Oliver Emberton explained life is like a video game in which the ultimate goal is balancing resources while dealing with life’s detriments or perks and using your time and energy toward skill building to create a resource called money.
Referred to as life’s strategy guide, Oliver’s model shifts our mindset, gamifying concepts in the real world. Games such as The Sims and Minecraft also gamify everyday tasks and explain why self-care is so important. If your Sim is living in a dirty house, their mood suffers and they may even start cleaning. In Minecraft, your health doesn’t regenerate if your food bar is less than full.
Oliver divides the human “state” into three stats: health, energy, and willpower. Health and energy are replenished by eating and sleeping, which also slightly increases your willpower. However, willpower slowly decreases throughout the day in his model, while skills and attractiveness are overly simplified. In the real world, not everyone wants a partner, or to be a CEO, nor is everyone born into the same situation.
The Sims offers a more complex look at how needs can affect wants and a person’s ability to learn new skills. When a Sim is low on a need, it will sit or stand there, obsessed over what they are missing, leading to physical consequences. If their social need is lacking, any actions other than socializing will receive a little toddler, stompy-feet meltdown before they begrudgingly follow direction, depending on their willpower setting. If they need more energy, at some point they will pass out where ever they are.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that everyone is not on the same playing field, nor are we offered the same opportunities. Some people never want to be married, and some cannot wait to find their soulmate—which are both independent decisions to whether or not someone will have kids. Even with these ideas missing from basic models, we can learn a lot from video games and apply that learning into our physical world to help us create more of what we want in real life.
In some capacity, life can be played like a video game, and, in fact, according to science, gamifying your life is an excellent way to create goals and actually meet them. For example, The Sims is, hands down, the best way to explain why eating, bathing, and sleeping are all important aspects of life.
My child can visually see a distraught Sim refusing to follow her commands, with a red icon to show where she is emotionally. It’s a way to visually show your child what happens when we don’t listen to the signs our bodies are telling us and how it results to anger. Then we talk about the different ways we can work through the anger and solve our problem, with her in control of a character.
In reality, children aren’t the only ones needing reminders that eating is important. I need reminding on a daily basis. I set timers even. I struggled in my relationship with food growing up. Pep talks with myself, reminding me why food is important and that it doesn’t have to be perfect, are some of the ways I keep myself in check.
Gaming can also be used to role-play or practice traits you wish you had, increasing your social skills. One of my favorite exercises is creating role-playing characters that incorporate traits I want to practice or how I want to represent myself. For example, if I’m feeling a lot of social anxiety in the winter, I’ll create a charismatic character in Skyrim with lower physical stats, forcing myself to use those traits.
Currently, my Dungeons & Dragons character, Eryn, is on a journey to figure out who she is by going after her past. Half-Drow, half-human, she was left with a Moon Druid caretaker who doesn’t know who her parents are. She’s heard the stories of Menzobarranzan and felt the stings of stereotyping. Her journey to figure herself out is how I work through my feelings of stepping into the next stage of parenthood.
My kids’ independence is growing, and therefore my time is magically increasing, forcing me to figure out who I am and grow my toolbox, as my children become less physically needy and more emotionally demanding. My time in D&D allows me to explore a little more of myself while also getting into a social gaming experience, giving me space from my day-to-day tasks.
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In Final Fantasy XIV, my main is a continuation of my Final Fantasy XI monk. The foundations of my relationship were built on team building through challenges in games, both with my spouse and myself. Young is a Mithra/Miqo’te, and as I do the inner work on myself in real life, I find my need for a monk isn’t as prominent as it used to be. Right now, as I go through an exploration of self with the Tarot cards, I’m focusing on is an Astrologian in-game.
Something that brings you joy, in a healthy way, is worth celebrating.
Play is how we do our best learning and our best work. All of the characters I’ve created incorporate a piece of me in real life, mixed with the highest-self version I’d love to be. It’s an outlet for a bad day or school vacation week. It’s a way to make the most mundane chore seem not so bad. It’s also a way to start taking steps to shift your life into something you’re actively creating—vs just happening to—by using skills learned in games.