I’m going to let you in on a little secret: you’re struggling.
Are you not? Liar! You’re either not from this planet or you’ve transcended being human. But seriously, whether it is big or small, everyone is struggling with something deep within themselves no matter how covered up it may be; no matter how superficial the facades are that we place on ourselves to get through our daily routines. Sometimes it never comes out until the end of our life, but it will always be there, waiting like a scar on our heart. Some people even call this the challenge of life itself.
After all, there is no light without darkness right?
It was a comforting thought I had when I was in college and had a lot of social anxiety. I felt all this tension to talk to others because I felt their lives were somehow more meaningful than mine. Then I started to observe real closely how everyone else handled the moments between moments. Those moments in-between their highest points — the joy of a fun college party or the excitement of winning an intramural game. They could experience these highs, yet most of the time I would see them bored sitting in front of a the TV in the evening, slogging through the day of classes, counting the minutes till the next “fun” event which will simply justify their “low points” throughout the day. Maybe I wasn’t so different. Maybe I simply didn’t include enough fun things to counter-balance the low points like everyone else was doing.
I’ll be honest, I played a lot of video games in college. I was probably that nerdy kid looking at the ground while you walked by and didn’t notice on the sidewalk. There was a time in 2007 when I had a routine of: sleep, wake up, go to class, study/homework, eat, play games, sleep (No joke, I even recorded a stupid video of myself in the Spring of 2007 that shows this: My Day – April 9th, 2007 . Seriously, don’t watch it though, it’s stupid). I envied everyone and felt like I simply couldn’t be as ‘fun’ as them. I resigned to vicariously living through other their stories, imagining myself in their role, thinking that maybe in another life I could have fun like the rest of them. Video games filled a void inside of me through active feedback, a sense of purpose, and accomplishments that seemed far greater than myself. I could be a hero saving my town from destruction instead of a nerdy student at college studying Computer Science. Before you simply think this was video game addiction, I challenge you to think about the underlining reasons that any human may turn to video games and find them as an escape. Are you different? Have you ever been sucked into a game of Angry Birds or Words with Friends? Maybe you’ve gotten lost in the playful nature of a board game during a reunion of friends or family? The truth is that the act of ‘playing’ is wired within us as an evolutionarily benefit so we can easily experience joyful moments in our lives. We are wired to be playful and have fun even if only with our imagination. Just look at any kid!
There was a great book by a game designer named Jane McGonigal who came to the conclusion that designing game worlds was akin to designing perfect experiences for human beings. It was as if you were a planner of Joy and you laid a path for players to follow and experience real feelings of accomplishment, success, and pride within themselves as they completed it. Over the years, many game designers became great in this role after seeing what people were responding to and newer games such as World of Warcraft began to seem like real alternate realities with millions of hours being spent in them by people all over the world.
If you’re too lazy to read her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, at least give her 10 minute TED talk a listen: Jane McGonigal – Gaming Can Make a Better World.
Just a few quotes from her: “My goal for the next decade is to try to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games.”
“When we play a game, we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we’re more likely to reach out to others for help.”
“If you can manage to experience three positive emotions for every one negative emotion … you dramatically improve your health and your ability to successfully tackle any problem you’re facing.”
“Avatars are a way to express our true selves, our most heroic, idealized version of who we might become.”
This may sound lofty, but Jane McGonigal has touched on something so profound that it may take many years to fully realize the implications — games can teach us how to activate that ever elusive state of Flow more often in our daily lives so that we can feel more connected to each other and the world around us.
Flow is that effortless state of energy you can have where it feels great to be doing whatever it is you are doing. You are totally in the moment and understand exactly what to do; even if it is just focusing on a volleyball coming over the net or feeling ‘in the zone’ during a basketball game. It can happen spontaneously or when you’re deeply inspired by something so profound that you are compelled to take action. Musicians, designers, writers, and creatives describe it as an intuitive state where your body feels as though it has become a receiver of divine or cosmic gifts and the art flows naturally through you. There’s a whole book written about the science behind it: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
The question really is: Are we willing to wake up to the reality of our own lives? Are we ready to face the true Self inside this physical body we have covered with our identities? We are not all different from one another. We pretend to be disconnected from the lives of each other even though we live in the same city, the same country, the same planet. The truth is we are all interconnected in a web of cause and effect. You step on someone’s shoe and you create a figurative hole in your own. You extend a hand in service and you receive gratitude.
As humans we link experiences to all our senses to create the most detailed memory possible. We go on roller coasters that take us hundreds of feet in the air so we can experience the intense thrill of falling. By knowing we’re safe, the temporary moment of exhilaration is available for us to experience over and over again. The thrill of that moment as our stomachs give out and the coaster falls to the earth, we become free from our physical bodies and challenge the space around us. We experience being fully present because there is no other way to be; even while closing your eyes in fear as you second guess going on the coaster in the first place. It’s like that feeling of bliss or catharsis when watching a film, but you can’t sustain it. We want to sustain it. You are one with that moment — in a state of Flow.
How do we continue to return to this?
By becoming vulnerable and opening ourselves up, we allow our hearts to free us from the struggles we all face together.