Every Journey Begins At Level One

Every Journey Begins At Level One

I play a lot of video games, so some things are much easier for me to get a handle on when they are restructured in gaming terms. As part of my big 2016 Epic Life Relaunch Of Awesome (patent and details pending), I have put a great deal of thought into exactly how I plan on making all the life changes I have decided upon when I don’t exactly have a great track record of sticking to habits, maintaining resolutions, or even finishing sentenc-

Hey, look! A squirrel!

What was I saying? Oh, right. Video games and building good habits.

The idea of gamification has been around for a while, and there have been countless books, blog posts, and apps written about it, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about how it works. This post is about how to take those ideas to start again with a mindset more geared toward success. This is how I plan on achieving my various goals, and I hope it helps you as well.

At Level One, You Have Nowhere To Go But Up

In (almost) every role-playing game, whether it be tabletop, pen-and-paper, or pixelized on the screen, your character begins at level 1. You have a rusty old sword, no armor to speak of, and a high likelihood of being wiped out by the first knoll, goblin, or slime to cross your path. To be blunt, it sucks. You can’t rush off to complete any quests, you can’t fight any boss monsters, and the loot tables are more likely to reward you with an old bucket for your efforts than a +5 Magical Sword of Stabbing Stuff.

But you can beat up rats, complete tiny little mini-quests, and wander around doing minor tasks to gain experience points.

The same applies to your big life goals. For example: I want to lose weight. A lot of weight. Maybe more than you weigh. I’ve tried for years and always failed. Lately, I’ve begun to think that it’s because I aimed too high. I gripped my -1 Dagger of Suckage, pulled on my Pantaloons of Disappointment, and charged right into Castle Weight Loss. And I got my substantial rear end handed to me along with a side of curly fries.

So, how do you avoid my mistake? You start small. You complete mini-quests. You take a sack lunch to work instead of eating out. +5 experience. You go for a five-minute walk. +10 experience. You make a healthy dinner at home instead of picking up a bag of burgers. +25 experience.

It adds up. Seriously.

Restarting At Level One Lets You Start Over

Like me, you’ve probably tried (and failed) to accomplish a major goal. You’re disappointed, disheartened, and probably wondering whether or not you will ever have the willpower, time, or whatever else you feel you did not have in sufficient quantities to complete your task. So, the next time you try, you start even farther back from where you began. Maybe you weigh more, maybe you haven’t written in ages, or maybe you’re on the verge of transforming into some kind of wombat and have a powerful urge to run off into the forest.

I think that’s what happened to that one newscaster who gave up his job. You know, the one with the hair who read the news?

Forget all that. Take an amnesia potion, turn a new page, and re-roll your character. None of that matters any more. You’re starting over, and this time will be different. This time, you’re going to break down that epic quest of awesome into bite-size single steps of reasonability, and you’re going to start working your way a little at a time every day until you reach level two, level three, and so on until you reach maximum level and build a throne out of swords or dragon hide or Lego bricks.

Forgive yourself and start again. The mountain is high, but you’re wearing sensible shoes.

Every Hero Starts At Level One

No one is born a hero. J.K. Rowling didn’t come into the world with the first three Harry Potter novels plotted, Scott Kelly’s first words weren’t, “Hi, Mom. I’m going to be an astronaut,” and Abraham Lincoln was not born with the Emancipation Proclamation in-hand (though he did have the top hat; thanks, Wikipedia!). They all started at level one and worked their way up. That’s the way everyone does it, and you are no different than them.

Though you may not have as magnificent a top hat as Lincoln, but finding one can be a quest if you want it to.

They worked their way up from the beginning, they put in the work, and they crawled and scraped and fought their way to epic status. There is nothing preventing you from doing the same other than whatever limitations you place on yourself.

The Chinese Ming Dynasty did not build the great wall without a massive amount of effort divided into a million tiny improvements. They just kept putting one more brick in the wall (as described in the Pink Floyd audio-documentary) until they were done. You won’t lose a hundred pounds or write your novel or change the world without your own massive effort, but no one ever said you had to do it in a day, or that you were a failure if you couldn’t do it all at once.

Choose a healthy sandwich over a burger and fries? You’re a winner.

Wrote 500 words on that novel you’ve been dreaming about? You’re a winner, too.

