My Game Theory

The theory is simple — “humans advance when they don’t play video games”.

The gaming community reading this can now shut-down their phones and computers, and reinstall browsers to clean up the message(just in case). All others who feel the pressing need to monitor and moderate society can feel the blissful aura of knowing right thing all this time.

Is it that simple? The history leading up to the conclusion, alas, is murky. This post is a personal rant rather than anything else. Read at your own risk.

 

The Beginning

You see I was a game buff even when it was not quite fashionable to say you were one. I played Need for Speed 3 demo on my old Pentium that my mother bought to see her son achieve greatness. I decided that greatness comes later, what will come first was the adrenaline.

I played the demo about two hundred times, totalling 600 minutes. That should have told me something, but I was not listening.

I did go on to other games, but then, I stopped. I stopped for no reason, as I was passing through an exciting learning phase at work. The sidetrack on gaming and the change should have told me something but again, “there was no active listener on the other side”.

When I got bored, I started looking beyond work. I was trying to create ideas, following them through, created websites & blogs.  Amidst all that I also happened to come across the MMO world.

Lord of Ultima happened.

 

The Interim State

I was obsessed with Lord of Ultima. What started as a weekend entertainment, grew into evenings “invested” in creating my kingdom, helping my tribe, and doing stuff that made continents kneel before me. I ended up spending hard earned money – maybe $20 in my quest to achieve greatness.

Hundreds of hours again should have screamed something at me – but I was barely looking. In many ways, LoU was the beginning of an era. The era of long gaming sessions was just beginning,

Moving on to a powerful graphics card in Y2015 was the cornerstone. The graphics card along with Steam put me on the fast track to gaming greatness. I was more than 35 years, having a loving family, quite a few things to do – and there I was going nuts about Half Life,  Assassins’ Creed, and then, Skyrim V: The Elder Scrolls.

Fast forward to 2018, and The Division happened. What started as a Steam weekend free play became my newest obsession.

This game was crazy. I was putting in crazy hours in the night and weekends to get ahead of the game, getting killed in PvP one too many times, gaining friends across the globe, and keeping track of global events, and changes to weapons and armour with the numerous patches.

The era of social gaming put me in touch with hundreds and thousands of people like me. An entire community focused on a million things that may not even make sense to a non-gamer.

I sunk in a lot of hours to achieve proficiency in the games and getting entertained. I devoured content on YouTube, followed the masters, and also tried to help others on some forums. I was not even sure I was thinking anything beyond important stuff like building super characters, increasing my efficiency, and to latch on to a system to find a purpose.

Looking back I am still surprised how I found time for the games since it was quite common for me to stay back in the office pretty late, have late night meetings, and spend weekends at work. My alternate life in gaming just seemed far too exciting as compared to work. It was not the game – it was I who was crazy.

 

The Realisation

300 hours in ‘The Division’ and still going strong – there is and always will be something new to encounter in the game. I began to see where it began and what it was leading to.

Gaming can encroach a few minutes or hours at a time, and quickly stack up to days and weeks. All the free time that you could spend with your family, working out, program the world, or simply meditate, will get sucked up.

The Division will just a conduit. There will be new stuff, and there will also be other games – The Division II, Tomb Raider, and tens of other excellent games.

I never considered myself “addicted” (if such a thing exists). There were weeks and months that I did not play even for a single day. But once I start, it took a long time to end. The quest to find “exciting things to do” was never really over completely in the gaming world.

All I had to do was to start the game, and I was naturally transported to the White Zone, Dark Zone and everything in between. There are no prizes to guess what my monkey mind would do given an option between that and alternatives in real life.

Realization slowly dawned on me. I certainly got entertained, wondered at all the technological wizardry and loved the alternate life gaming offered. What I I did not have was any semblance of an impact on my life in the real world (todo for later: define reality).

The 2000 hours in the past 5-7 years could have been spent to-

  • learn WordPress in and out, develop themes and start a new consulting business
  • learn and follow through Go-lang as it developed
  • follow through on my technology love in Salesforce
  • learn the many Javascript frameworks as they got ‘invented’ and contribute to their development

I had a choice- I could continue with gaming and reset my defined path. That should be doing something more than just playing 2-12 hours a week by myself. Or, reset life to the path defined earlier.

 

The Change

I was ok, but not a terrific gamer. I could certainly work towards making stuff work, but I was not quite attracted to a life revolving around gaming as a career option. It took me two weeks to realise that my current path was not aligned to set objectives for my life.

I wanted life to have more of:

  • code & develop stuff of wonders
  • travel the world
  • go deep on achieving bliss

It was easier to do the above if I spent less time on gaming. But “spending less time” was a virtual impossibility because of the nature of gaming.  The change was surprisingly easy once the realization happened.

