When I was growing up, my parents fed me a steady diet of the good old American "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mentality with a hearty dose of "anyone can become the President or get rich and successful as long as they REALLY TRY HARD."  As a kid, I took a lot of this mentality to heart.  I was in the 99th percentile in most standardized tests, my school work was generally B+ at the very lowest (but generally I got all A's and A+'s), I played piano starting in the 3rd grade and took lessons and did recitals showcasing my ability to play complicated Russian music (my teacher was a scary Russian lady who liked to shout at me if I got the song wrong, so I learned to generally listen and watch her play and then immediately learn to copy her from hearing alone), as well as active in various sports (such as softball, badminton, soccer, and basketball).  On top of this, I also had a fairly good social life, most of whom were close friends in the "advanced" classes, and we had intellectual parties in high school involving improv games and swing dancing. 

This is my "I'm having so much fun, I don't even know where I am" face.

In addition to sports in high school, I did a lot of work with music/choir, visiting both Disneyland to do a concert and also going with an advanced group to Carnagie Hall, where I sang a jazz solo on that prestigious stage.  I also worked part time at the cafeteria during lunch and breaks, and was the go-to responsible babysitter in the neighborhood, so I got a lot of paid babysitting gigs.  So, with all my physical fitness, childcare expertise, technological training/understanding, writing, singing, artistic prowess and critical thinking powers, I figured that I would be a shoe-in for a life of success.  After all, unlike most people who get everything handed to them with a silver spoon and a trust fund account, I worked hard for everything, from saving up to buy my own clothes to paying for my own car outright.  I honed my mind, my body and my determination, yet real life is a lot harder than the movies or games would have you believe.

Everyone said that I was going somewhere.

Well, I guess they were kind of right.  I am SOMEWHERE, just not exactly where I thought I would be....

And you thought that having to do homework was frustrating....

I have a very concrete, reasonable dream-I want to live in a beautiful place, with a lifestyle that involves daily movement in a manner I enjoy, a job that is challenging and not boring, a family, good friends, a house of my own that I enjoy living in, high quality delicious food, some entertainment, time for hobbies and a good amount of safety net money in the bank in case of emergencies and also so that one day I can retire.

While I am lucky that I have a job that I enjoy, live in a place that I love, have a family and can bicycle and walk most places that I want to go, there is no way I can afford a house of my own here, and our monthly income is very stretched-we can afford mid-quality food with some extra special high quality treats from time to time, but we have pretty much no savings beyond a couple hundred "oh crap" dollars, and we heavily rely on hand-me-downs, thrift stores, and freecycle for clothes and furniture stuff.  While I'm not in horrible debt (at least not yet), I see people with ten times nicer new stuff and nice places to live who are up to their neck in debt, living a life outside their means and laughing in my face about it. 

In real life, my strategy sucks.

On the other hand, I've tried out this same strategy in video games-from being frugal with money to learning exactly how challenging of enemies that my character can handle, and all of these strategies reward me (after time and diligence) with more money than I could ever spend, successful well-liked characters who save the world, and generally I totally OWNZORZ at the game.

I guess what I am getting at is that while people often blame the "self esteem" movement for people being horribly disappointed when life doesn't turn out the way they planned (especially when they do all the right things and are highly talented and intelligent, as many of you are), it's not necessarily because we're doing it "wrong."

Still, over-reliance on artificially inflated self-esteem is a big steaming pile of BS...

It's just the systems of success that's highly screwed up.

In a game, there are rules-and if you follow those rules, you will win.  Obviously, your ability to strategize and plan in the game are huge determinants to the end result, but generally, you will get better as long as you follow the rules and do so with finesse (which generally is obtained by working hard and practicing a lot).

But in the real world, it is not so easy.  First of all, while 99% of games involve a basic nobody (who is clumsy and probably has some kind of flaw or other), 99% of real life "chosen ones" are chosen because they were lucky enough to have a family and parents who have money (as well as the connections brought by having money and therefore knowing all the other people with lots of money).

Case in point-chances are, you won't get visited by a magical fairy and tasked with saving the world if you lay around inside your house all day long doing nothing.

There are a lot of things in games that you don't actually encounter in real life.  And these things are actually highly important when it comes to actual success.  It *really* doesn't help that no one really descends from heaven to give you a mission or goal. There are rarely any clear cut "bad guys" who need slaying (and in our current legal system, you're more likely to get an insanity murder conviction)-but even if you join the Marines, you're largely chasing after people who your government wants killed, and while they may be bad folks, the reason for killing them is less clear cut than just "here's a maniacal jerkface-why not kill him to make the world TOTALLY JUST AND HAPPY AGAIN?!"  (And here we come to the main reason why WW2 video games are so wildly popular-after all who is the last real world Ganondorf, mad with power, that comes to mind?)

