Me, the RPG: 4 Ways to Start Playing Life as a Game

Trust us, we're serious people.

Maybe not about little petty stuff—who has the time or energy?—but certainly about our work, who we are, and why we're here. 

We're not sultans or kings just yet, but we've come a long way. One bit of advice we'd offer may not sound the part: play more games with your life.

Sure, we like flashing pixels and we grew up shooting our friends online, but this isn't about videogaming, that joyous pastime... for which we no longer have time.

This is about perception: that people are often too fixated on little details because they're not trying (enough) to have fun with daily life.

So even though we're hardly gamers anymore, we find it helpful to see the world and its grand opportunities as a gigantic role-playing game (RPG) — and in the following ways, we invite you to do the same.

1. Figure out your “character build” so you can play accordingly.

In most every RPG, how a given character plays is largely a function of their “build” — in short, how their combination of strengths adds up. Each game defines the available attributes differently, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s use the SPECIAL scale from the Fallout series.

Strength — how much stuff you can carry, how hard you hit
Perception — your ability to detect environmental stimuli or important details
Endurance — how quickly you get tired or “lose your edge"
Charisma — your ability to persuade and win others over, for whatever purpose
Intelligence — your understanding of advanced skills and new subjects
Agility — how swiftly you can move between targets
Luck — your “X factor” that affects nothing directly, but has some effect on everything else

When starting Fallout, players can “spend” their starting points on those 7 attributes in whatever proportions they choose. But you only get so many points! You could max something out at 10 points right from the start, but you’d have very few left to spread among the other attributes. Most times, players favor one or two attributes, but still spread the other points around (no 1s or 10s).

People are assembled much the same way, we’d think. Two stereotypical examples:

  • A computer nerd will have a ton of points in Intelligence, but very few in Strength or Charisma.
  • A linebacker will have tons of Strength and Endurance, but probably not much Intelligence or Agility (anyone’s guess whether he could catch a runaway computer nerd).

Somewhere in the middle, you’ve got the quarterback. Notice that a good quarterback isn’t stacked with any ONE attribute. He’s probably got some Strength to throw long passes, but he needs Agility just as much to avoid getting tackled. A good quarterback also needs Perception to read the field, Intelligence to execute the playbook, and Charisma to rally the team.

How you'll adapt this kind of “personality assessment” for your life varies. But ask yourself, in short: am I a computer nerd, a linebacker, or a quarterback? Then ask yourself one more important question: whatever I am, do I find myself playing a winning game or a losing game?


2. Think of every challenge as a game—even if it’s serious business.

When you’re growing up, school is work. But unlike work, everyone is paid equally (i.e. nothing)—and everyone is assessed in some kind of numerical fashion.

In other words, they keep score at school—even if they try very, very hard not to call it that.

They try not to call it “keeping score” because they don’t want students to compete against each other, which inevitably happens when you keep score. And true, students should always focus on the education more than beating the other students. Having said all that, it’s useful to think of important challenges as games with rules, points, and scores—because in the end, that helps you compete with yourself.

Treating education (for example) as a game doesn’t make it any less serious. It just makes it easier to see how to do well.

If your “objective” (how you win) is making a certain GPA, you will automatically know some “moves” are more valuable than others. For example: it’s finals time and you’re struggling with two classes. In one of them, you have to ace the final to change your grade for the better—but in the other, you only need “medium” effort to bump yourself up. Both finals are tomorrow… which do you study for? The second one, of course.

Is that ideal? No. But it’s the smart move (or “play”) for that moment in time. Like the bad round you could have in any game, sometimes making “the smart play” is the best you can do—and gamers realize this faster.


3. Take inventory of your equipment.

Once again: in games, this is much more literal. The entirety of your (game) possessions can be shown in a single list—and usually, a game’s total assortment of objects is way smaller than the variety actually available to you on Earth. But “game inventory” still has some useful carryovers to your stuff in real life.

For one thing: if you tried hard enough (or just didn't have much stuff), you could make a single list of everything you own—and that would be (quite literally) your personal inventory. 

For another: pretty much every RPG limits how much you can carry, sometimes severely. In such games, you think frequently about the relative value of things—and you love opportunities to throw away useless crap.

For another thing: in real life, as in RPGs, we use a core group of items all the time and another group of items occasionally... but the rest is probably expendable. (Anyone who’s moved recently can attest to both of these points.)

It’s a useful exercise, therefore, to pretend you’re packing your life into a backpack (or otherwise taking only what you can carry). What would you take? How can you bring yourself to full usefulness with a minimum of tools? How can you condense, simplify, or otherwise make yourself “road-ready” all the time—even if you don’t have to?

One exciting part of simplifying your stuff is that every item you do keep has that much more value to you when it’s one of few things. And functionally speaking, with the whole “life as a game” thing in mind, it makes you feel like you’re more experienced and more prepared for your form of play.


4. Make the map, whatever form it takes for you.

If you think about it, nearly every game involves a map of SOME kind. Tons of sports teams will plan plays with an overhead model of the field; most any 3D game requiring navigation has a map screen. Even board games are basically just colorful maps printed on cardboard. Tic-tac-toe is the world’s simplest map game. And so on.

Whatever you game-ify, it needs a map—even if it’s not a literal map.

To show you what we mean, let’s go back to the school example. Your goal is something like a target GPA, or a certain grade on that upcoming test. The first two points on the map are therefore YOU (in one corner) and YOUR GOAL (in the opposite corner). To “draw” the rest of the map, you just need one or more paths from A to B, and then all the obstacles you encounter along the way.

Your main map might be a calendar. You can plot all of your (for instance) assignments and exams on it, then have a full view of the challenges ahead. Point A will always be “Today” and the ultimate Point B will be a big milestone, like the end of the semester—but now, you’ve got your obstacles mapped and you can think backwards from every single one.

Your main map might be something more abstract-seeming, like a journal. In this case, the act of writing down daily entries and keeping notes all together is part of the point for you — and maybe Point B isn’t so well-defined, but you know that each page of progress gets you closer to doing, finishing, or understanding something important to you. Still counts for helping you make progress!


We'll be back to expand this list soon! For now...

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  • Robert Santistevan

    This blog was fun to read. Well thought out! Glad I have my C&Q notebook to jot it down in ?

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