The Gamer’s Guide to Life

Games have rules; everybody knows that. There are certain acceptable ways to play, certain strategies that have stood the test of time, and certain rules you just don’t break.

Uh, yeah.

Recently I’ve come to a conclusion watching Fey demolishing pixels on City of Heroes, an extremely popular MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) she’s been participating in for a couple of years. Fey, being Fey, has never been a cookie-cutter type of girl. Even her cookies aren’t cookie cutter.

Like pretty much everything in her life, Fey approaches her game the way a chef would (or a good scientist). While she is aware of the recipes others have suggested for success, she is more interested in learning about the component parts and figuring things out for herself. Each skill set, each defense, each attack protocol, has its own characteristics—much like an herb or spice has a particular flavor and reacts differently in various combinations.

Fey’s approach to City of Heroes (and cooking) is to think about the component parts and explore the potentials they have in various combinations. And just like in her cooking, she has an almost uncanny ability to predict which combinations will produce just the right effect.

But Defending Paragon City from Evil is Not Baking Cookies…

Certainly baking and online gaming are not the same thing, but it does bring up a point that I’ve been considering lately. In both disciplines, there are two main styles of play.

The Rule Follower: The Rule Follower is that person who wants clearly delineated guidelines for success, straightforward steps to follow that will guarantee the outcome they desire. The Rule Follower wants order (usually enforced from the outside) and structure. Mostly, they want a definite brand of Right and Wrong. Here are a few things you might overhear a Rule Follower saying at any given time:
• That’s not the way we’ve always done it.
• Nobody can possibly make that work. It just isn’t done.
• I don’t want to rock the boat.
• That’s not my job.
• Nobody told me I was supposed to_____.
The Rule Follower is not bad, nor is he or she a weak person. So much of civilization is driven by the Rule Followers. These are the people who pay their taxes and work their jobs and live their lives according to the accepted rules of society, and they are the bedrock of civilization.

The Alchemist: The second type of player is one I call The Alchemist. Now, The Alchemist is no less addicted to order and structure than The Rule Follower. Order, after all, is what makes the Universe tick. The Alchemist, however, cannot and will not accept an arbitrary system of order that is imposed upon them from an outside force. The Alchemist must find this order for themselves. They are the misfits, weirdoes, geniuses, revolutionaries, and explorers. Life for an Alchemist is rarely typical. In fact, many of them experience great difficulties fitting in to a society that glorifies the average and predictable. Here are a few things you might overhear a Rule Follower saying at any given time:
• How can we do this smarter?
• I wonder how this would work out…
• But their way makes no sense!
• If you take this and add this…
• I don’t care how many people do it; it’s still wrong.
The Alchemist is not obstinate, nor is he or she a purposefully contrary person. It’s just that The Alchemists simply cannot resist their overwhelming curiosity about life, ideas, people, and things. Where The Rule Followers are the bedrock of civilization, it is The Alchemists who fire the imagination and quite often are the impetus for cultural burst of evolution.

We Can Work It Out

As you would expect, the two groups rarely play nice together. The Rule Followers consider The Alchemists to be dangerous radicals would wouldn’t know common sense if it bit them in the Mensa ID card. And The Alchemists often see The Rule Followers as mindless sheeple blindly following the status quo without ever putting forth an original idea.

Well, they’re both kind of right. And they’re both very wrong. As with everything in nature, society depends on balance if it’s going to have any kind of longevity. It is the combination of tradition and innovation that keeps a culture thriving; rule out one or the other, and you’ve put that culture in danger of stagnation or unraveling.

So the trick is to find a way to honor the styles of both sides—the traditionalists and the progressives—without either group having to sacrifice their views and values.

Steady as She Goes

Fey, my gamer Alchemist, does not reach the high levels of gameplay by ignoring common sense and tradition. She is actually very much a follower of rules…if they are practical and make logical sense. She believes in consistency and accountability and all those other things Rule Followers so adore.

But she has discovered that if when you do what everybody does, you tend to get what everybody gets. It’s much more interesting and challenging to look at the game as a series of components that can be combined in various sequences to create a vast array of different experiences.

My life is like that, I think. I’ve spent years looking for the right recipe, the right skill set so that I could Be Happy™. Go to the right school, take the right classes, get the right job, learn the right skills…all these lead in the absolutely unshakably perfectly right direction of Right.

But in life, as in cookies and MMOGs, if you do whatever everybody does, you tend to get what everybody gets. My dear friend is a New York Times best-selling romance writer. To all external criteria, she has the life I want. Bless her, I wouldn’t trade with her for a moment. Not that I don’t want to be a professional writer. But that is her path, which is blissfully perfect for her, but would be a nightmare for me.

Fey has taught me a good lesson with all of this City of Heroes she’s been playing. Life is a series of component parts, ingredients we put together to create the life we want. There are guides and rule books and recipes for putting those ingredients together which will produce predictable, and these are wonderful things.

But sometimes, if you want a life designed specifically for you, not a copy of someone else’s life, then you have to break things down into their component parts. You have to put things together and take them apart and risk getting messy or bad data or the occasional exploding hard drive.

Life isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s downright hard. But there is a joy to it, when you remember that it’s just another sort of MMOG– massively magnificent organic game. No matter how you choose to play it, the game is always challenging, creative, and lots of fun.


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