"HA HA History Channel-but can your Hitler do FACE GRABS WITH EVIL PURPLE SPARKLIES?"

But I'm digressing yet again.  Really, I want to talk about things that we take for granted in games, things that, if only they actually worked that way in the real world, it'd be a lot easier to win.

1) Money for nothing (Chicks for free?)

After saving Hyrule, Link became famous as the "Grass Master."

First of all, who the heck came up with the idea of cutting grass=getting money?  I mean, I know that mowing a lawn in the real world can get you a couple of bucks, but technically, you can find a big grassy expanse in any Legend of Zelda game and keep chopping until you fill your wallet with money that magically jumps out of the grass.  I remember using this technique several times in Link's Awakening so that I could buy the bow and arrow at the shop (you can technically steal the bow and arrow, but if you ever go back into the shop, the shopkeeper will strike you dead), and while it was time consuming, technically, you could go around cutting grass for an hour and then just go and buy it without having to go through half of the game before being able to afford it.

While there are some people who might be able to work up from nothing, generally, we need the support of others for quite a long time before we can eventually get any measure of success in the real world.  In fact, pretty much 90% of my jobs came from knowing someone who liked and respected me, thereby giving me an "in" into whatever job category I was looking to get into.  In games, you can make money out of worthless patches of grass.  In the real world, if you start chopping at people's lawns with knives and swords, the only thing you're likely to find is dog poo and people calling the police.

2) And the Bottom Drops out...Item Drops after Battle

Yes apparently, a horse wiener is actually an equippable item in this game.

So, this is something I've been wanting to ask game developers since I killed my first monster in Golden Sun.  Where exactly do the items come from after you kill monsters?  I mean, ostensibly if you're fighting against people, you could plunder their equipped stuff, but sometimes the drops are weird.  I mean, so you kill a Stalfos in Ocarina of Time and a bunch of hearts pop out, which you step on and they magically get absorbed through your legs and feet to regain your heath bar.  Or you kill a skeleton in turn based combat and you get paper and a certain amount of money once you win the fight.  Exactly where did this skeleton hide 100 gold, in his chest cavity?  No wonder why he lost!

In the real world, every time you get into a fist fight, the only thing that comes out of your opponent's nose when you punch it is blood.  And after the scrap is over, you're quite unlikely to get anything out of the person, unless you're the school's bully and you're extorting lunch money.  The only place where you might "get something" after fighting someone is if you join organized crime (although this is not recommended, seeing as they give "cement shoes" to their own members as frequently as they do their enemies), and even then, that's pretty far to fall from "hero of the world."

3) A Questing Guy Has Got To Eat

Pikachu finds out the hard way that "training for the Pokemon League" isn't actually a paid job description.

One thing that frustrates me is that in most games, your character never has to worry about things like eating or going to the bathroom.  Your average pokemon trainer doesn't have to worry about wiping his butt with poison oak on accident while he's in the middle of some godforsaken woods, trying to level up his pokemon.  And he certainly doesn't have to worry about whether or not he brought enough food with him so that he and his pokemon don't starve.  Most video games gloss over a lot of the basic needs, such as food, shelter, not being eaten by wild animals while trying to camp in the forest, etc.

While there are a couple of games where you need to eat food to stay alive (ZHP: Unlosing Ranger comes to mind-where if you don't eat enough meat, you start starving and your HP starts going to zero), most games completely ignore this fact.  Food and living expenses are HANDS DOWN the most expensive parts of living, as most people who start paying rent and living expenses for the first time can attest.  When you're living with your parents and they are providing you with food and a place to sleep without having to worry about being eaten by grizzly bears, you don't really think about how much money it costs to keep your body nourished and out of the elements.  But I can tell you right now, it costs over half of our combined monthly income to pay for rent, utilities and food expenses, leaving precious little for other stuff that we want to do (like buy games or pay for XBOX Live Gold). 

Sure, we budget preliminarily, but I would be totally dead without these little ledger books that my bank gives out (to my knowledge, Chase and Bank of America both do this, but you have to ask for them) where you can slide your card in and then write in your totals every time you use the card without it taking up a buttload of room in your wallet.  Honestly, this is the only way I can keep tabs on my spending and make sure that I'm not living beyond my means.  And it takes a LOT of work.  In a game, you have one money pot and you basically spend from it directly.  If you don't have enough money to buy something, the GAME WILL NOT LET YOU BUY IT.  And, most of the time, you can pretty much sell anything back to any store.  This is very different than in real life, where a person with no money can basically go out and buy lots of stuff they don't have money for, providing that they get a loan or use a credit card (which is basically a pre-approved ongoing flexible loan).  And just try selling your used underwear and funky makeshift furniture without being laughed out of the 7-11.  So no, the real world does not gently manage your money for you-giving it to you pretty much for everything else that you're willing to throw away from your item bag.