I reset my life. I went cold turkey on games.

I also promised myself that I will delete all accounts, burn the hard disk, and bury the ashes in Indian Ocean if I ever opened Steam, Origin, or visited any of the game deal sites (Goodbye, Isthereanydeal– thanks for all the fish).

Impact

Am I a far better person because of my decision to quit games?
Yes. (in my perception of reality)

That realization in itself is worth the effort. Everyone has their “idea” about themselves, and I am all for the idea to adapt and change. However, at any time, you should also have a sense of clear purpose. My sense of purpose in the world outside of games made more sense to me.

 

The Takeaway

I have the following tasks for you that could help you decide either to go deeper in whichever areas you choose.

  • Write down on a blackboard about how you see yourself in five years.
    Be a doctor, data scientist, hunter, painter, gamer? Enjoy doing sculpting, watching grass grow, develop content & games that people love?
    Place the blackboard in a visible spot. We don’t want to bury this in an app and uninstall the app.
  • Write down three tasks that you would do today, and this week to get to your goals
  • Measure time that you spend on activities in the week, and keep that going for 3 more weeks
  • Every weekend, get together your family or trusted friends. Discuss the ideas on the blackboard, what you accomplished in the week, and how you spent time in the week.
    No guilt or negative discussions allowed – it has to be an objective discussion about past and a passionate discussion on the future

Now, either reset your purpose (OR) your way of living. As simple as that.

 

.. takeaway for gamers.

There is nothing wrong in gaming. In fact, you are in the best century in the history of mankind for any sort of entertainment.

eSports is big and will be bigger. Even if you are not **that** good, you will make a lot of money by simply staying humble, thoroughly likeable, and having entertaining conversations in your streams and videos (I am looking at you, Radbrad :), or developing guides, testing games, and writing reviews.

Remember that I said, “my game theory works”. I didn’t say it worked for everyone. If you are someone like Marco, Shroud, or Doc, you should be playing more games not reading this stupid post.

 

.. for others.

Understand that it was simply not enough to stop doing what you did. Find good substitutes to fill the time. It is quite easy to gravitate towards other areas that can equally engage the monkey mind. For e.g. finding better music on SoundCloud, read all Kindle books that any author releases for free, or go through all free courses released on Udemy. (yep, I was there)

Find a better day planner that includes objectives rather than just tasks (e.g. ‘DO THIS, MORON’). In about two months, I noted down three high-level life goals, did a significant career change. And, had my Asana setup for the distinct, daily activities.

Finally, while I would love to say that I don’t regret the past altogether, things could have been better. What I would never stop talking about is where I want to be. That is the most important take away from this rant.

All it takes is some discipline in the first few weeks and constant reassessment – you are set on the path to greatness.

Oppression and Conflict

I chanced upon an older Israeli – Palestinian conflict documentary focused on one of the incidents in 2014. It was more than interesting for me to watch the different side of the conflict and how humans see and react to the situation. (btw Vice is not the absolute neutral observer, but you must watch their splendid reporting and compare notes with other sources). This post is not to argue the different sides of the conflict, but a few half baked thoughts about why we act in a certain way, and how situations develop on the basis of our reaction.

 

Have a look here..

 

Oppression in any form is a crime. I am talking about all living (& probably, non living ) things – not humans alone. I’m no sage and have no insights to offer, but the observations distilled from others’ experiences and teachings have changed the way I think , or simply “observe”.

  • Although people from the weaker side talk about oppression in general, is there really such a thing?
    The mind perceives the oppression meted out in various ways – may it be the preferential queues in super markets, restricted access to certain areas (for e.g. the old Jerusalem in the video). The levels of oppression varies by a large margin, but the participants believe in the stories that we tell each other and stand united to face the oppressor.
    Here is a sample of those stories –

Israel keeps hunting down Palestinians for nothing

Palestinians are violent and cause trouble

We have to get the other side and the world to believe in our stories and point of view, because that is what matters

  • Even in a comparative stable region like Acre in North Israel, the Arabs express anguish that they are discriminated and express solidarity with the people who receive the short end of the stick in Gaza and elsewhere.

Though the young men and women are going to be as alien to a Saudi Arabia as Martians, they believe the stories that being Arabs make them stand out, less safe and subject to discrimination. The young lady in the video will not be given access to roam around streets in Saudi Arabia, let alone speak to unknown men on camera

Israelis are wary of always being on guard and feel that all Palestinians, regardless of their current affiliation and views, are stone throwers (who will easily pick up rockets if given access to) and trouble makers

  • There is a lot of hate around. Though the physical aspects of living are really important (for e.g. if I don’t have internet in a peaceful society, will I make these arm chair observations on how the world is/should be), do humans ever get to transcend their current state?

