This is so very, very awesome. In case you don’t want to click into a Facebook post, here is the content here, because it is so worthy. But do give it a click if you’re not anti-Facebook and give it a “like” as that is a type of currency and this author deserves it.
Thoughts Along the Way: Leveling Up
“Hi, my name is Ben, and I play role playing games.” Up until the time video games became mainstream, this was one of the hallmarks of geek cred. Then video games became cool, and when I told people I was a gamer, I had to differentiate between D&D and Grand Theft Auto. Or World of Warcrack. And don’t get me started on the difference between cool characters and cool character sheets. I could go on all night.
However, one good thing about the advent of video games is that people get a little more of what I talk about. I don’t have to explain what hit points are, or what experience points are, and it’s been years since anyone asked me what the point of role-playing games were if nobody “won” them. So, I write this with less necessity for an introduction to the idea of experience, or an explanation. You get the basic idea: in gaming, your character runs around solving puzzles or killing monsters to gain experience points, or XP. Once enough XP are earned, you level up. And when you level up, you get better stats and in most games, you get to learn new skills, which, in theory, makes your character cooler, or at least more likely to survive the next encounter. In games, XP are like a currency. You run around in a game killing orcs or zombies for example, and you earn XP. Then, you trade them in for skills that might have nothing to do with killing orcs or zombies.
It’s a game mechanic. It doesn’t have to be realistic. It just has to make the game fun. It would be cool if real life worked like that. “I just walked around in the woods collecting acorns and killing spiders until I leveled up. Now I know how to speak the language of the dragons and pick locks!”
Sorry, life ain’t like that. But there are similarities. And looking back on my birthday, I see some of them, and it makes life just that much cooler.
I didn’t just turn forty-six today. I leveled up. In Real Life, you still earn experience, but the Game Master for Real Life has this incredibly complex set of rules for earning XP and advancing in levels and skills. See, in Real Life, you earn different kinds of XP, with each kind being traded in for skills specific to it. So, in Real Life, if you go walking around in the woods killing spiders and collecting acorns, you earn the skills foraging and bug-stomping. Nothing else. The really cool thing is, you can earn XP for even the simplest things. If you read a book about a certain subject, you earn XP in that skill. If you watch TV, you earn XP for the TV Trivia Skill and the Pop Culture Skill (two of the most popular skills in the game, I find).
The down side? The GM in Real Life is a stickler for the rules, and you can’t talk your way into a skill you didn’t actually earn. You can talk other people into thinking you have skills you might not really have, but that’s another skill entirely. And some of the skills you can earn XP for…are kinda dumb.
So, the question to ask yourself here is “What skills or abilities am I spending my time learning? Are they skills I’d want to write down in a list and be proud of?”
Here is the problem most people find themselves facing, something a good friend did a video on recently (I’ll link to it at the end), and something that I, as a writer, geek and freak, try to avoid. It’s the Perfection Trap. Most of us have been given this pre-generated character that we’re supposed to try to be. We’re told what to earn XP in, and how we should end up. We’re told we’ll be happy if this is who we become. We’re told we will fail if we do not become this, that there is something very wrong with us if we are not happy with the pre-gen character we’re presented. Success and happiness are defined for us by people who we’ve never met, people who really don’t care if you’re happy so long as you conform to the picture they need you to present. Why do they do that? Is it some evil plot?
The truth is, quantity creates the appearance of quality. “Six million people can’t be wrong!” Everyone is doing it, you should, too. The idea is that if enough people are doing a thing, then the thing must have some merit because all those people wouldn’t do the thing if it didn’t have merit, so you should do the thing because so many people are doing it, too. What is its appeal? Well, that’s obvious, look how many people are doing the same thing! Sounds crazy when you look at it that way, right? (I’ve been told that I imitate insanity a little too well for some peoples’ comfort. I take a certain amount of pride in that.)
So, if it’s so crazy, why do so many people do it? People tend to be insecure. They want validation. Nothing validates a choice by seeing someone else make that same choice. If they don’t see someone doing something out of the ordinary, they won’t do it, either. It’s called the Bystander Effect. People in a room that is slowly filling with smoke will NOT report it or take action if even ONE person does not seem to react to it with any urgency. Nine out of ten people will sit there while the room fills with smoke, to the point of discomfort. Imagine how much stronger this effect is when you apply it to your daily life. You hate your job, you’re not doing what you wanted to do with your life, your three bedroom, two bathroom house with a two car garage and the perfect family (pretty wife and two point five children) are not giving you that sense of complete satisfaction you were told they were. But your neighbor walks out of HIS house every morning with a smile on his face. He never complains about his mortgage or mentions that he always wanted to be a musician. No, he looks like he’s happy with his MBA and that cubicle of his. Thus, you should be, too. So, you walk out of your house every morning with a smile nailed to your face, because your neighbor does the same thing.
Thus, we keep going on, earning XP in skills we might not really want to learn. Filling out a character sheet that someone else planned for us, not for OUR benefit, but so they could feel good about doing the same thing. And, inadvertently, filling out someone else’s character sheet for them, because we want to feel good about the choices we allowed someone else to make for us that we hate.
How do we break that cycle? It’s amazingly simple. Not easy, but simple. Look at the people you admire. Look at your heroes. Your favorite musician or writer. These people aren’t famous or admired because they were like everyone else. No one ever got famous for being average. They stand out because they are that tenth person in the smoke filled room who said “Fuck this, there’s a fire, I’m going to do something about it!” They are the person who looked at the pre-generated character sheet and took an eraser to it, then started earning XP in the things THEY wanted to. They refused to let someone else tell them who they were going to be.
They are the geeks, the freaks, the nerds, the cosplay fanatics, the hardcore gamers, the gamer girls, the Trekkers, the Whovians, the otaku and neko, the Browncoats, the Star Wars fans…they are you. If you let yourself be.
I’m not going to kid you. It isn’t easy. It takes courage, and more self-awareness than the pre-gen character is allotted. It takes passion. And you have to do it every day. You have to constantly make the decision to be YOU, instead of who everyone else wants you to be. You have to fight the pressure to conform. It isn’t for everyone. Some people are happy being average. The world wouldn’t work without them. But if that isn’t you, that road isn’t an easy one. I can’t promise you fame or fortune (if I could, I’d be writing this from Bora Bora). But I can promise you this: you will live a life worth talking about.
When you level up, what is your character sheet going to look like? Who are you going to let fill your character sheet out? And finally, what kind of experience do you want to have? The choice is yours.
Make it count.