4) Sleep?  I'll do that when I'm dead!

Sexy Yawn Attack: She's not really tired-she's just trying to make you put your guard down.

Other than "I'll save at the Inn" games, no one actually sleeps in games.  If time really has anything to do with the game, you can usually skip in other ways, and generally, if you skip from day to night, the most significant thing that can happen is that you find different pokemon or monsters to battle.  Part of this is just logic-I mean, who wants to spend 8 hours playing a game where your character is sleeping and you have to sit through that? But at the same time, it makes it a lot easier for you to get really good at the game-leveling up and generally having a 24 hour productive day.  Unless you do time-limit based quests (which are fairly uncommon in most games), you can pretty much have no deadlines or other problems as the game will wait for you to get to designated areas before advancing the plot.

Of course, there ARE games that involve sleep as the main part of the game.....

Can't sleep-evil monsters with knives will get me.

...but it's not any kind of sleep that you'd probably want to have.

Basically, in games like Catherine, you ARE technically asleep, but you're forced to work just as hard as if you're awake.  I've had dreams where I'm stuck in a "dream loop" (you know, where you keep doing the same thing over and over again and you get exponentially more frustrated every time you do it), and when I wake up from them, I'm exhausted and cranky.  So this kind of dreaming is not what you want to base your own sleep habits on in real life.

In the real world, it is estimated that most people don't get enough sleep.  Either people are overextended and need to get up super early or go to bed super late to get basic daily stuff done, or they have trouble getting to sleep at night due to stress or other medical issues.  Doctors keep suggesting that in order to lower your risk for heart damage, regulate your metabolism and weight, and otherwise have a clear mind, you need to get at least 8 hours of sleep, although some say 9.  And honestly, with the amount of stuff the average person is expected to do in order to become successful, this can take a heavy toll on your health and state of mind.  While it would be nice to have 24 hours of productivity, the reality is that the less sleep you get, the less likely it is that you will be healthy enough to enjoy yourself if you DO finally reach success.

5) What?  10 years of boring crap?  Let's just fast forward to the good stuff!

"Hey there, Link.  I just wanted to tell you that the whole world has gone to hell in the last 7 years.  Isn't that terribly convenient for the sake of the plot?"

This is the biggest thing that no one really deals with in games.  Games like Fallout 3, LOZ, Ocarina of Time, and many more have this idea that you start out as a little kid or baby or whatever and then it fast forwards until you're old enough (or simply to the point where your adventure begins).  Does it highlight your boring days where nothing happens or the parts of your life where you really have to struggle for very little pay off?  Nope.  As far as the game is concerned, everything but the game is a "fade to black" moment or cut scene that plays out quickly enough and then back to the good stuff.

In the real world I hear "I'm bored" all the time from people.  A lot of them seem to have this really unrealistic idea of success-as though everyone goes from college grad to 6 figure salary.  And when that doesn't happen, people get upset.  The worst part right now is the simple fact that because private industry has basically minimized worker pay and keeps relying on free interns to maximize shareholder profits, there really isn't much of a "good, solid job market" for people out of college, and generally, even if you're really smart and talented, you're still not going to be treated much better than a peon for quite some time until you've developed the connections and experience that will give you the chance to make more of yourself than you started out.

When you are playing a game, you start out at level 1 and progress upward for the duration of the game.  In the real world, you start out at level 1 and there is always the chance that you can be knocked down to that level once again at any time.

And that, my friends, is utterly terrifying.

When I first started playing games, no one expected me to be good.  And I wasn't.  I mean, I was probably fairly good compared to most other girls who didn't play video games, but that didn't mean I was actually GOOD at the games (I kept dying on the first level of Operation C for Gameboy for YEARS).  But now as an experienced gamer, I can generally pick up a game (as long as I am interested in it) and as long as the game itself has generally recognizable controls, I can get pretty good at it in a relatively short amount of time.  Games have logic to them.  They have rules and a general idea of progression to an ultimate goal of being totally awesome.

As for life?  Well, let's just say that just as soon as I think I figure everything out, EVERYTHING CHANGES.


So, what do you think is the biggest difference between gaming and real life?

Do you find it frustrating that life isn't built to be more "fair" than we build our game worlds?

And finally, do you think that real life could learn some lessons from games?

(Note: This blog took me two days to finish because, as though trying to explicitly prove my point, life intervened in my ability to post it.)