Six RL Lessons to Learn from Video Games

Six RL Lessons to Learn from Video Games

Dr. Diana Yang, L.Ac., DACM, former Video Game Addict

Half Dome from the Bottom of the Cables. Photography by Andrew Stromme

Note: Parents: "RL" stands for "Real Life." Click for key terms and definitions: IRL, IG, wipe, surrender, respawn, requeue, restart, carrot on a stick, the cake is a lie, best in slot, PVE, PVP, bronzies, silver, OP, mob, gold, plat, diamond, demoted, TLDR

Ever been told that gaming is a waste of time? Or, maybe a step more extreme: A waste of life? Truth, but skills and realities of games can carry over IRL, too. For video game addicts: Here are six RL lessons that show your gaming habit was not a complete waste. With these in mind, you can achieve what you want in recovery, and IRL.


1. Failure is Temporary

Imagine how silly it would be if you never clicked ‘resurrect’ after you die. In a video game, you will die. You will fail. It is a given. Normal. You might have to wipe, die, surrender, and lose countless times in order to get that drop that you want, or that quest item, or that achievement. In other words, failing is a necessary part of succeeding in a video game. All it means is you have to respawn, resurrect, requeue, restart, and try again just one time more than you fail. And guess what? That's how it works IRL, too. Failure is temporary. It is only permanent if you never get up and try again. How you handle failing when you do fail is what defines whether you are a loser or a winner. Failing in the first place is a chance for you to be that winner.


2. Succeeding IRL is Easier Than In Game

Think about this one. In a video game, you are playing in an artificial world that is governed by pre-determined game parameters. The game is designed to make the valuable achievements nearly impossible. We are talking less than 1%. So, in a game with millions of players, you are literally playing against the curve of all curves. The grand-daddy of curves. You think your O-chem class is curved hard? This is worse. Most people will never catch the carrot that the video game makes you chase. Half the people in your O-Chem class will pass.

The game might SEEM easier because of all the cheesy awards it gives you. Your character lights up in a shining ray of golden light. Fireworks jump around some. You get a cool mount. You get a second-rate item to make you feel like you are on track to get the one you really want: The one that has a .01% drop rate. Or, you get some words and titles next to your name. Or yet another increasingly underwhelming icon. Decide, right now, how much longer you would like to be cheesed each time the game thinks you chased the carrot on a stick enough.


3. The carrot (cake) is a lie

How much is that carrot worth, anyway? In my early 20's, I was addicted to World of Warcraft. I had a guild mate so talented and dedicated that he achieved best in slot for all his PVE gear, and gladiator on all three tiers available. There was literally nothing left for him to achieve in the game. Instead of being elated and fulfilled, he was angry at the game and extremely frustrated to the point where he was screaming over Ventrilo (what we used back then instead of Discord). I did not understand it, until that same thing happened to me. When I achieved best in slot for all my gear, I no longer had anything left to chase. Logging into the game that had been my life for 16 hours a day felt empty.

The thing we both had to accept at that point was that we had put all that time, effort, and blind faith into something that was by nature not worth much. It is an extremely frustrating thing to accept, and I do not wish it on anyone.

The extra slap in the face was when the next patch came out. We had to do it all over again. I quit, to look for something that was more fulfilling, and less fleeting, outside of games.


4. You Need Friends

Just as teamwork is needed in games, friends are needed IRL, too. Unfortunately, most in-game friends aren’t worth much. Unless you make them into people you connect with IRL, they aren’t the people that you can count on to be there for you if you ever need them. Get off the computer, hug your mom. Love your family. Hold your cat. Feed your dog. Your family, and your dog, and your cat will all be there for you more than your gaming friends will, around the exact moment you let them know you have firmly decided you will stop logging in.


5. It's All About the Doing

Not the planning. Focus for a moment on the feeling of doing  an action you have set forth in a game. You could be solo questing a mob that severely out-levels you. You have your kiting path planned and are ready to go for it. You could be getting ready to duel your nemesis in another faction, with both your guilds watching. You could be trying to take down that raid boss that will bump your guild up to server first. You’ve planned how to do the attempt, and are about to engage. You could be getting ready to win that promotion match that will bring you to the next tier. You’ve done your research about the most OP champions to ban, and are about to load the game.

In that moment, there is that feeling of uncertainty, but then there is that moment where you just go, do your best, and try. Do not focus on the uncertainty. Do not let it keep you back from trying. Only bronzies never try for silver. You will never hit level 2 if you don’t kill a mob. Focus instead on that moment where you just go and do it. It requires a leap of faith. A surrender to the outcome of just doing it. There might be a bit of anxiety. That’s all normal, OK, and an important part of it.

Because if you feel perfectly safe about something you are about to try, then it probably means that it is not that rewarding.

This is exactly how it works IRL. Bring up that feeling again. Now picture that feeling applying to a RL attempt at something that you find challenging. Give yourself a plan, set yourself up to succeed, then go for it. The worst thing that can happen is you fail. And remember, failure is temporary.


6. Progress doesn't happen all at once

How many hours of grinding does it take to reach max level in any game? Sure, lower levels are easy, but they are designed to be easy. They are there to make you see your progress. You don't reach Diamond overnight, or even over a month. You go up the tiers, through Unranked, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Plat, and on. Remember, when you game you are playing against the curve of all curves. Why set yourself up for that kind of failure?

IRL, things work the same way. Achievements worth obtaining take work and dedication. You may feel like you are Bronze IRL right now. That is OK. Because IRL you can't get demoted to a lower tier. There is only smarter and wiser than yesterday. So, stop planning to stop gaming, and start doing. Overcoming video game addiction may seem overwhelming, but it can be the type of experience that sets you up for success in anything you want to achieve IRL.



The takeaway is that your video gaming habit was not all a waste. You may feel that you are at a point where you are far behind from the rest of your peers, and that it is impossible to "catch up." That is OK. The goal in the long term is to learn life skills, and you are in your power to make this a great opportunity to learn. Tackling any major change in habit, especially video game addiction, is one of the most empowering experiences that life can offer.


Dr. Diana Yang, L.Ac., DACM is the founder of Limbic Acupuncture in San Francisco. Limbic Acupuncture is the first clinic in the United States to specialize in acupuncture for Internet Gaming Disorder. A former intern at Restart Life, she is a licensed acupuncturist and life coach. She is a firm believer that gamers are some of the most brilliant people in the world, and that the way to win IRL is to “Think Outside the Skinner Box.” Follow her on Facebook.