Can we en masse step back, and observe of what things are?

Do we stop seeing life as a series of reactions to reactions, leading to an infinite loop?

Do we step back and questioning fundamentals of why we do what we do? Why is there a nation state that draws virtual boundaries? Why does one set of homo sapiens feel the need to impress their ideas and thoughts on others?

 

If everyone converts to one religion, have physical transformation to be of the same color and other physical attributes, and agree to be under the same state, do we see humans suddenly move to the next level?

As things stand today, I can guarantee that there are always sides to be picked and fights to be fought. This is hard-wired physical survival at work, which is interested in furthering one’s own genes, no matter how common the neighbor’s genes are to said individual.

We continue to live by spreading these stories, feeling better or oppressed, and fighting to live and to die –  until better sense prevails.

Sky is not the limit

Life is difficult.

Well, that’s how we perceive a lot of what we see around us.

Now, consider an endeavor where –

  • high investments and high risks are involved
  • you reach the pinnacle of technology and human achievement (in the physical world). This is hard to attain, considered advanced weaponry and may lead to whole nations dominating others
  • tight controls are put in place by the most powerful governments

Would you get out there to solve the problem?

Would you dare to dream of how you could change the world?

One man did.

Elon_Musk_2015
source: wikipedia

Consider the achievements of SpaceX

  • Established in 2002
  • First rocket took off in 2006. That is in 4 years since establishing the company.
    Of course, SpaceX did not invent something new but piggy backed on existing technology, and experts, but that is a remarkable achievement.
    Of course, this is not a fairy tale. The first rocket failed, and so did the second. The rocket made it to space only in 2008 after a few more failures.
  • First rocket to geostationary orbit in 2013

That is a good $100 million cheaper as compared to their competition in the US. It is considered to be superior than even the next stages of Arian rockets planned for 2018 and 2021.

I am not here to sing paeans how Elon Musk is turning into a God for the entrepreneurial crowd. I am just talking about how human will can move stuff to space.

Do not accept the status quo.
There are always powerful players in any field. You could just accept for what they are and go about life, OR start thinking about how you could cause some disruption. There are always efficiencies to be had, difference to be made, and universes to be changed.
Rocket technology did not change much since the 60s, and SpaceX saw tremendous opportunities there.

No challenge is outside limits.
You are the only reason the limits exist. Once you start seeing a challenge for what it is and align your passion to conquering it, skies don’t bind you.
Never get bogged down by failures.
It is easy to fail. Failures do not mean dead-ends, but de-tours. Keep moving forward.
It was quite easy for SpaceX not to be started at all since failures in space are always ridiculously expensive. The first several attempts of Falcon 1 failures can be devastating – not for the will of humans involved, but the expenses of maintaining people, facilities and other resources.

Get inspired from the bigger picture.
SpaceX (and Musk) will not stop with successful re-entry of launch vehicles and the cheaper launches. They are already successful, are at cutting edge, and they have enough to  bask in glory and the money for quite sometime.
SpaceX is targeting Mars.
640px-Mars-manned-mission-NASA-V5
source: wikimedia
They want to to move people and establish colonies on Mars. Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are just means towards that end.

“I’d like to die on Mars, just not on impact.”
– Elon Musk

All of this is not to inspire you to stop driving your taxi and jump to space ship design. Identify that one small thing that will cause a difference in your own life and invest one hour in furthering yourself for the the next month. The trip to Andromeda galaxy begins with that first hour.

I will amuse you with a sob story..

When my friend** James Altucher writes an article, the emotional connection to the audience (or anchor as he puts it) tends to mention about how he was a failure, and how he put those days behind him.

courtesy: https://twitter.com/jaltucher

I know he has much more valuable that he has to say, and he does indeed. But I get fixated by the background story. As I read his inspirations, fears, joyous moments and advise, I have the anchor in mind. And, in my heart.

So will you.

I don’t read Altucher’s books and blog for his wonderful command over language, his success stories, and his advice. I am sure I could have led a more happy, prosperous and enjoyable (if that is possible!) life if I did listen, but it just wasn’t to be.

I read Altucher because I find myself in him. I also find myself in the people around him – the ones he loves, hates and ignores.

So, will you.

Altucher paints gory details of his failures. I often found myself pinching myself to ensure that I am not in financial distress, caught myself guffawing on his escapades, biting my nails over what looked like embarrassments, and said to myself at least a thousand times that “I would never do that if I was there”.

And again, so will you.

It is not only the sob story that sells. But, it is the honesty, the courage to put it out for the audience, and then comes the cake, ice-cream.

You went in for a casual lunch, but the damn thing proved to be cocaine-ridden shit. The whole package is so enticing that you can’t stop it once you experience it. You just swim gladly within the grief and happiness.

