School, sports, the military – that’s where kids usually lay the cornerstones of adulthood. I, on the other hand, was introduced to certain universal values through a more unlikely activity, in fact, the very activity which is generally considered to debilitate them – video games.
I used to spend my summer vacations at my uncle’s house, a video game wonderland. I would pass hours watching my cousin playing these amazing games which to my young mind looked like straight-up magic. Once, after he died for the 100th time in a row, I asked for a shot, which only got me kicked out of the room. So, watching had to do. Until my uncle came home from work.
My eyes would go back and forth from the computer screen to the clock, counting the minutes until my hero’s arrival. And then, when he finally came to the rescue, I would get my long-awaited chance. And it was amazing … for about 10 minutes until I got stuck.
The first DOOM was the biggest game at the time. You got to do a bunch of action which nowadays might look plain even to a 2-year old, but then felt more immersive than virtual reality. In-between all the fun though, you had to do a bunch of not so fun stuff, too, at least not for someone who welcomes a challenge as much as a slot machine player. You had to think, analyze. You had to figure ways out of different situations. You had to go around mazes and remember the paths, look for a myriad of different keys to unlock a myriad of different doors, all while fighting for your life.
And just like that, something I had spent hours salivating over lost its appeal within mere minutes. And of course, the problem was never in me:
“This game has errors in it!” I would shout at the screen.
“It’s fine when I play it,” my uncle would respond nonchalantly.
“No, now it has errors for sure! This maze has no way out. I need a blue key to open the door, but it’s nowhere to be found!”
This debate usually continued until my uncle proved me wrong by escaping the inescapable maze I was whining about. But once, my moaning must have got to him, his benign behavior suddenly shifted, and what he shouted at me under his trembling mustache has stuck with me to this day:
“John Romero designed DOOM so there’s always a way out. ALWAYS! Every place you get yourself into has a way out. Every situation is reversible,” my uncle yelled with the distinctive fire in his voice which only his true passions could spark. “You waited all day to play it, and now you’re just going to give up after the first obstacle?! It’s the same game you were dying to play. To enjoy it, you have to become good at it, and to become good, you need to try harder.”
This advice helped me discover all my favorite games throughout the years. Games which were not only incredibly fun to play, but also kept a special message which was more rewarding than any action-packed sequence.
But actually, I don’t think my uncle’s overarching purpose was to turn me into the successful gamer I am today. It wasn’t a gaming “hack” he taught me but a life one. It’s easy to get pumped up about being a rock God when you watch one of them being bombarded with female underwear on stage. But what you don’t see is just how human that “God” felt while going through endless mundane technique exercises and getting stuck in a riff until he hated both music and himself.
My uncle gave me a compass to get me through the mazes of any life game I decide to play. Universal values better than any momentary solution. When I get stuck, I don’t blame the game anymore. And I’m never stuck for long.