People called me a loser for playing a game called Counter-Strike.
Then I got addicted to Grand Theft Auto and Warcraft and became an even bigger nerd. No wonder my teenage years were so lonely.
I’d play 24/7. I’d skip school and go get a bubble cup tea. Then roll up to the LAN internet cafe and play games with other obsessed gamers.
Our parents told us we were idiots.
“You’re throwing your life away, Timothy.”
I didn’t listen. Later in life I now realize that video games helped me become successful. I now treat life like a video game. It makes my whole day easier, and I’m not the only one who does this.
Here’s how to turn your life into a video game to access uncommon success.
What happens when you lose in a video game is a huge shortcut in life
When I used to play Grand Theft Auto and die, I’d just start over.
I didn’t go have a cry or stop playing the game just because I lost. I knew there were infinite times I could start over.
If the car blew up I could just go grab another one. If I lost all my cash I could just make it all back again with the skills I’d learned in previous levels. Nothing held me back.
I saw losing as fun.
I knew I was just one loss away from my next big win. Why is it that in life we forget this gaming principle?
The same rules apply. You can restart your life as many times as you want. You can get divorced, go bankrupt, lose your house, have your kids run away, and still start over. It’s only the end if you say it’s the end.
Life has an undefined time horizon of roughly 100 years. It makes no sense to fear losing or to stop after one loss. Treat losing like an art form.
Crave to lose so you can learn what it takes to win.
When you CAN’T get to the next level of life’s video game, here’s what to do
The cool thing about video games is they have levels.
The whole mindset is to constantly level up. Why is it that in life we reach a certain level and then plateau? It’s because we stop trying to get to the next level. We give up or become comfortable.
In video games the mindset is different. If you can’t get to the next level of the game you keep trying. You don’t give up. Getting to the next level is fun. You keep trying new things. You’re relentless.
Then eventually you break through and get to the next level. You feel like a champion for a few minutes then want to get right back to it. This way of thinking can be applied to life.
If you get stuck in your business, a job, financial situation, or bad romantic relationship…just keep trying. See it as a level of a game you’re trying to pass. See the challenge as an obstacle not a brick wall.
See these things as game character traits
Imagine you were a character in a game that players could select as their avatar. A list of traits and attributes would be shown.
What would you want yours to say?
Examples of real-life character traits:
- Writing increases your wisdom stat
- Exercise makes your strength bar go up
- Business makes your money-making ability increase
- Reading books makes your intelligence stat go higher
- Meeting others online makes your social stat increase
- Being in a long-term relationship makes your love stat increase
These traits allow you to gamify life.
They make habits become useful factors in the video game that is life. They add meaning, too, and give you a way to track your progress.
The key aim is to play the game of life against yourself. To beat who you were 12 months ago.
Life is like the best video game ever, it has amazing graphics, infinite amounts of levels, a huge map and this ridiculous great freedom. I just needed to pick up the controller — @ levelsio
Make sure the games you choose are worth playing
“Young Money” newsletter writer Jack Raines made me think about the game of life from a 20-something’s point of view.
He says “Undergraduates feel so pressured to win the game that they don’t stop to ask themselves whether the game they’ve chosen is even one that’s worth winning.”
Often it’s not.
A game can look like it’s worth winning — like working at an investment bank — only to realize once you’ve reached expert level of the game that it’s pretty boring and the money isn’t worth it. The downsides of the game — burnout and long hours — completely suck.
I realized that about banking. I hit the top of the bank game and got left saying to myself “is this all there is?” I was bored as hell. Revenue, revenue, revenue and talking about interest rates got tiring.
The way to know if a game is worth playing is to speak to people who have already reached expert level and played on the hardest mode of the game there is. Get them to tell you the upsides AND the downsides.
Another approach is to reach the top of the game and then constantly switch to new games. That way you get the thrill of going from beginner to expert and right back to beginner again.
It’s funny how fun beginner level can be.
