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5 Lessons Games Teach (That Are Better Than Self Help Books)

Have you ever been to the self help section of your local book store? There is no better place to go if you hate science, quantitative data, empirical research or real qualifications. If you are a big fan of “Doctors” with correspondence degrees, poorly researched psychological theories or wishful thinking, then self help may be for you! Sure, self help doesn’t work, but it can certainly make you feel warm and comfy in your own self delusion of uniqueness, and imminent (but illusionary) success.

They pile shit that high?
They pile shit that high?

Or you could dump the self help books, pull yourself together and learn some real life lessons. From videogames!

Here’s five things games can teach you that will help you level up in life.

5. Clear out your quest log

You know that part in an RPG where you decide to clear out those optional quests? Where you look at the side missions and decide “My journal would look a lot tidier if these entries all had green ticks next to them”? Well if clearing out your quest log feels good in a game, imagine how great it feels in real life!

A quest log is effectively a to-do list, and to-do lists are some of the most effective motivational and organisational tools humanity has ever created. There’s a reason that we use bullet points and numbered lists when planning, that businesses all over the world use task lists in Outlook on their computer and that we pin little sticky notes on our fridge with the groceries we need to buy. We are creating a series of quest objectives, and when you’re planning the mission to obtain a tin of chickpeas or the mission to repair your flat tire, you’re effectively creating goals that need to be completed.

Number 1: add first entry on list. Number 2... wait
Number 1: add first entry on list. Number 2…

You only have to have a cursory glance on the app store to see how many programs you can use to create lists. Some people can’t operate without them. For example, I’m only tackling this article because it’s been on my task list for a long time and I want it done. It has sit there for almost a year, and all I can think of is how much I want it gone. To get it off my list. To complete the quest, claim my reward (probably a coffee…. a dire coffee of +5 awesomeness that is!).

I want to clear out my quest log. That’s a powerful motivation. That’s a way of re-framing my problems to get them fixed. It works because of the Zeigarnik Effect, which is a psychological phenomenon that means we are haunted by unfinished tasks. In fact we can reduce this stress and negative emotions associated with incomplete tasks by making a plan, like a to do list.


Also, check thieves guild hideout for missing pumpkins.
Also, check thieves guild hideout for missing pumpkins.

Why not try it now. Look at the five biggest things you want to get done; the ones that you have been putting off. Now go write them out as quests, complete with difficulty ratings, time durations, rewards and little pictures of dragons. If you can, write it on parchment. Then go on an adventure!

4. Turn down your visual settings
We all know that the best way to make things run better in PC games is to turn down your visual settings. Are your frame rates too low to nail headhsots in Army Man Shooty Fighter? Turn off that V-Sync! Can you see that lovely, smooth character animation in Legends of Mundanias when looking at the ground? Lower that draw distance mister! Too jerky to power-slide round the corner in Burned Out On Speed? Your anti-aliasing must back off and allow more jaggies to come to the racetrack!

Well, turning down your visual settings in games can be very effective in increasing performance, and the same can be applied to real life. Are you struggling to get through your workload? Looking for ways to claw back some time? Well think about this, how long did it take you to get ready this morning?

Not many people could pull off this look, including Frank
Not many people could pull off this look, including Frank

Now the answer to this question probably varies wildly depending on your job, your country of residence and probably your gender. If you’re like me or most of my male friends, you probably just grabbed whatever clothes were least wrinkled off your floor, sniffed everything to see if it passes the freshness test (does it smell like a dead animal, or just a dying one) and attacked your head briefly with a comb before abandoning the attempt, hoping the weird way it was sitting could be passed off as a new hair style of some sort.

Then again, if you’re a woman you probably have some weird thing called “pride in your appearance” and probably spend much longer getting ready, with weird creams, powders and lotions that must be applied. Now I’m painting in very broad strokes here, but you get my point.

Well imagine if this time was reclaimed somehow. Imagine you had the time you spent applying make up and fixing our hair and washing and getting dressed back. If we didn’t care what we looked like, we would have far more time to get shit done.

A woman with hair all over her body for clothes.
A woman with hair all over her body for clothes.

Well, we CAN be more efficient. More and more jobs are allowing their employees to work from home. Virtual companies are a huge growth area, and they benefit the employers and the employees equally. Employers don’t have to buy office space, and employees don’t have to run for a train and feel sweaty and horrible in their stupid itchy work trousers. Instead, they can look however the fuck they want, safe from the judgement of others, and with far more time to get shit done.

