It's all a game

Again, I am immersed in the world of fantasy role-playing games, this time as a human mage in the World of Warcraft.

As much an amusement as a means for reflection, many things have happened in the game which have prompted me to reconsider real life. There really is a lot in common between the two – though it may not seem so at first. I’ve written before on this idea, the game of life, but this time I’ve found even more things to ponder.

For example, one day, as I was adventuring around, I found a really cool shield. Well, it seemed cool back then, when my character was only seventh level. And since I’m a mage, and can’t use shields, I looked at it in terms of its selling price: a whopping four silvers. At the time this was almost a quarter of what I had.

Suddenly I faced a dilemma. Should I sell this great shield, or find a worthy fighter or paladin to give it to? He would love it, considering all the magical benefits it accrues to its wielder. Or I could trade it in for four silvers, greatly increasing my own wealth. What to do, what to do…

As I reflected on my choice, a thought occurred to me: very soon I will stop playing this game altogether, and on that day, I won’t care anything whatever for the wealth my character has. What can gold or silver mean in a game you no longer play? And when I give up all my possessions that future day, four silvers will mean nothing to me at all. I doubt I will look back and wish I had kept those silvers. I won’t even remember them. But if I give away my shield to a deserving player, I’ll be glad for doing so even beyond the game.

It was like having a vision of how my choice today would look to my future self. So I gave away the shield. Nowadays my character has about 11,000 silvers, and the matter of four silvers then or now would have made no difference to me at all. Had I kept the money or given it way, things today would be the same. I’m very glad I gifted that shield to someone else back then; even giving it away now would mean nothing to me. It was the effect of the choice, as much as the choice itself, that had value.

All of this made me think: isn’t real life that way too? Isn’t a day fast-approaching when all of our possessions will mean nothing to us at all, but the choices we made will mean all? On that day, I’ll not wish I had saved more money – then, all amounts will equal the same nothingness – but I shall be very glad for every time I chose to help my friends, or valued my time over spending it to make more money.

So as time went on in the game, I gave away an entire gold piece – when it meant half of everything I had; and then five gold; then twenty; even one day giving away 40 gold and reducing myself to poverty! All to prove a point to myself: that truly, it was worthless; nothing had meaning in the game but playing it – both as a way to enjoy myself and to spend time connecting with others. And sure enough, not one week after my self-imposed poverty, I was back to over a hundred gold and earning it faster than I could spend it. The question of amounts never mattered at all! But I could have easily gotten too caught up in quantities, and missed the quality of such an easy freedom, assured that money will be there whenever I need it.

Does this really relate to real life? In fact, it does. I’ve carried out this experiment before, but it took these events to remind me of it. I recall once trying so hard to save up money, spending half a year scrimping and socking away every dollar, just to reach a certain amount. And then in a moment of complete abandon I gave it all away, everything I had accumulated over those six months. And what happened next? All of it and more was replaced within a month or two. I’m still not sure how it happened; not caring and not trying so hard, generated more wealth for me than bending my back. And at times when I’m not working, it’s not that I earn so much, just that what I need is there by the time I need it.

I’ve found it to be a general truth that the watched pot really doesn’t boil as fast, at least not in terms of our experience of time. It’s like the tortoise and the hare: those in no hurry reach the end just as easily, while enjoying the scenery.

It’s about enjoying the game – the experience – not sweating the details. Warcraft and my young mage are teaching me this again, and life has shown it to me several times. It’s all a game; and the player who wins best is the one who’s had the best time playing it.