The Video Game Method

by Jon Dobbin 2 years ago in goals

Behaviour Change for Slackers

The Video Game Method

In my article Best Books of 2017 (According to Me), I mentioned that I had a New Year’s resolution from a few years ago to read more books. I also mentioned that it was a challenge. I couldn’t find motivation in the traditional sense. So, I had to take a step back and figure out what the problem was. I enjoyed reading books, enjoyed the process of reading books, but found I did not enjoy picking up a new book once the first was done. In fact, I found that I would much rather spend my free time playing video games or watching movies. Mindless fun, flashing lights, bright colors and loud noises took over. There were achievements to unlock, online games to play, underage children to argue with over the interweb. How could a boring ole book contend with that? But that got me thinking: How do I overcome that? Well, instead of rejecting the tawdry appeal of the video game, why not embrace it?

We all suffer through this New Year, New Me rubbish. Whether we attempt it ourselves or we have to listen to others yammer on about it; we all suffer. Often, the changes being made are just small changes to our everyday lives, but sometimes it’s a lot bigger than that. Whether it’s an attempt to quit smoking, start exercising, lay off coffee (NEVER), or read more books, all these things require a change in habits, opinions, beliefs. That’s Second Order Change (SOC) bub, or a change that alters the system – your system, my system. Now, if you read up on SOC, you’ll find a bunch of wordy, scholarly articles that are based in psychology or some such, and feel free to do so. Seriously, I’ll wait. But, if you’re like me, sciencey stuff just doesn’t stick in your brain. That’s what made me create the Video Game Method of Second Order Change.

Now, when I say create, I actually mean that I adapted it. Or bastardized it. Whatever, it doesn’t matter, take your pick. Really, I just recognized that I thrived on the instant gratification of earning trophies and achievements (and maybe the little sounds effects that come along with them). It seemed to me that they were signposts, markers that guided my path to completing the game. That little ding, the little pop up bubble, released those endorphins and made it easier to slog through the remainder of the game, or at least until the next save point. So how did I apply that to books?

Second Order Change is often composed of several factors that help influence said change. All I needed to do was modify (bastardize) them to fit my needs. Here’s how that looked:

Grew up in the 80s with video games and TV shows that you couldn’t binge (Personal Strengths, experiences, beliefs - 40 percent).

Heck yeah...

The Video Game Method is not for everyone. Some people find enjoyment the good old fashioned way, y’know, by just doing/writing/reading/exercising something. Others have a much more complex method of meeting goals or making a change. That being said, I think that if you have a similar background to me, you might want to give this a try. So, here are some things you should consider when weighing if this is the right method for you or not:

Were you a child of the 80s?

Yes, this matters. The new (and unfortunate) term for it is being a ‘Xennial.’ Basically that means you were born in the late 70s or early 80s and you had to adjust to the budding technology, instead of being immersed in it.

Why is this important? Well, because such widespread technologies as video games were new, and the limit placed on them wasn’t as strict as they are now (after the decades of research that have come since). There was no “one hour screen” time in my day, we were able to play video games and watch TV all we wanted as long as we kept our mouths shut about it. On the other hand, we didn’t really need to limit it, we did that ourselves.

Speaking of TV, did you watch serial TV shows/ cartoons?

You know, like Transformers, He-Man,G.I. Joe, Thundercats, Family Matters, that sort of thing. TV shows you had to wait a week before you saw the next installment. In other words, no binging. Oh, and commercials. Commercials were an art form, not like the annoying five second ads you have to plod through on Youtube videos. Commercials really meant something (to emptying your parent’s pockets).

Are you good at video games?

This one doesn’t really matter a whole lot really. Though, if you were good at video games, it's more likely you passed a level or reached an achievement, thus understanding the sweet, sweet nectar and sense of accomplishment that they actually meet.

Do you believe you can do it?

Arguably the most important question to consider. Do you believe that you can quit smoking? Do you believe you can start exercising? Do you believe you can read more books? If you believe you can do something that will make it even more likely to happen.

There you go. Did you answer yes to any or all of those questions? If so, you’re off to a good start. Forty percent of your success in your new goal is going to come from this section. It’s really about strengths and beliefs. Once we have this section sorted, time to explore what’s next.

