Life is a Game…?

Recently I read an article by Jane McGonigal, a game designer and author who used some of the concepts of computer games to formulate a strategy and perspective that helped her return ‘super better’ from a debilitating concussion.

So as a self-professed ‘non-gamer’, I was challenged to review my own position and see how this new viewpoint might mesh with the subconscious mind, our approach to life, and the way we move away from aspects of our life that aren’t serving us anymore, and moving towards achieving our goals and dreams.

Because computer game playing is so pervasive these days, while it may not be impossible, it tends to be difficult to avoid their ‘street value’ or buzz that has filtered into vocabulary, media and hypnotic attention by those around us. So power up and turn on your own supercomputer (the subconscious) to consider games and how they may add to our journey through life.

Is Playing a Waste of Time?

As I mentioned, I’ve labeled myself a ‘non-gamer’. I might have played a couple rounds on my commodore 64, but that’s been a while now. I’ve looked over the research on violence and video games and their effects, on screen time’s impact on learning and socialization… and then I remembered a simple rule of the mind: Where our Attention goes, our Energy flows.

How does that relate to research? I already had some ideas about what the research ‘should’ say, based on my own perspective and biases and so found studies that supported my point of view.

But what if I looked to the good in computer games? They ARE a perfect time to give positive suggestions for kids (or adults) as they single-mindedly or sole-focus on the task at hand. The subconscious mind can absorb a suggestion (for example, “what great focus/concentration”) which may be useful at other times.

And once I started looking into the ‘light side’ of gaming, there was plenty of research that supported its usefulness and strengths. Coordination, planning, rule learning (and breaking), problem-solving were all traits that get a good workout when faced with a long or complex game in the fantasy world. These are transferable to the real world as well.

So the idea of taking some of the strongest aspects of the gaming world to use in our day-to-day world isn’t so far-fetched. And the subconscious mind, like the biggest multi player platforms can support us during our trek into unexplored territories and tasks at hand.

Bad Guys (in the closet?)

In most games there are ‘bad guys’; whether aliens, other countries/cultures/teams (or even, in one game, turtles), they create possible conflict situations. While the subconscious mind often decides who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’, we can use its elevated and abstract way of structuring to find the ‘bad guys’ in our lives.

Why would we want to do that? Why not sneak on by and hope they don’t see us? Because many of the ‘bad guys’ in our lives are not necessarily people we meet, but concepts, ideas and beliefs that may be creating our own internal, then external conflicts. Our first reaction is to hide them in our mental closets, closing them off from the light and our world.

However, it takes energy to keep the doors closed, to not think about them or avoid dealing with them… it’s as if they grow in power as we try very hard to push them away. And if they happen to push back when we are less than healthy, happy or whole, they tumble out into our lives at the seemingly worst possible moment.

When we face the monsters or lurking enemy, we can take the power our of them, and often realize that we can deal with the situation right now (or can start assembling the resources we need to ‘fight’ this opposition).

So who are your bad guys? Take a moment and think about the possible times and places where our internal enemies emerge (and write them down so you can keep track). Are there habits or patterns that you seem to be challenged to stop? Are there people, things, situations that seem to reduce your energy, optimism or focus? What makes you question your abilities and goals? What increases your stress or negative emotional response?

It may be a person in the present who puts you down, it may be someone from the past that gave you the impression that you couldn’t do something (which pops up when you see them or in certain situations that resonate from your own history). It could be a TV show (that distracts or confirms stereotypes). It may be a hobby or way of doing something that deflates rather than inflates you and your life. There is no right or wrong ‘bad guys’ – if they are not helping you, you might just want to have them on your radar, so you can start moving away from them, changing the environment, shifting the power or collecting the wherewithal you need to combat them.

Bringing them out into the light may be embarrassing, or frightening, but many bad guys disappear or lose their influence when they are seen clearly, out of the shadows that may distort.

Getting Resources

To get to where you need to go – the next level, saving the princess, achieving the win, finding a potion/script/sword – you need resources.

Often times in video games it may be health, weaponry, certain enhanced powers etc. In real life you’ve got resources too. They may be time, money, support, character traits, health, experience… and while they may be much easier to catalog in a computer game, with a bit of focus (and maybe a bit of help from a friend), it’s possible to get an inventory of the various resources you have and those which are missing.

Once you’ve taken a look at all you’ve already got, you may feel stronger in your ability to play your own game of life. However, even by looking at what you may be lacking, you can tap into the gamer’s mind of finding those missing pieces as new quests or challenges to acquire.

While they may be represented by coins, power pellets or potions in video games, we can find ways to augment or discover our resources and ways to power up through them. Just as ‘bad guys’ take away from us, we can find actions, habits, ideas, mentors, music, moments that boost our mental, emotional or physical health. When you look around for areas that enhance our wellbeing and resources, write them down and include them as much as you can in your every day. Even if you can’t ‘go to the beach’ or ‘play the piano like a maestro’, maybe there’s a picture or a piece of music that can transport you there for a short while.

