Games are full of lessons.
Some found through annoying tutorial levels, where a perky sprite leads you through platforming and interrupts your thought patterns... While others are found through trial and error, or keen game design (Mega Man X for SNES or Shadow of the Colossus, for example). Most of these lessons are only for the function of PLAYING the game effectively, but with so many games, commonalities, tropes, and certain expectations transcend gaming platforms and cement in our minds our paradigm of the world.
I grew up playing games, digital and tabletop, but the latter I have always found to be the most rewarding. Tabletop games force us to PLAY WITH OTHERS, a powerful, and surprisingly rare, circumstance in today's digital world. Playing with others in an open-world system that supports out-of-the-box thinking has influenced the way I approach my life, my dreams, my work, and my interactions with my fellow humans. It's powerful stuff, and I'd like to share some of what I've picked up over the years with you.
Confused yet? Good. TL;DR - I'd like to present to you 10 Life Lessons I learned from tabletop gaming.
1. There is always more than one way to win.
When the adventurers approach, they see a lumbering troll, a chain running from its leg to a post in front of a moat and drawbridge. Fighting the troll doesn't have to be your first choice, though it may be the easiest (for most). Maybe the party has no fighter, only a druid, a wizard, and a rogue; the rogue might have a shot, especially if someone distracts this thing... But what if you couldn't fight, or didn't want to?
What if you spoke to the troll? Charmed it? Put it to sleep? Freed it from its chains? Sometimes an ally, even a magically-induced one, can be a lot more advantageous than another corpse. And a friendly troll might, with the help and pep of the adventuring party, rebel against their cruel masters and become an adorable friend to the group.
Point is, there is always another option; some options are more likely than others, but fortune favors the bold. :)
2. If you're going through hell, keep going. There's some sick loot at the end. Perseverance.
Life is not easy, and anyone who says so is lying. Music takes thousands of hours of practice, but the feeling of being "good" far outweighs that time. Getting fit takes hard work and discipline, but you'll live longer and feel better. Lesson? Anything worthwhile is going to take some struggle and perseverance to reach that sick reward at the end. Keep. Going. It's often the most difficult before the finish line.
3. Failure is your friend.
Learning from our mistakes is a huge part of living a full life; don't be afraid of rolling that natural "1." Own it instead and see what happens in your awesome narrative. Then, take note of what went wrong and why, so you can grow and learn from it in the future.
4. Cheating isn't fun (Godmode is boring)
Remember Starcraft? Remember the cheat, "poweroverwhelming"? Yeah... That felt good for maybe, what, a single game? And afterwards, you just sucked all the skill and fun out of the game. Good job. Now you feel awful, don't you?
So when you REALLY want to hit that guy and you're just not rolling well that night...what's to stop you from fudging the numbers and smacking the big bad and being the hero? Your integrity. And the moment you start down that path, the luck mechanic of the game and your own skill at maneuvering elements to your advantage, is gone. Ripped out by your immediate "need" to succeed. It kills the soul of the game; and it will rob you of the excitement of live play - because for you, victory is guaranteed, and where's the fun in that? PLUS, this one has the additional consequence of destroying your perceived integrity with your fellow players. THEY'RE not cheating, so how come you are?
5. Side Quests can have even greater rewards than the main plot.
Sometimes we can become so focused on the task at hand that we avoid the things that could be the most rewarding. An odd job, a night out with friends, finally giving in and going skating even though it makes you uncomfortable...these things can have hidden gems of awesome. Try new things, because you never know what you'll enjoy or not, and you just might find something really special while you're taking that tangental path.
6. You can't win if you don't act.
Inaction is the dream killer. Sitting around won't burn fat, staring at the screen won't write your paper, complaining about your life won't change it; take action, or you'll never go anywhere.
7. You don't have to face the world alone.
Whew. This one, for me, is rough. Mainly because I hate asking for help; I want to do it on my own, I don't anyone to do it for me. Here's the thing, though, no human can do everything on their own. AND, as I've learned very recently as an adult, we all need help sometimes, no matter how independent we try to be.
In an adventure, when you face a dragon, you don't do so alone. Your party - friends, allies, family - have your back. We might all experience the TPK together, if we're not smart, but our survival rate is much much higher if we all work together.
