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Leveling Up in Real Life
How Video Games Teach Us to Grow
Over the past few weeks, I have been watching the “League of Legends” Mid-Season Invitational. I have heard of “League of Legends.” Still, I have yet to play it beyond the tutorial and have never seen an eSports competition. So, I am coming into watching this tournament as a newbie. As I settled in, I started listening to the commentators. I sat there, dumbfounded. It was like hearing a whole new language. What I saw captivated me. Watching these two teams battle it out for the board's control was an expert gameplay exercise. I could barely keep up with what was happening but was transfixed. These people are incredible.
After watching this tournament, there was one thought I couldn't get out of my head: how much time, practice, and talent does it take to become a world champion in a video game?
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These players must spend hours playing characters and getting to know them, learning other characters' strengths and weaknesses, and discovering strategies to take advantage of the game board with its mini-bosses which can provide buffs to your team upon defeat. While thinking about this, my respect for these players deepened because of their expertise.
Jedi Survivor and Shift+
Lately, I've been playing a lot of “Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.” I'm enjoying the game. I'm not going to delve into a full game review, but there is one aspect that I do want to focus on that has brought me joy: Cal doesn't have amnesia.
In some video game series, the main character tends to have amnesia in later titles. The character must "relearn" everything from the previous game in the introduction. But in “Jedi Survivor,” Cal and BD-1 have most of the powers and abilities they learned from the previous game, “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.” However, in “Jedi: Survivor,” the emphasis is more on Cal taking all the skills he learned in the last game and mastering those skills. For example, Cal had two lightsaber stances in “Fallen Order:” single-blade and double-blade. In “Survivor,” he has five - the previous plus three new additions: dual wielding, blaster/lightsaber stance (think if they gave Han Solo a lightsaber), and crossguard (bring in shades of Kylo Ren).
In another example of Cal’s evolution, his force powers are growing stronger.
Cal can force push and pull at the beginning of the game, but these powers are weak. As the game proceeds, Cal can expand and refine his force powers, gaining the ability to use the Jedi mind trick among others. He can now redirect larger blast bolts back to Stormtroopers (a significant struggle in the previous game). Using these different stances and expanded force powers has been an absolute joy.
Lastly, “Jedi: Survivor” takes Cal through a journey of growth and shifting.
In the previous game and at the start of “Survivor,” Cal's motivations were simply about fighting the Empire, hoping other people would respond by seeing the Empire as capable of being defeated. As you progress through the game, Cal faces another motivation: can he stop being a resistance fighter and find a safe home from the Empire to live a quiet life? I don't want to spoil anything, but Cal's motivations shift to something he could only dream about. Now that dream has the potential to become a reality.
Watching the “League of Legends” tournament and seeing the emphasis on growth and leveling up Cal in “Jedi: Survivor” got me thinking about my personal growth.
What Do You Want to Be When You Group Up?
I have spent the last few weeks thinking about growth and leveling up. I quickly realized something: people are obsessed with growth. Once you start thinking about it, you will notice it shows up everywhere (like when you buy a new car and start seeing it everywhere as you drive around).
Walk into a bookstore and you will find many books on every type of growth imaginable. In the early 1990s, the book series "...For Dummies" was created as a way for the everyday person to learn and grow their computer skills as the personal computer became prolific in U.S. households (I'm also fairly certain I aged fifty years writing that sentence). Over the years, the "...For Dummies" series has expanded into almost every topic imaginable as a way for people to learn a new skill in an entry-level and accessible way.
Google and YouTube have also given people access to incredible information when it comes to learning new skills or improving upon existing skills. One viral YouTube page called "Dad, How Do I?" exemplifies this well. In several interviews, Rob Kenney shares his story about his father leaving whenever Rob was a teenager. Rob and his seven siblings longed to have someone teach them basic life skills. Over time, Rob learned those skills by leaning on the people around him. He then noticed that many young people were asking similar questions that he asked as a teen, which led him to create his YouTube channel, which currently has 4.5 million subscribers.
If you want to find the best example of how culture is obsessed with growth, look no further than kids. When a baby is born, the first act of the nursing staff is to measure and weigh the baby to check its stats, known as the Apgar Score. It is a quick method for doctors to evaluate the newborn's health just moments after delivery. Every doctor's visit, from newborn to teenager, the doctor's office records their height and weight to ensure the child grows appropriately. Suppose there happens to be an irregularity, such as the baby not gaining weight quickly enough. In that case, the doctor will work with the parents to develop strategies to help the baby gain weight.
Then as a child grows, they begin to go to school. The American education system is built entirely on the concept of growth. Each school year builds upon the idea that children will grow and expand upon what they learned the previous year. From preschool to high school, the goal is to increase the student’s knowledge and skills, with the final goal of graduating high school with enough knowledge and skills to become a productive member of society. Whether that person will go off to college to continue their education, go to a trade school to learn a critical job skill, or immediately enter the workforce is now up to them. Culture has officially deemed them "adults."
