Saturday, May 25, 2013

Zen and the Art of Video Games

I get a little overwhelmed sometimes. The gurus call it the “monkey mind”: that voice in the back of your head that chatters about all the things you should be doing.

For instance, today I still need to do my daily yoga practice. I should probably play guitar a little, because music is good for the soul, and also because I haven’t in a week. I need to do some laundry, vacuum the living room, maybe go for a run while the weather holds. Oh, and I should do a lesson on my Japanese language program, so I can be fluent before we travel there in five years, after I check the bank account to make sure the five-year plan is still on track. And what am I having for dinner? Do I even have food? Do I need to get groceries?
And with so much to do, where the heck do I start?

At this point in the narrative, the monkey mind starts screaming and hurling feces, so I flee to the basement and play video games, accomplishing nothing productive except to move some pixels around.

Luckily for me, and I suppose for all of you, too, video games are full to brimming with Zen wisdom, re: getting stuff done. So hit start, Player 2, and grab that controller over there. Let’s meditate.


“You are not prepared.” Illidan Stormrage, World of Warcraft
I remember how excited I was, back when everyone was playing vanilla-W.o.W., when Blizzard released the preview video for the first expansion, full of big monsters, big dungeons, impossible bosses, and a voice-over of Illidan taunting us. “You are not prepared,” he said.

And I said, “Oh, hell yeah! I can’t wait to start this thing!” All the players knew we’d bloody-well get prepared and we were foaming at the bit for it.

Why can’t we do that in real life? Why do we have to plan everything? We research, we plan, but we never just jump in. “I’ll start it on Monday,” we say, or the less specific “a Monday,” or “after the holidays” or “after that project at work.”

People, in the early versions of World of Warcraft, they didn’t even have a boat to Auberdine. They had a man named “Captain Placeholder” standing on the dock in Menethil. Did they delay the whole game because they didn’t have the boat ready? No. They published that.

You’re not prepared. You don’t know how things are going to turn out. Just do something anyway and see what happens.


“Our princess is in another castle.” Toad, Super Mario Bros.
I wanted to commit violence on Toad the first time I ever defeated castle 1-4. “Do you have any idea how many hours I spent on this? How hard I worked? And now you’re telling me there are more stages to this game?”

I fumed. I raged. I threw the controller down and invented rage quitting.

And then later I got back on the Nintendo and tried the next level.

That’s your life, right there. The princess is always in another castle. Eating right, working out, cleaning up after yourself, paying bills: these are the things that you will never finish and you need to get over that. Learning and growing and maturing as a person? You never finish doing those things either.

There will be hard things. There will be tedium.
But there will also be joy and love and fun, because this is a game after all.

And you know what happens when you find your princess? The game’s over.


“It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this!” some old guy, The Legend of Zelda
Ever stop to think about how pretty damn convenient it was that an old guy with a free sword was just sort of… standing there… waiting for an adventurer to come by?

Not much of a “legend” without that old guy, hmm?

But let’s take it a step further: how about if Link, faced with this saintly old man and his free sword, had said, “Nah, I’m good here.”
“Swords aren’t really my thing. I’m more of an axe man.”
“If only I had a wheelbarrow. That would be something.”

No, he didn’t say those things. Because that would be stupid. This is obviously meant to be and just-take-the-sword-goshdarnit.

In case you haven’t noticed, you start that game with an empty inventory screen and an empty wallet. Link (or whatever else you name your little dude if you’re not a purist like I am) didn’t know he was going on an adventure when he left the house that day. He relied on the kindness of strangers (and significant property destruction) to get the job done.

You’re not going to know when you start your adventure either. Someday, someone, who may or may not be a mysterious old man, is going to walk up to you and do or say something that will change your destiny. You may never see that person again. You may marry that person and spend the rest of your lives together. The point is life changing events happen every day. Take what the universe offers you.


Game over, man.

It’s time to go back to the real world now, but hopefully you’ve enjoyed the diversion of a fun little game or two.

Still, I hear that real life is better than any video game, if you play it right. Also, the graphics are wicked cool.

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