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Press "START"

by Laura Merchant about a month ago in how to

It's 2021. Are you ready to play?

Anyone from the Nintendo NES or Sega Genesis generation knows the tried-and-true approach to restarting a game without losing your progress or those valuable lives: You either take out the game cartridge (and give it the good ol’ harmonica blow) or you press the “Reset” button. It seemed like such a clever strategy at the time—we could literally cheat death, albeit in bit-form—but I fear that such practices have not prepared me for the Real-Time Strategy (RTS) adventure that is life. There are no hidden treasure chests, no “Pause” buttons, no cheat codes or Game Genies (remember those?)—there’s not even catchy theme music! At best, we have opportunities to level up, but only after gaining a certain amount of XP (Experience Points) after what’s usually several failed attempts.

As both an educator and an old-school gamer, I try to remain abreast of the newest trends within the gaming community. And boy, are there a LOT! Survival Horror, FPS, Open World, Side-scrolling, Platformer, Remastered, Expansion Packs, Combat, Stealth, the list goes on and on. We’ve come a long way from Italian plumbers in green sewer pipes and speedy blue hedgehogs. We’re even dabbling with games in new realities! So many options! So many changes! It is widely debated in my classroom which campaign selection or console reigns supreme. Student enthusiasm makes me nostalgic for those childhood afternoons with my older brothers, who’d let me come into their room and watch them play as long as I didn’t talk.

Regular patches and updates now improve experiences for the players—or at least that’s the goal. New releases have several protocols in place to where today’s gamers can’t do what we did. If you lose all your lives, it’s back to the beginning. If you lose all your currency or weapons, they’re gone for good. If you’re live-streaming, you might only get one opportunity to acquire a certain item, face a special villain, or earn a place on the leaderboard. Because of this, so many have formed unhealthy attachments to their games, neglecting studies, human relationships, and even personal maintenance.

No, I am not one of those people who thinks gaming rots your brains. I’m all about that Rainbow Road and find the Fallout installments (with the exception of the newest one) fascinating. I merely recognize the parallels between the gaming world and our own and wish to apply certain practices to my own hard drive. As I move into 2021—with this new normal still buffering—I’m compelled to consider my own status. I don’t want to be logged in to the point of losing myself, nor do I want to refrain from playing the game all together. So, what is one to do? In the words of my stepfather, “RTFM”, meaning, “Read the frickin’ manual!”

(Only he didn’t say, “frickin’.)

Press “START”

Choosing to play is the first step, but often the most difficult. I’ve battled with anxiety and depression for years and—if I’m honest—sometimes I don’t want to play. Sometimes I just want to stay in my safe bubble where it’s comfortable. I’d rather have a simulation in my place. Go through the motions. Check back in later. Then I ask myself the true purpose of such recreation: Am I playing for others or for myself? No one’s forcing me to play. No one’s asked me to play. I don’t have to like the game, either, but if I’m to obtain any sort of mastery or understanding, I must commit to picking up the controller or putting in the proverbial quarter.

(Ha! Now I’m really showing my age!)

Select Number of Players

Admittedly, I regularly remind myself to form alliances. Solo games are fun, but the more the merrier, am I right? Life was meant to be enjoyed with others, forming bonds, winning and losing together. Though, who you choose to let into your party can make or break your gaming experience. Class archetypes range from Healers and Clerics to Rangers and Rogues. It’s funny; friends are like that, too. Do I always reach out to them or use their particular strength set when needed? No, but I should. And I should be more open to give my assistance. And what about generic NPC’s (Non-Playable Characters)? We’ve all got those kinds of relationships in our lives. What purpose do they serve in spouting the same dialogue or making it to where you have to fetch them when they got themselves into trouble? Idiots. Well, even if they are a nuisance, they’re included in the game’s narrative for a reason. I now consider myself lucky for the chance to play and take whatever wisdom these “strangers”, “aliens”, and even “animals” have to offer. Who am I to judge? Sometimes help comes from the most unexpected of places!

Choose Your Fighter

You know, we’re not only characters within our own stories, but we’re also fighters. Whether it’s a known enemy or an invisible force, we all have battles to fight. Every day we start out with a set of objectives and certain materials at hand in hopes that we’re prepared enough to engage. Occasionally, we are greeted with others who might request our company on a side-quest to which we can either agree or refuse. I don’t always want to fight. No, I think I’d like for my character to be someone who helps others, too. I may not know how to help my fellow man, but I can be present—fully present—and listen. That’s how real victories are won.

Choose Your Weapon

Will it be: Wit? Force? Silence? Love? I hold more in my inner arsenal than I realize—and so do you! Not all weapons are devices meant for destruction, yet they can be used as such. And how often have I found myself needing an item or skill that I couldn’t use because I failed to keep it sharp or wasted it on something…or someone. Knowing how to use your weapon can be more valuable than the weapon itself. How blessed am I to have such choice!

Select Difficulty

In video games, if you select the easiest difficulty, there is a learning curve, but you aren’t challenged and might even miss out on quality content. If you elect to go “Hardcore”, chances are your enemies will wipe the floor with you. Sometimes I make things harder on myself than they need to be. Sometimes I don’t challenge myself enough due to fear or complacency. Sometimes I don’t have the option of knowing who my enemies are, their threat level, or when they might attack. I suppose it’s a mixture of the two. Balance vs Preparation. Fight! We must face struggles in life, and we must be challenged. It is the only way we can grow!

Save Often

Life doesn’t grant us many checkpoints—not that we actively see. In some games, once you’ve saved at a certain checkpoint, you can’t go back to previous locations. It’s only through the second or third playthrough that we find that special item hidden in a remote locker or bonus content after mastering a quick-time event. There’s a lot of truth in the age-old saying, “Stop and smell the roses.” Saving is much more than cataloguing events or progress; it’s about chronicling your journey and enjoying the game a bit before moving forward.

To be Continued?

Modern games don’t have that anxiety-inducing countdown from ten, yet those timers are all around us. Loved ones taken from us too soon. Trips you swore you’d take but never got around to booking. Why do we stop playing? Because we’re frustrated, stuck on a level we can’t beat…or out of quarters. But we have to keep playing! We’ll never be as new or as young as we are at this present moment. After all, we only get one “Game Over”.

Like so many of you, I was disconnected in 2020. So, what is my “fresh start” for 2021? I’m going to play video games. I’m going to play until my thumbs cramp and the controller gets all sweaty. New FIFA and Madden games are released every year. Who’s to say that my game for 2021 won’t be record breaking? As a console, I’m still compatible. I might as well play.

And if I run into any technical issues, well, I can always hit “Reset” or clean out the cartridge with a harmonica blow. Happy Gaming!

how to
Laura Merchant
Laura Merchant
Read next: Pitch Ya Game Round 2
Laura Merchant

Teacher. Performer. INFJ. Disney enthusiast. Texan.

Instagram: @LMerchant84

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