Your powerful imagination takes in all of our experiences which we can recall and relive from our subconscious mind. Take a minute or two to reconnect within your internal imagination, and if it adds to your resources or good feelings, then it should be included in your game. There may be a song, mantra, hobby or sport, image, habit, or memory that could be the power pack you need to raise internal or external power. People can do this for you as well.

While some computer games are focused on the ‘lone wolf’, many more have teams or support characters that help the player build and grow in their learning and success. Remember that friend you might have asked to list your resources, who may be someone you’d like to have in your ‘game’. Having or creating connections and allies to achieve your goal may be a valuable additional resource that positively affects your direction and triumphs.

These team members may be privy to your challenges and limitations, but understand your goals and destinations, so they can help or contribute when you come up short in some area or other. Others also tend to make you accountable for your ideas and dreams. The subconscious mind also loves meaningful connections which help us to be a part of something as we move forward.

Allies. Find them. Include them in your gaming plan. Let them know your goals and they can help reinforce you when you lag, and can celebrate with you when you reach them.

Hitting Goals

What’s your game? Is it ‘Get the Great Job’ or ‘Rediscover Love’ or ‘Strong Bod’ or… it doesn’t matter what the name is, yet it does. Jane McGonigal entitled one of her books Super Better for her ‘game-based’ recovery from life-altering concussion, because she not only wanted to get better (the basis for her goal or quest) but wanted to move past a return to normal and continue beyond that… SuperBetter.

What would the title of your game be, if you thought about goals that enlivened and excited you? You could make it very obvious or maybe there’s a word that represents the shift for you, a more vague concept that means something to you (it doesn’t matter if others don’t get it because it’s your game).

When I sit by family or friends and ask “Whatcha playing?”, the title of the game usually comes first. Then I ask “What’s the point?” or “What do you have to do in the game?” that’s when I’m told of the goals and quests and challenges and details. So once you’ve got your name, figure out what the ‘point’ of the game is or the destination where you’d like to arrive. That sets your intention with the subconscious mind, and just like my search for research, tends to shift the focus and scanning capabilities of your own personal supercomputer to create an environment for you to pursue your goals.

Many of us lose sight of our goals in the continuum of life. Making a game of it can bring that back into focus. It also helps you refine your ‘bad guys’ list as well as your resources you possess (and those you need). Just as the characters in the computer games know their destiny/goal, you’ll start to make it more of your everyday way of life.

Real-ish Avatar

But who am I to play a game, being who I am now? In the SuperBetter game, Jane called herself “Jane the Concussion Slayer” and her secret identity was brought out whenever she needed her. I know I get a little excited when I think of my avatar (computer stand in). As I recover from a back strain “Jennifer the _____ ______” (it’s secret!) has a beautifully strong back and core. That’s one of my goals in my game, and she’s helping me out.

In most avatars, there’s a grain of truth or maybe a clearer idea of an aspiration that comes out of the creation. It’s not lying; it may just be scrubbing you up to your best potential. Or finding the hero within yourself.
Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine what your personal avatar is like. It’s easier when you’ve got your goal in mind – mine is stronger and more fit (as a start).

Sometimes we get caught in the idea that we are who we’ll always be (even when you’re as fabulous as you!), yet just like the clothes in our closet, that were bought before, we are an outcome of our past actions and experiences. So the future you, the secret identity that will be revealed in time, can look, feel, act a bit differently from the way you do right now, if that’s where you’d like to go. She or he can change over time, but commit yourself to starting to create your supporter and ‘twin’ who can get you to your destination within your own game.

Every day (challenges)…

Whether it’s Dragons of Atlantis or Poker, most online computer games want you to check in daily to get ‘bonuses’ and we can do the same. The bonus is… if we work towards our goals every day, there’s a greater chance we’ll get to them. Action on a daily basis keeps us in the flow of change and even small steps forward can move us towards our goals.

But what about setbacks? What if one day we get ‘slaughtered’ in our aim towards what we want or need? That’s one amazing thing I’ve found watching people play games – if one route doesn’t work, they’ll turn around and try another corridor. I’ve never seen someone stop at a dead-end, lie down and stop the game – they explore the challenges and keep the goal in mind.

Could we learn something from that? Are there adverse areas in our lives that we may need to surmount by shifting gears or backtracking and finding a different way of exploring? Might we be giving more power to ‘bad guys’, using fewer resources than we may need?

Failure in the game requires re-exploration and learning – the skirmish may be lost, but the bigger battle won. Just as a newbie at a game may not know the shortcuts or safe routes, we acquire skills through practice and learning as long as we continue without loss of enthusiasm.

Add the power of imagination again – you may be able to ‘play’ options faster with your subconscious – while keeping the bigger goal in mind, which can be a powerful supporter in your quest to uncover your ‘superbetter’ you. I’m excited to hear how you set up your own game – and let me know when you’ve achieved your game goals. If you need any help, please email me. Let the games begin!

Enjoy, Jennifer.

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