Having played video games from a very early age, it was inevitable that they’d somehow influence the person I’d become. But while the pre-classification world I grew up in was concerned about the impacts of violence, of sex, or of staring at a screen for hours on end, it has influenced my personality in a far more subtle but arguably a more damaging way. You see rather than becoming a psychopath or sex addict that the 90’s pundits would have predicted, i’ve instead become a fiercely competitive person obsessed with success. Sure that’s probably no different to most people thirty-somethings, but my version of success is something directly borne by the games I played growing up. And it’s become a little bit of a problem.
And it’s all about how a majority of games are designed. Video games teach players that a very particular type of logic leads to success. Success is progress, is moving forward, is winning. It’s the natural progression for most video games that “winning” is moving forward in the game and beating whatever obstacles or hurdles it throws at you. Whether it be levels or stages, or something a little more open like objectives or missions, they’re all designed with the sole purpose of moving the player through and providing positive reinforcement when they do. Of course if you succumb to the game, failure is a very final and absolute state, and one that results in losing progress or stagnation. The aim of the game is to win, and win at all costs. Fail, on the other hand, and it’s back to the drawing board. It’s that or give up and start something new in the hopes of greater success.
That logic has manifested itself through a constant need to be moving forward in my career. Success is one very specific defined thing, that is moving forward and climbing the corporate ladder to ‘beat the boss’, and ultimately win the game. It is why I am there, for the most part, and as the mental achievements pop up on the screen the desire to see the ‘game’ has only grown stronger. But it’s the fear of stagnation bred into my through years of objective arrows and losing progress at virtual deaths that has crept into my approach to work. And so when things start to go wrong, or I’m not nearing the next milestone before the mental game timer nears zero, I move onto the next ‘game’. In other words the time cost of failure has become so high that it’s become easier to give up and try something new. I’ve turned my career into a game, and one where the only objective is to win.
But then Roguelikes came along. Roguelikes – games like Dead Rising, Shiren the Wanderer, Dark Souls, Spelunky – where progress is in many cases failure. Games that actively encourage persistence, that even though have an ultimate goal of progression, focus on the journey there. Failure and stagnation aren’t setbacks, rather they are necessary in reaching your end goal. It’s a refreshing change of pace that tips the traditional game design concepts of winning and losing on its head, and instead creates a game environment for players to learn and to thrive in a constructive and meaningful way. But more importantly it makes every step of the way feel worthwhile.
It was this moment of clarity that saw the mental objective markers dissipate, and the game clock click back up to ∞. It brought a new confidence that even if things begin to slow down or stall, or if there were setbacks of losses, that I could start again safe in the knowledge that the journey to failure wasn’t for nought. Suddenly what I used to call ‘failure’ became ‘success’ and every step, right or wrong, made me a stronger and better person. Now I’m not saying I’m reformed or that old ‘win’ or ‘lose’ mentality doesn’t creep in every now and then. It does. But Roguelikes helped me realise that there is no such thing as absolute failure and that it is a necessary step toward success. And I think that’s just what I needed to start enjoying my career again.