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A Video Game Taught Me About Goals – And Life

First, let me get this out of the way. I have a confession to make about a previously closely held secret. Make sure nobody is reading over your shoulder. I wouldn’t want this to get out. I was addicted to one particular video game recently for an extremely long time – almost two days.

I could make up excuses for myself, maybe I already have, but I’m not writing this to share them. I am writing this to share a valuable lesson from an unexpected source.

Before we get into the timeline of my story, just a note for viewers: do NOT try this at home. I already wasted 2 days, so you don’t have to waste any of your time to get the same message.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2:24 P.M. Zuma by PopCap Games

I’ve been working for the past couple days on my blog and my website. Learning CSS and making a new theme for WordPress. I’m satisfied with my progress. I deserve a little break, don’t you think?

I install the Zuma demo on my computer. It is a puzzle game where you are a frog that shoots colored marbles out of your mouth. I heard this game was cool, I’ll just play it for 15 minutes and then I will make some phone calls.

Tuesday, April 8th, 3:24 P.M.

WHAT?! My 1 hour trial is up?! But I was just getting warmed up!! I’ll just buy the game, play for another 15 minutes and then I’ll make some phone calls.

Tuesday, April 8th, 8:46 P.M.

I died! Just one more game (starting Level 3 over again)

Wednesday, April 9th 2:56 A.M.

I died! Just one more game (starting Level 5 over again)

Wednesday, April 9th 10:11 A.M.

I died! Just one more game (starting Level 8 over again)

Wednesday, April 9th 11:54 P.M.

??!! What am I doing?! I just wasted two days!! (even though I slept in the middle there without telling you)

Why are mindless puzzle games like this so addictive? This is even more addicting than reading random stuff on Wikipedia! I decided that this subject required some serious thinking and maybe even an academic study.

I am a very ambitious person. I enjoy “success” in all of its forms. In this context, “success” could be defined as completing the level, or beating the game. There are 10 levels with several stages in each, each level increasingly harder than the last. Pretty basic. If I run out of lives on say, Level 5 Stage 3 (5-3), then when I start a new game, I can start at the beginning of Level 5 (5-1).

Whenever I experienced a “failure” – running out of lives and the end of the game, I immediately started a new game. No thinking was needed. I wanted to complete the level. That was the goal in this excersize. I kept going endlessly like a madman on a mission.

Was I afraid of my game-self “dying”? No. What was there to be afraid of? When the game ended, I knew what I had to do. Start it again. I didn’t have to stop to think. This was an automatic reflex. Improve my game. Play better, faster and with more skill.

After a few hours, I got sick of playing the game. So sick of it that I would question why I was even still playing. Then I would remind myself of the goal. I had to complete the level. I had to beat the game. There was so much riding on my completion of this goal.

Success was inevitable. I kept getting better and better each time I played. I kept getting farther and farther. I was learning how to react to the situation and how to improve my game.

But then I asked myself, “Is the game worth winning? Is it worth the price (my time)?” Interesting. I just assumed that it was. You know what they say about people that assume. I stopped playing the game when I realized what I had been acting like.

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