It won’t be fast, it won’t be easy, and there is no shame in killing slimes until you level up and can fight stronger battles.

Just keep at it a little at a time. You will get there eventually.

So, what sort of epic quest are you undertaking? Are you writing a novel, building muscle, starting a business? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to like and share this post on social media. Thanks for reading, and full steam ahead!

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready-Player-One-Book-CoverShall we play a game?

On second thought, skip that. I’ve never been very good at thermonuclear war, and the only way to win tic-tac-toe is to not play.

Instead, let’s delve into the online world of the OASIS in Ernest Cline’s science-fiction-cyberpunk-gaming-80s-reference-fest Ready Player One.

Holy [Insert Reference], Batman!

The first thing you need to know about this book is that is it aimed solely, squarely, and with all intents and purposes directly at the heart of the geek community. Hardly a paragraph passes without some sort of reference, quote, or allusion to the geek culture of the 80s.

Ready Player One takes the reference-saturated jargon of the nerd world and injects it into every aspect of the writing, story, and world. One minute you’re seeing a Delorean with a Ghostbusters logo on the door, and the next, you’re quoting War Games word for word.

And it’s awesome. If you’re into that sort of thing, of course. Which I am.

Number 5 Need Inpu- No, Wait, Too Much!

So. Many. Infodumps.

As a writer, one of the first rules that gets stamped on every critique, solicited or not, is that the writer must avoid loosing a torrent of trivia and burying the reader under a mountain of minutia. The theory is that it slows the pacing and brings the story to a halt, especially when it happens every few pages.

Cline breaks this rule over his knee, waves around the pieces, and then sits on them while he tells you about the history of video games.

Child of the 80s and oldschool gamer that I am, I didn’t mind these pauses in the narrative in the least. I’ve been known to wax at length about the history of computers and video games, 80s pop culture, and the like, so I was right there with him as he described the history of Tennis For Two, Spacewar!, and the like.

Of course, I am hardly in the majority in this regard. If you are one of those who just wants to blaze through the story and not get caught up in the lore of his world and ours, you may be in for a bit of a slog.

Cyberpunk Meets Teen Angst Meets Gaming History Meets Frankenstein Meets…

The book manages to be a lot of things at the same time. At it’s core, it is a science fiction cyberpunk tale about growing up in a world in which the alternate reality of an online game is so far superior to the real world that most people come up for breath only when absolutely necessary.

It is also, as I mentioned earlier, a sort of primer on the culture of the 80s and the evolution of gaming during that time. This is done primarily through the use of the aforementioned lore-heavy infodumps, but they are always relevant to the plot and characters at hand.

Since the majority of the characters reside squarely in their late teens (though some of them are somewhat younger in the mental sense), there is no lack of the sort of drama or angst that permeates every aspect of the teen worldview. Life isn’t fair, everything sucks, everyone is out to get me (which, admittedly, is sort of true, in a way), girls are amazing and terrifying, and there’s a whole world outside that I never really realized was there.

The protagonist does a great deal of whining throughout the story, but he also manages to be proactive and interesting at the same time. It can be a difficult balance to pull off, and Ready Player One does it well.

Want some romance to go along with that coming of age drama? Here you go. And while we’re at it, let’s make it with sort of gamer grrl that is the great white stag of the teenage gamer guy. Fun and witty and acerbic as hell.

And what would be better than the inclusion of a criminal megacorporation out for world domination, no matter who they have to crush in the process?

A Mirror Into A Larger, More Connected World

Like all good science fiction, a good deal of reality is reflected through the lens of one possible future. In a world that exists mostly online, things like identity, real personal appearance, geographic location, and social status blue. At times, they become totally irrelevant.

At least until you get smacked in the face with the harsh reality that things like prejudice, class warfare, injustice, and deception simply become as amorphous as the artificial world in which they worm themselves.

Ready Player One presents a world with shades of real possibility, even though it has been veneered with a dozen coats of pop culture, video game references, and the worldview of a new adult who has never known anything different.

It’s a hell of a ride, and a lot of fun. Five stars. One of my favorite books ever. You should read it right now.

I’ll wait.

So, how was it? Did you like it, or is it not something you’re particularly interested in? Leave me a note in the comments below, and don’t forget to share my Ready Player One review with all your friends. Hell, share it with your enemies, too. They deserve a good read as much as anyone.