Video games have been a part of my life since 1985. That’s when the Nintendo Entertainment System was released with Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. I would spend hours looking over my cousin’s shoulder as he played each game. Being the youngest, I didn’t get much playing time, but it was still great fun being a part of the excitement.
I finally got my own NES in 1988 after saving up my allowance for well over a year. I no longer had to look over the shoulder of someone else. Now I was the one with the controller. I was playing with power!
For me, it was all about advancing to the next level. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but what kept me playing was quest for perfection. Once all the levels were beaten, I’d create new achievements: maximum coins, quickest times, most lives, etc. I did speed-running before it was cool.
Nintendo morphed into the Sega Genesis. Next came the Playstation and Nintendo 64. After that was a the Sega Dreamcast (that didn’t last long). Xbox dominated my college years. Fast forward to today, and there are two Xbox One X systems in our home: one for the home theater, and another for playing on the projector in the backyard. So needless to say, games have been a big part of my life. And while the amount of time I’ve dedicated to playing has waned over the years, given the right conditions (home sick on a snowy day with bottle of Robitusson and Ninja Gaiden set to master ninja difficulty), I can easily lose myself in the pursuit of gaming perfection if I’m not careful.
Why we game
I’ve already provided a bit of the backstory on why I game. A big component of it is the joy of accomplishing something, but there are other elements as well like social interaction, and just checking out for a while. But is this true for everyone?
Nick Yee, a scientist studying why people do what we do, found three motivation components for video gaming. The first is the achievement component, which is the desire to advance in the game, the knowledge of the rules, and the drive to compete. The second is the social component, which is forming connections with others through chatting and working as a team. Finally, there is the immersion component, which is essentially the desire to a escape from real-life for a while.
So there you have it. The three main driving factors for why we game. For the remainder of this article, let’s focus in on the achievement component.
As humans, we all want to achieve more. We want to get in shape. We want to graduate college. We want that promotion. No matter what goal you insert into the above statement, it will probably not be something you can achieve overnight. Getting in shape requires a long-term commitment of consistently going to the gym and monitoring your diet. It takes four years to graduate college (sometimes 5 or 6 if you’re a super-senior). And getting that promotion can take years.
Who has time for all that?
We live in a world where we see it. We want it. And we want it right now. Grub Hub and Amazon, anyone?
But the rules of gaming are different than the real world. I can bulk up in an hour and become boxing world champ in a matter of hours. I may have an 87 Dodge Caravan sitting in the driveway, but I can save enough money to buy a Mclaren F1 in an evening. I may only be a white belt in taekwondo, but I can beat the best the universe has to offer in MK11 with a weekend rental.
Video games offer instant gratification. And even if it does take you 6 weeks to beat Red Dead Redemption 2, there’s still countless little wins and gratification along the way encouraging you to continue. It’s no wonder why we spend so much time gaming.
Gamify Your Life
But what if you applied these gaming principles to your own life? Instead of committing your time to building your gaming character, what if you actually devoted that energy into your real-life character?
Big goals in video games are made possible by having mini-goals scattered along the way. If you try to beat Ganon the first time you play Ocarina of Time, you’re gonna lose very quickly. Instead, it’s a 30-hour progression through the game where you are presented with a myriad of mini-games that challenge you and help you grow as a character so that when you finally face off against Ganon, you are a match for him. The same is true in real-life. If you want to lose 20 lbs and bench 315, that’s awesome. You know your endgame. Now you have to work backwards and create mini-achievements that will help you track your progress and motivate you along the way. Check out our Endgame blog post to learn more.
This is the idea behind gamifying your life. We break your life down into four basic pillars: Faith, Family, Fitness and Finance.
Our goal is to move the needle up in each area of our life every single day. This is done by setting manageable goals, and assigning a point value to them.
Here’s an example from my FAMILY pillar:
- Text/Call my wife every day to see how she’s doing, if there’s anything I can do for her, and to tell her that I love her. 0.5pts
- Spend 30 minutes being intentional with my son (playing legos, reading books, talking about space, pretending to be Ghostbusters, etc. TV/Video Games do not count). 0.5pts
- Spend 30 minutes being intentional with my daughter (creating art, practicing spelling words, math homework, snuggling, etc.). 0.5pts
- Eat dinner together as a family. 0.5pts
At the end of each day, I can gain a possible 2 pts in the FAMILY pillar. The same concept applies to the other categories.
I do 90-day cycles, because 90 days is the perfect amount of time to see a significant change. It’s enough time to move the needle inside each pillar of your life (FAITH, FAMILY, FITNESS, FINANCE), but not too much time where life can shift dramatically and sidetrack your best intentions.
My advice is to start simply. If you don’t normally exercise, then just start off with setting a daily step goal, or drinking a healthy smoothie for FITNESS. For FAITH, start with daily prayer in the morning, or deep breathing for 5 minutes every day. For FINANCE (can also be “business”), consider picking up a book on business and reading a chapter a day, or if you’re a creative like me, why not subscribe to a Lynda.com account and do a lesson a day?
Need something to help you along the way. Check out habitica. It’s an app that helps you gamify your life by tracking your goals, earning rewards, and teaming up with friends. Take the concepts you learn here, plug them into habitica, and you’re up and running.
And don’t worry if your goals aren’t BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), you’ll get there. You’re just starting out, and just like a video game, your character doesn’t have the skills or endurance to to tackle the big achievements yet. Give it time, stay consistent, and you will arrive.
Once you’ve figured out what your goals are for each pillar and you’ve committed it to paper, you’re ready to rock. Figure out how many points are possible each day, and how many points are possible each week. This will help you monitor your progress for the whole 90 days. At the end of your 90-day cycle, look back on how you did and start a new cycle with new goals, or you can add goals to the ones you already have.