And in the rare occasions where we need to Skype co-workers we can just tune up the appropriate visual settings. In this case, we just need to make sure we have the HD options set for everything above the neck. Lower down, we can have the pants slider set to comfy, small, or disabled completely.

3. Stop visualising your mission goal and get out of your spawn area
Achieving your goals by visualising them is as effective as trying to defeat Dark Souls with hugs and cup cakes.

One of the most popular (and completely full of shit) recent trends in self help has been The Secret. Essentially a treatise on the supposed powers of wishful thinking, it espouses a philosophy of wanting things so much that they come true. Essentially, The Secret is just a re-imagining of a simple motivational strategy: visualisation. The theory is that you visualise your goal and in doing so, you make it more likely to happen. You imagine how it will feel to hold up the gold medal, what your jealous co-workers faces will look like when you get the promotion, or how liberating it will be to go for a huge dump after the all-you-can eat pizza challenge at Fat Joes has been conquered, your nostrils free of the scent of vomit or defeat.

This book show you how to be a success: exploit the naivety of idiots.
This book show you how to be a success: exploit the naivety of idiots.

The problem with this strategy for achieving success is significant: it doesn’t work. At all. Indeed, research has shown that the more you fixate on your goal, the more you get despondent because you have not yet achieved that goal. You spend your time wondering why they adulation of the crowd hasn’t arrived yet. Indeed, a far more effective strategy for athletes (and anyone who works hard to succeed) is to focus on the individual steps that will help you reach your goal. Don’t focus on the crowds cheering for you as you stand on the podium (or the moment when the crowd of over-eager professional eating fans start chanting “U S A”), but instead visualise the hard work you have to do. The mornings when you get up earlier than your competitors to train in the rain. The sweat and the pain you will go through. The bags of flour you will eat to expand your stomach. That kind of thing.

Or: "I can make me rich"
Or: “I can make me rich”

And games know this very well. For one thing, simply visualising success will get you fucking no where. Want to beat Dark Souls? Well you can visualise success in Anor Londo all you want, but wishful thinking won’t do a God Damned thing when you’re on a corpse run with a sliver of health left. At that point, the only thing that will save you is balls of steel, an iron will and an ogres weight of fortitude. No amount of visualisation is going to get you through that cold, wet, brutally cruel dungeon. Go hide in the corner and think positive thoughts. See how far that gets you.

2. Don’t try to solo high level raids

Any hardened MMO player knows that you can only get so far on your own. If we take World of Warcraft as an example, it’s simply not possible to experience all the game has to offer if you try to do everything by yourself. Not just is it impossible, but its also far less fun to even try. MMO’s are great because you can take on challenges with a team of friends. You can unite against common foes, go on an adventure together and create memories and stories that you will all talk about for weeks, months or even years afterwards.

And what is life if not the most complex, engaging and ambitious MMO of all time? Just like an MMO, you can’t achieve everything on your own. We need each other, and in the game of life the winner is the person who finds the best team mates.

Well, not in this version of The Game of Life. But in the real, real game of life.
Well, not in this version of The Game of Life. But in the real, real game of life.

So if you have problems in life that you just can’t get fixed, well, why not ask for help? You might worry that you’re bothering your friends by asking for help, but here’s the weird thing about helping people: it makes the helper feel good about themselves AND like the person they help more. Doing favours for someone (bizarely) makes us also like that person more. So if you ask for help, you’re likely to make your friends feel useful and like a good person, they’ll like you more, and you’ll get some help!

So stop sitting on your problems, go create a real life guild and call in some team mates. Just remember to get a healer (or someone to bring snacks for you while you paint the spare room) and the tank (or someone who can sustain attacks from that bee hive you have in your back garden that was freaking you out).

1. Gamify Your Life!

Many of you may already be familiar with the terrifying phrase “gamification”. At its ugliest, it manifests itself as the reward structures of videogames appearing in the real world. For example, “Buy a Pepsi every day for five days and get access to the Pepsi Zone of Power on the sixth day!” (not a real thing, I just made that up).

In other words gamification is going to be used to sell things to us, leveraging the same psychological hooks as you would find in Zynga games.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Gamifictaion can make your life better too.

I’ll leave you with this classic video on the potential benefits of making your life more like a game:

Have a good weekend everyone!

Published inFeatures