open world games, your character (which you often customize) starts with a limited skill set. After achieving a set amount of goals and gaining experience points (XP), a player will be able to level up their character, usually with improvements on certain skills, unlocking new skills, or the ability to access more areas on the map.This is life. You don't start playing Diablo and go straight to the boss when you're a Level 1 Warrior. You have to gain the skills and prove your ability to accomplish such a thing before. Take this to the workplace. You're a junior designer and have the goal of being a creative director someday. What you have to do is figure out what skills you'll need to level up in and how to go about getting those experience points.Let me take a moment to remember how traumatized I was from that Speeder Bike level from Battle Toads.

Interact And Get Invested With Characters

I often feel I am more invested in video game characters than in a movie. For me, it's the direct experience the character (you) and others around him or her. I can't tell you how many times it has made me truly sad when a character dies in a game. Hopefully without giving anything away, Metal Gear Solid is a prime example of that.In a lot of open world video games, there are characters that you interact with that help you or stop you from beating the game. You quickly find out who is a positive experience for you and negative experience for you.Yet, in real life, we often hear people complain about having toxic people in their life. In a video game, these people would appear as a red dot on the map and you are told to avoid them.

Explore The Open World

When I moved to New York City two years ago, I did not know the area at all. However, I actually recalled certain general areas because of playing Grand Theft Auto, which takes place in the fictional version of New York—Liberty City.Remember that exploring can lead to achievement points or new characters in the game.In fact, that is how I met Leslie. She was visiting a friend at the co-working space I was at and we started talking and exchanged contact information. We have kept in touch since. I would never have guessed she would inspire me to make a significant decision in my life a year later upon meeting. I walked up to her and pushed the X button to interact.


The key to life is participation. You can engage and interact with it as much or as little as you want. Treat life like a video game. You can either treat it like a movie where someone is telling the story for you or you can grab that controller that's called Life and start playing! Remember, there is no reset button though so live life like it is Nightmare Mode on Diablo.P.S. Don't cheat.P.P.S. I wish money worked the same way in video games as it did in real life.

Proof of Concept: The 000 Series

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