A good work ethic is one of those intangible things that I think you don’t just learn by attending school and doing your homework. I’ve been told I have an almost insane work ethic and I know part of it has to do with loving what I do and just trying to survive! But I’ve met people who feel no motivation from these same factors.
In retrospect, the ridiculously hard games of the 8-bit days and the complex RPGs of the 16-bit era taught me a few things that translate directly to real life. Was this the plan of the programmers of these games? I kind of have a hard time believing that was something done purposefully, but here’s a few things that video games taught me as a kid that I simply can’t live without today.
Perhaps the earliest thing I realized that video games had taught me was resource management. Take the common cycle of early CRPGS: You have X amount of health and X amount of gold. You go out and fight some baddies trying to make some more gold before running out of health. You might also have a special power or item to help you win a few battles, but these things run out. You have to remember that the gold you gain is great for buying new weapons, but if you don’t stay at the Inn and heal up, you won’t get very far with your new sword.
When I got my first job, I realized it wasn’t that much different with real money. It was tempting to blow it all, but I had to look at the big picture of how I used it and where it’d take me. In contrast, I saw many other kids who blew every paycheck they had and never had money for college, a car or other things that were ultimately more important in the big picture.
Metroid made me work hard. Harder than any other game I ever played. If you were going to play, you had to dedicate at least an hour to filling up your energy tanks before heading into new territory. Once you were there, you had no idea how deep you’d have to go to find a new item or make it to the next area. More often than not you’d die at the hands of some new monster or trip into a pit that you could not escape from. It was infuriating, but the pull of seeing what was beyond kept me coming back for more.
This tenacity translated easily into my work as a computer programmer. A difficult or seemingly impossible task was just another hurdle I could overcome if I put my mind to it. I often interviewed people to work on my team who would give up at the easiest programming problem during the interview. These people had no desire to pit their will against some silly computer, which is basically what I was doing with Metroid years before.
Video games can actually stress you out. Even in something as basic as the original Super Mario Brothers, there are moments when you think, “I’ve come this far, I’m deep in Bowser’s castle, I’m going to die!” Multiply this by ten for early games that had few save points or no continues. After a while, these games taught me to sort of go into this calm, unthinking state when I got to the stressful part. I knew letting the tension get to me would ruin my chance of succeeding, I just had to silence that fear. Well, turns out real life works the same way. There are lots of stressful situations; tests, job interviews and other things where we just have to block out our fears and make it to the next level.
Perseverance Pays Off
The only games I ever played that consciously started to feel like work to me were some of the early SquareSoft RPGSs. Early RPGs made you work for every experience point and every new power. I remember getting obsessed with gaining every esper power for every one of my characters. It took weeks, but in the end, I had an almost unbeatable team and could just enjoy the rest of the game. There were tons of side benefits from working so hard, like my characters having super high levels early on.
I saw this to an even greater extent when playing MMORPGs later on. Spending a week hunting rats outside the city walls was boring, but when I got into more serious and dangerous areas of the game, my character was ready for anything.
Anything with serious rewards in life takes perseverance and sometimes long periods of monotonous or seemingly-unrewarding work. Getting a degree, learning a new skill, getting in shape – all of these things are “work upfront, rewards later” type endeavors, as were many of the early RPGs.
The music of these old games also helped motivate me. It made me feel like I was doing something really important (you know, like saving a fictional universe!) That heroic feeling was good motivation and something that sticks with you. I’m not going to go on a rant against new games and what they do or don’t teach. But I think it’s great whenever a game reminds you, “You don’t get something for nothing.” That’s just the way it is.