Do you have a significant other? Do they like you? Do you like them? (Relationship with helper - 30 percent)

Screw you Linda

Okay, you’ve set your goal, you’ve decided you can do it, so what’s next. Well, as with any sort of Second Order Change, there is going to be a change in habits, maybe even lifestyle. If you’re like me and work all day with a wife and kids at home, then you have a hard time making any sort of small change in your life. A small change on my side may create big changes in the family’s routine.

What does this mean? Well, it means that you might need some help. In my case, my wife has been very supportive of my goals and has taken on some extra work around the house at times to help me meet them. So, as you can see, it’s important that if you are going to have a helper they actually like you (and vice versa).

A helper could also be someone who will support you in other ways. Mentoring is a great support, and it offers you someone who can share strategies, successes, even failures or where and what to avoid. When trying to increase my reading I didn’t really have anyone that could act as a mentor (reading is an inherently solo activity). If you are able to engage with a mentor, go for it! I’m sure it will a great help all around.

Another 30 percent of your success guaranteed. Plus, you figured out who likes you, like, really likes you. Do you like them?

Do you want to do this? (Child and helper expectations and hopefulness - 15 percent)

A carrot Gerald? Why not a pizza, or money or something? Fuckin' carrot.

You’ve decided that you can do this, but do you want to do this? That’s the next big question you need to ask yourself when creating a new habit, building new skills, or changing old habits.

I was one of those suckers who went to the gym after New Year’s spouting the New year, New me mantra as I walked through its doors. I even managed to stay at it, three days a week, for a few months. Ultimately, I failed. It wasn’t because it had no effect, quite the opposite. I felt good. But, I didn’t like the gym. I didn’t like forcing myself to work out after a long day at work or leaving my family on a weekend. I wanted to feel better, I knew I could work out, but I didn’t want to. I soon stopped going to the gym. Not my proudest moment.

Reading was different though. I wanted to read more, I knew I could read more, and I felt good reading. It stuck. Sure, I’ve had moments where I’ve slacked off (I find the Christmas season and New Year kind of does that), but I’m always able to reach my goals, always able to get back up and start again.

That may have something to do with what I used to help me manage.

Bleep bloop, I too have an achievable (Technique for change - 15 percent).

Go watch Red Vs. Blue. Just... go.

Achievements, trophies, a new level, XP. They all drive a video game and make people want to play more. Truth be told, I’m sure there are a lot of programs out there that might help you meet your reading goals, but I personally enjoy Goodreads.

Goodreads does two things that keep me motivated. One, it allows me to track progress of the book I am reading. As I read the book I just update the mobile app with the last page I read and it will calculate the percentage I have completed in the book. A visual like that always helps me remain on task, and motivates me to keep going. Two, it lets you set a yearly goal and then tracks progress around it. About three years ago, I started at what I thought was a reasonable number of around 20 books in a year. I have since moved up to 30 for 2017 and now 35 for 2018.

Just like the achievements and trophies of video games (those things that bing in the centre or corner of your screen when you meet their prerequisites), the progress you see in the Goodreads app really oils my gears. It keeps me going. I found the same success and motivation when I completed the 2017 NaNoWriMo. The NaNoWriMowebsite has a great visual graph that helps you keep on track, and tells you how close you are to your daily and monthly goals. Visuals, who knew how motivating that could be?

There, if you add it all up, that's 100 percent of what you need to engage in real Second Order Change. Perhaps you’ll find this useful. Perhaps this kind of visual incentive I have labelled the Video Game Method is right up your alley. Maybe it’s not, but the stages and percentages stand. They do work. If you want to adapt what I’ve talked about here, feel free to do so. Make it your own, meet your goals, make a change.


I can credit Martha and Jack Holden and the rest of the Residential Child Care Project (RCCP) out of Cornell for my very basic understanding of Second Order Change. Their Children And Residential Experiences (CARE): Creating Conditions for Change is exceptional and can do a lot more than teach an aging Xennial about Second Order Change. Please look it up.

Jon Dobbin
Jon Dobbin
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Jon Dobbin
the father of three, the husband to an amazing wife, an educator, and a tattoo and beard enthusiast.
See all posts by Jon Dobbin