It is only human.

It so happens that I want to establish the same connection with my audience. But, I am held back by my happiness and contented life.

“Boo”, you say. And, you are right.

I have wonderful family and friends, quite strong relationships, not bad with my health, have “somewhat ok” finances, and am generally happy. So, how the heck am I to interest anyone, let alone inspire them. If I don’t have a sad story, I can’t quite write about how I came out of it donning a cape.

I can’t be your hero.

So, for my own benefit here are the things that I should indeed be doing to take you on the roller-coaster ride :

I should speak more about how risk-averse I am.
I favour stability at each stage. Got good marks in high school? – choose an engineering degree. Got good in programming? – hop on to the nearest IT service provider who is equally clueless as you.

Celebrate my fears with whoever is willing to listen.
Be scared of the impending civilization fallout from automation / AI/robots, nuclear war, or the zombie apocalypse. Scare the heck out of people with the stories, hard-to-contradict facts (choose your audience right, I always say), and connect with people on the countdown to doomsday.
Just read today’s news if you run out of ideas.

Talk about how hard it is to put my lazy ass to work.
I try almost every productivity trick known to man, and our nearest neighbour – the chimp (or some may say pigs). I cannot find myself running at peak productivity – ever. I have managed to stay away from my core love of programming for months, did not blog for years, and found joy in skimming in calm waters.

Think about how much I have missed all the good parts in life already.
Build complex what-if scenarios that could have made my life much better.

Share stuff on missed opportunities since I could not hold on to the right mindset for long.
I can’t eat right for 5 days straight. I cannot stay away from Steam for 15 days straight. I have tried all, and have been conquered by all.

 

While I get the sob part of the story right, there is a big problem. I am yet to successfully navigate my way through those problems. I often wonder the point in such an adventure.

Instead, could I interest you in just some boring details of how I travel 45 km / 2.5 hours a day every day for the past 5 years in God-forsaken traffic? That should qualify as good a sob-story as any.

I have exhausted the post, and my audience at this point — so there is no point in writing any further. The actual story has to wait for another day.

 

** a secret kept from Mr Altucher himself. It is a largely unidirectional friendship.

Do this One Task to Get Stuff Done Now

All my life I have waited for the next day to become get things done and to be more productive.

  • I will avoid browsing YouTube from tomorrow
  • I am not going to play games from next weekend (this I actually implemented, yay!)
  • I will save time by learning typing from tomorrow
  • and, so on..

The problem, as you may have guessed it, was the “tomorrow” never came.

We have a saying in Hindi that roughly translates to –

Do tomorrow’s work today. Do today’s work now.

This sounds so easy and obvious, but isn’t. I successfully managed to push things to the morrow that never existed.

The underlying problem is the human mind.

The mind is interested in what is being experienced **now ** more than what comes later. It doesn’t care about the future, not the next moment, and not the catastrophe you will unleash by watching the Wonder Woman make overshadow both Batman and Superman in one go.

So, this one day I applied the many ideas that brilliant people before me have kindly provided. I stopped waiting for the next day. I simply started doing stuff in the **now** (yes, the ‘now’ has really beautiful stars adjacent to it).

Take this blog for example. I could bury my head all day into productivity, technology and related topics, but not write a word about it. I did this over weeks and always woke up feeling lousy the subsequent day because of the wasted opportunities.

There are also a few “smaller” things that you continue to do but are dangerous in the larger realm of things. These things have the ability to give you the sense of satisfaction for accomplishing nothing – checking Facebook updates, double checking that you have read all latest blog posts in your feedly list, and act of making sure your Inbox is clean every five minutes.

I am not saying all things you do (especially the part where you eat food and play games) are not important.

game and eat.gif

You have to just prioritize the tasks on the table and refocus.

When I decided to change, I started pounding down my thoughts without a care for the world. I just open the editor and started writing now. (so, good luck reading this post)

The act of “doing things now” is not alien, but there is a part of you that is always persuaded to do the task later. This guy wants you to while away time now – eat fried foods, binge watch your favourite shows on NetFlix, play a game for 12 hours straight, and other such glorious things.

What you do to trigger the “love for the productive now” is pretty simple – you pick up the minute of the minutest stuff that needs to get done.

This may refer to –

  • read the first paragraph of the book that you always wanted to read to get to your next million
  • write the first paragraph of your next blog post
  • commit the first few lines of your latest program

Once you are through the first step, magic takes over.

You will just not stop at the first paragraph or the first few lines. You know in your veins that what you are doing is what you enjoy now, today and later in your life. All you have to do is continue translating that thought into action.

What do you think? Will starting with the minute tasks work to get on the plane of productivity nirvana?