The tricky part here is sincerity. A sincere person is honest with themselves and tries to maintain a level of connection and respect with people, even if in just a small degree. They don't abuse a connection with someone, taking advantage of their help and banking on it. In a party structure, the hapless rogue shouldn't sneak off all the time with the assumption that the party will just always save him. We'll save him because he's saved us in the past; there's a bond there. A sincere person is genuinely thankful for help, even if it is difficult to ask for, and works tirelessly to strengthen the bond with those around them.
The point is, relationships take work. If you take them for granted, then help may not be there when you DO need it. So, take care of each other with kindness and sincerity, and you won't have to face the world alone.
8. Never be afraid of taking all the wrong paths until you find the right one.
Life is about learning. Go forth, and learn all the wrong ways to make an album. Sometime I'll find the right way, and I can learn quite a bit by traveling all the others.
9. Sometimes...you just have to let it go.
If you cannot change the outcome, and can do nothing at the moment to influence it, let the emotion move through you and let it go. It serves no one, especially yourself, to ruminate on matters that, in the long run, hold no sway to you. So why waste time and energy on them?
10. Stirring the water makes everything hard to see.
This last one is going to need some in-depth explanation.
There are very few things that bring me from "0-60" - elements that would push me into irrational anger. There have been only a few key moments in the last three years of teaching and DMing that has brought this out, and each one was during a specific exchange between DM and player, player and players, and student and student. Each instance, I feel, falls into this lesson, and showcases that wonderful (sarcasm) little idea of "stirring the pot."
Stirring the Pot refers to deliberately being irritating or provocative for the express goal of causing drama with a person or a group.
I do not think that in any of those instances people were/are intentionally "stirring the pot." However, there are people in this crazy world that we live in that don't seem to be aware of their own effect on others - or if they are, they do not seem to care. Their main goal isn't necessarily to irritate, it is to "win." This victory is found in getting the last word, getting their way, bending the rules to a certain point, breaking the rules (just this once, I promise!), blatantly betraying the party, being overly mischievous and tangental (irritating) because "that's just how my character would act," or otherwise being overtly offended if they are not the center of attention, and whining about it in overly dramatic ways.
I bring this up specifically because I have experienced being stirred, stirring myself, and the growing up moment of stepping back from the "stirrage" and taking a deep breath. I will admit that it is easy to get sucked down the rabbit of argumentation. People are so easily offended for minor slights, misunderstandings, and preconceived notions that it's almost impossible not to offend SOMEONE.
If we are too busy getting the last word, too busy "winning" the argument, too busy lamenting the fact that it isn't our turn yet, so far down the rabbit hole of our own voices sniping back and forth that we forget what we were talking about or doing in the first place - then we cannot see that the solution has already been made, and, often, that the rest of the group (or the world) has already left us behind.
If we are too busy being "that guy," we fail to see the team's solution, and are often holding the team back. We fail to work together because we're too busy stirring everything up, just because we see the opportunity to do so. We also miss important details - the DM just described the room to us, but we were too busy making a snide remark, that now we're making nonexistent assumptions about that room or we're unnecessarily confused.
There is a maturity in taking a step back from that mentality, so that one can see what is actually happening within a greater context. One begins to listen the GM's ruling, recognize that further arguments are unnecessary, and moves onward with the rest of the group. The real "victory" is in removing oneself from the argument/tangent/thought cycle and stepping back.
In life, quite a lot of good can come from practicing empathy and understanding the time and place when stirring might be allowed. Let's be clear: mischief is awesome, but there's a time and place for it; great role-playing is awesome, but there's a balance to good RP and positive player to player interactions; bending the rules and breaking them with context is fine, but pushing for them after a ruling has been made and justified is irritating.
So many times that we unintentionally stir things up could be avoided if we just let the water settle for a moment, so we can see the truth at the bottom. If everyone in the group can see the gem at the bottom, we're so much more likely to move forward together and get it - saving time, energy, and ourselves.
Let the water settle.
I'll see you at the table.
Game On! Director, musician, music teacher, game designer, and professional game master. In short, I'M A BIG NERD.