From Milk to Meat
Growth is also a biblical concept. The idea of spiritual growth is a part of who we are:
The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom, primarily aimed at learning about growing and navigating life by providing contrasts between a person who is "wise" or "unwise."
Paul encourages Timothy not just to grow physically but spiritually as well because "godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." (1 Timothy 4.8)
The writer of Hebrews admonishes Jewish Christians for not growing in their understanding. The writer says, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5.12-14)
Look at Jesus' model of growth for the disciples. He took a group of everyday people from various backgrounds and spoke with them, taught them, shared experiences with them, and showed them numerous miracles to help them grow and learn to become the followers who would spread the Good News.
Break Out the Scale
Returning to the question that started this journey; I don't believe I have a skill I am an expert in. On the one hand, that revelation feels like a gut punch. On the other hand, I'm encouraged because this means I have the opportunity to level up and grow some skills.
I struggle mightily with feeling inadequate about the level of my skills as a worker, as a husband, as a father, as a follower of God, as a runner, and as someone who is writing their first article in a very long time.
I look at people around me and am in awe of what they can do. When I was a teacher, my students, who were artists, always blew me away. I was so impressed by what they could do. My wife is fantastic at budgeting our family's money. My dad knows so much about cars that he could build an engine blindfolded. My brother is an architect. My stepdad has an incredible ability to fix almost any house repair. A friend at church is an absolute wizard when it comes to grilling and smoking meat. Honestly, it is tough to be surrounded by incredible people and not feel inadequate.
Now I am faced with the tough question: what do I do about it?
Growing or leveling up a skill can be challenging. In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states that it takes 10,000 hours of concentrated practice to become a master at something. I don't know about you, but 10,000 hours sounds incredibly daunting. However, a colleague shared an idea with me many years ago that I would like to bring back. It's a straightforward concept that can have a significant impact.
It works like this: think about yourself as an RPG character. Then give yourself attribution points by working on a particular skill (as you can see, this is very Skyrim-esque). Here’s how:
Step 1: Pick a skill you want to level up.
Step 2: Make a sliding scale of 1-10. The left side is Level 1, the middle is Level 5, and the right side is Level 10. Using the skill you have chosen, ponder what Levels 1, 5, and 10 look like, with 1 being the beginner skill, 5 being the average skill, and 10 being the definitive version of this skill.
Step 3: Rate your skill. If you are still deciding, ask friends and family to rate you and take the average.
Step 4: People ask, "What must I do to get a Level 10?" We immediately want to jump to the ideal. However, the better question is not how to get to Level 10 but how do I get to the next level. For example, if you rate yourself as Level 4, what must you do to get to Level 5? Then write out goals that you believe will move you to the next level and a strategy for accomplishing those goals.
Step 5: Give yourself a visual reminder to show yourself you are growing and put it somewhere you'll see it daily. I'm a big fan of using something tangible to track things.
Let me give you an example: Weightlifting is a skill I would like to level up. I've put on a lot of weight and want to be more consistent with working out. I bought a set of dumbbells on sale and a weight bench to use at home (my kids want to learn to use weights, so there is a dual purpose in this).
Step 1: I want to get stronger by lifting weights.
Step 2: My scale:
- Level 1 = never entered a gym before
- Level 5 = consistently lifts 3x a week
- Level 10 = Rich Froning (he was dubbed the fittest man in history after winning multiple back-to-back CrossFit games)
Step 3: I see myself as a Level 3 because it has been a long time since I have lifted weights.
Step 4: What must I do to go from Level 3 to Level 4? My Level 5 gives me a clue: if the average is lifting 3x a week, then moving to Level 4 means working out 2x a week. I aim to lift weights twice a week for the next 30 days. (I'm a big fan of 30-day increments when setting goals because I can go 30 days then reevaluate: do I decrease, increase, or stay the same for the next 30 days?). I will pick Tuesdays and Thursdays because those are days when I don't have a lot going on.
Step 5: I will use a glass cup with my cheap D&D dice. Every time I work out, I will put a die in the glass. Walking past the cup reminds me to work out, encourages me to keep going, and reminds me how much I'm growing.
I enjoy this method because the scale works for anything.
Other skill ideas for leveling up:
Relationship with God? Spend 10 minutes a day in the Bible
Lockpicking skills? Buy a set of lockpicks and practice on locks in the house.
Cooking skills? Watch cooking tutorials on YouTube and practice making one new dish every two weeks.
Language skills? Sign up for a language learning app, choose a language, and set a goal to use it daily for 30 days.
Husband or wife skills? Commit to going on two monthly dates: a money date and a no-cost date.
Father or mother skills? Take your kid out on one-on-one outings and let them pick what you will do.
Artistic skills? Carry around a sketch pad or notebook for 30 days and draw something daily.
Musical instrument skills? Practice 15 minutes a day.
Writing skills? Become a writer for To-The-Point newsletter.
The possibilities are endless. My question to you is, what skill do you want to level up? Leave a comment below about a skill you want to level up and how we can encourage you. Also, if you haven't read Ryan's article "Perfecting the Art of Adapting," I highly recommend you read these articles together to help encourage you.
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