It’s when you’re the most naive and adaptable to change. It’s when you’ll throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks and stuff around to figure things out. As you reach expert status in a game, your ego starts to take over and the curse of knowledge makes you think you’re better than you are.
There are two categories of life games and one has a huge advantage
Author James Carse was the first to introduce the idea that all games are either finite or infinite
- We play finite games to win. They’re short term.
- We play infinite games with the goal of continuing to play them for as long as possible.
That’s how I think about the game of online writing that I play. I don’t have a short term goal. I’m not interested in followers or stacking cash. I write and want to get paid for it so I can continue to write.
Every day away from the cubicle of a 9–5 job is heaven to me. And writing is more about the people I can reach and help than it is about my own selfish desires.
This approach to the writing game automates my motivation. I don’t have to think about it too hard or become an hourly stat-checker.
Leadership expert Simon Sinek agrees with this philosophy. He says when you play the game of business as an infinite game, you are more likely to succeed because you’re constantly evolving.
He says finite games have fixed rules and fixed mindsets and trying to win titles like “winner” is the point. Whereas infinite games have no rules and players aren’t chasing low-level statuses to boost their egos.
Choose infinite games. Chase the thrill of the game, not the rewards.
Don’t compare your level 1 to someone else’s level 101
We’re all playing life games.
It’s easy to become jealous or envious of others. Or even hate them for their success. Seeing your life as a video game is the cure.
When life is a video game other players look like characters who are all at different levels of different games. This means you begin to understand that no one is at level 101 of every game.
Elon Musk, for example, is at level 101 of the money game because he’s a billionaire. But he’s at level 1 of emotional intelligence and being nice to people online. And he’s at level 2 of romance and marriage.
When you look at a famous person in that way, what they’ve achieved seems more attainable. Often we succeed at a game and reach expert level in one area of life, but other areas have to suffer because of it.
It’s worth considering this trade-off with any life game.
Cheat codes make the game boring
All games have cheat codes.
I remember I enabled god mode once in GTA4. Within 30 minutes the game became boring. There was no challenge. And the players I played against at the LAN internet cafe didn’t respect me for cheating.
Actually, they distanced themselves from me.
Obviously I turned the cheat codes off real fast, but it’s a great lesson for life. Some people you know have the cheat codes turned on.
- They stole from others to be successful.
- Or they cheated on their life partner to get the supermodel lover.
- Or they took drugs to have fun or get big muscles.
- Or they got a huge payout from daddy’s trust fund and used it to buy luxury items and look rich to then post it on Instaglam.
These cheat codes are not something to admire. A life game is way more fun when you play on hard mode and build the skills as you go.
Don’t fall for cheat codes. They’re for losers.
When designing games for others, if they’re too hard, people quit
The cool thing about life is you can choose to design games for others.
I work in the online education space and get to do this. I constantly ask myself how do I make this education more actionable for students? I realized 6 months ago that I designed an education game that was too hard.
I assumed everyone was at 101 of the writing game that I taught like I was. Now I know that to be a lie. So I changed the game and made it easier for beginners. Now more people win.
If you own a business or work for one, then what the business sells is a form of video game.
If the onboarding process for players (customers) is too hard, then they’ll quit. If the rewards in the game are too small, they’ll quit. If the game’s incentives are too hard to understand, they’ll also quit.
Design games people can easily join and then help them pass through the levels and get power-ups and upgrades. When players feel like they’re achieving they’re more likely to continue playing.
Gamification can be applied to employees too.
I once worked for a tech company where the game (job) of software engineers was too hard to win. My employer decided to turn software engineering into a game.
Engineers had avatars, character traits, upgrades from helping other engineers, prizes, pathways, incentives, etc. Productivity at that company grew by more than 300%.
That’s the power of life games.
Design life games for others.
Playing video games as a teenager has helped me treat my life like a video game and upgrade to new levels without giving up so easily.
Getting what we want requires motivation.
A gamification mindset doesn’t need motivation because the game itself is the reward. And when you play infinite games the only desire is to stay in the game until the day you die.
Gamify your life. Watch it change how you view the world.