How Video Games Teach Us How To Succeed

video games teach success

Video games often get a bad rap for being a waste of time, contributing to antisocial behavior, or even inspiring terrible violence. Often overlooked is their potential as an unrivaled source of learning and an untapped mechanism for teaching life principles.

In fact, I believe that many people who enjoy video games are routinely practicing desirable traits that can lead to real world success, if they are correctly applied. The one trait that is the most notable as it relates to success in all areas of life is the idea of persistence.

Video games are an amazing source for teaching persistence. Think about a difficult video game that you have beaten. You had to face overwhelming odds, often times acting as an individual or part of a small team to save the world, or even the universe.

You were only successful because you did not give up.

Those of us who are in the late twenties up through the forties have experienced some of the most challenging digital tests of persistence known to man. High difficulty, limited resources, and rules that could erase hours’ worth of effort are familiar aspects of video games for those of us who grew up with Pac Man, Tetris, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, and Battletoads.

An iron will, practice, and persistence were required to ever see the ending screen of many games from the 80’s and 90’s.

And this persistence places us in good company.

History Remembers Persistence

Consider for a moment the universal trait of world changing men like: Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Albert Einstein.

All shared this virtue in common: persistence. While I appreciate that beating Double Dragon is nothing that would warrant the honor of a national monument, I do wish to explore the opportunity of potential for real world success, based on a concept developed through playing video games.

The element of persistence is vital in the many roles that we all face. When I consider my success in the various roles and responsibilities of life, persistence was at the heart of every win.

Here are a few examples from my own experience.

As a Husband

If it was not for my persistence, I never would have ended up with my wife. In fact, our very first date only happened when I took the initiative to put myself out there. Knowing I was way out of my league, I had to make it difficult for my future wife to say “no.”

At the time, I had no idea where she lived, other than knowing the general area. I got in my car and started driving, and then called her on the phone. She told me that she was going out that night with some friends and family, but that they were getting ready to leave soon. I asked if I could join them, since I was already in the area (never mind that I had driven 40 minutes to be “in the area”).

Six months later we were married.

She later told me that she loves that I was persistent this way. Twelve years later now, a different kind of persistence is required to remind her how much she is loved, even with crazy schedules, work, and a toddler who seems to never sleep.

As a Father

I see this as an incredibly important lesson to pass on to my son. As he is learning many things I take for granted, patience and persistence is absolutely necessary.

I have to model for him how important it is not to give up when things are difficult, but to keep trying and sometimes take a new approach when one method is not working. It has been so rewarding to watch him do more and more for himself as he is developing a trait that I know will be key to his success in life.

As an Employee

In any season of your work life, persistence pays off.

Looking for a job? Be persistent in your search, and pursuit of the job you want.

Looking for a promotion?  You have to be worth more before you can earn more, so persistently seek out opportunities to provide value and make a difference.

Are you content with where you are in your career? Chances are you only got there through persistence, and you will not stay there long if you do not persist in the behaviors that put you there in the first place.

It took me three different tries of re-writing my own job description and building a case before I received a promotion in one job that I worked. Looking back, persisting in asking myself the question “what can I do differently to make this happen?” was vital to achieving the outcome I desired.

It’s true that when you want something badly enough, you will persist until you make it reality. The challenge is to examine what it is you really want, so that when you meet resistance you are able to persist.

As an Entrepreneur

Here’s a bold claim: no entrepreneur can be successful without persistence. Starting anything new is scary and risky. The temptation to give up or give in can be overwhelming.

In the very beginning excitement levels run high, and early results of your effort are motivating. The most difficult time for an entrepreneur is during what Michael Hyatt refers to as the “Messy Middle.”

Many video games can provide inspiration for how to overcome this area with proper pacing and creative milestones.

Video games area really good at celebrating the steps along the way, even in ways that are as simple as the positive encouragement like the words: “you win!,” special animations, music, story cutscenes, or unlocking new items, weapons, tools, or equipment in pursuit of your goal.

All these features give a sense of payoff for your hard work.

As an entrepreneur, you need to build these same concepts into your work. Be intentional with your goals and milestones, and remember to celebrate. Nothing motivates like a sense of winning early on in a project or new venture.

As CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs once said “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

Consider an element that started out in role playing games but has spread to just about every genre of video game: leveling up.

Defeating enemies or completing challenges provide “experience points” that move the player towards the next “level” for their in-game character. Many games scale the experience needed to level up based on your current levels or the amount of progress you have completed so far.

In other words, moving from level 1 to level 2 takes very little time when compared to moving from level 50 to level 51.

Too often in the business world we set our goal to achieve level 51, only to forget about the celebration in recognition of achieving levels 1 through 50.

Failing to set milestones along the way can kill the motivation needed to persist.

Why Video Games Help to Build Persistence

Another key factor in persistence that video games can teach us is the required element of hope. Part of what keeps us motivated in playing video games, is the hope or expectation that what we are trying to do actually can be accomplished.

If a video game had no ending, or measurable success was impossible, most individuals would lose interest very quickly. That is why points, items, trophies, achievements, and unlockable bonuses in video games are so important.

They give us hope that our persistence will pay off. The outcomes and pay offs in life are not always as apparent. Sometimes, the rewards of persistence are found in the absence of certain consequences.

Next time you face a challenge as a husband, father, employee or entrepreneur, remember that if you were playing a video game, the obstacle would never keep you from winning. Vince Lombardi said it well:

“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” – Vince Lombardi

Years later, Lightning from Final Fantasy XII said

“It’s not a question of can or can’t…in life there are some things you just do.” – Lightning

Our roles in life are far more important than our roles in video games, but if we examine and apply the lessons that make us successful in video games, real world success will soon follow.

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