Life: The Original Role-playing Game

A large part of the satisfaction we get from RPG video games is “leveling up”.

It’s literally addictive. And for good reason. Our brains are wired to notice incremental improvements as the result of consistent self-driven effort. Our DNA craves its source.

We can think of this addiction to leveling up as similar to how we crave to eat sugary and fatty tasting foods. Because of this, food companies rake in the cash when they hijack our natural reward systems with artificial and high-fat products – giving us an expedited and overloaded sense of fulfillment.

It is natural, in an evolutionary perspective, that we have a sense of craving for growth and victory. As it is natural for our brain to reward us for the taste of sugary-fatty foods – it gives a signal to our brain that life is getting better – that survival is ensured.

In real-life, we level-up when we contribute to making a better future for ourselves; We make more money, have better relationships, and become healthier.

Ironically, In modern times we might deeply suffer from not leveling up in real-life because we spend too much time leveling up in RPG video games.

When taken to the extremes, video games may even replace any notion of leveling up in real-life and act as an obstacle to our attainment of a great lifestyle.

The constant and expedited drip of dopamine we get from winning in a video game can become an escape from the hard truth of our real-life situations…

The world may crumble around us as we gain experience points in an imaginary world and win the favor of imaginary characters. As what we neglect in real-life rots away, this gives us even more to run away from and takes us on a downward spiral.

Fortunately, to avoid this path of becoming more and more dependent on escaping to virtual realities, we simply need only to apply the same principles of leveling up that we find in video games to real-life.

In fact, it is a good idea to structure our life’s journey as if it were a RPG video game. In doing so we use what video game designers have figured out to suck us into their products to our advantage.


In real-life the principles of growth and victory are not cleverly labeled and expedited like in a video game. In real-life we have to be self-reliant in understanding our path and be disciplined infollowing it.

What a RPG video game gives is a myth to embark on – a journey and a goal. Structured game design allows us to see clear improvements over a short period. We have maps, health and experience bars, and skill progressions. Improvements are easily noticed. Our brains are attracted to this path which has least resistance.

Unfortunately, we don’t get anything like this handed to us in reality.

Create Our Own Myth

While a RPG video game serves us a high-budget character designs and fancy story-arches, in real-life we are left to our individual notion of self and social milieu – the many characters that come and go within our life.

Instead of having a neatly packaged narrative to follow, we have a story that is shaped by our culture and our own thoughts and reasoning.

If things are not going the way we’d like them to, then perhaps it is time to reflect upon the ideas in which our culture instills upon us, and figure out what needs to be changed in our narrative.

Our culture contains ideas on how we interpret the world – how we perceive our own emotions and how we perceive other people and their emotions in relation to us. From this we get results.

For example, the sinking, hopeless feeling of failure is an inherent experience of life. But it is how we perceive this emotion that determines how we react to it and, as a result, what might or might not change in the future.

Upon failure, do we feel shame? Do people around us shame us for failure? If so, we may have drawn-out a narrative that we are a failure – that our path is destined for failure. Eventually, this becomes hardwired into our neuro-circuitry and we actually feel that this is our story to live.

People that feel this way no longer have any faith in their actions to become better. They can no longer feel motivated to be disciplined and pursue lofty goals. They perceive the feeling of failure as a sign of ultimate hopelessness. Their narrative is a dead-end.

Fortunately, the brain is plastic (neuroplasticity), and what was once a tragic story can be written into a grand adventure with victory as the finale.

All that is required is emotional and physical effort. We need only to shape this narrative for ourselves.

As a result, a narrative that painted failure as a crushing force is now a narrative in which failure is a foe to be defeated. Not in one dramatic encounter, but in a persistent battle in which we eventually gain the skills to be victorious.

Someone who is overweight is no longer ashamed of their condition, but see it as a journey to conquer. They may no longer label themselves as out of shape, but as getting into shape. They have cut ties with a toxic social circle that discourages them from changing and embraced those who enjoy seeing someone level-up.

There’s no denying that It’s a lot of time and effort to shape a beautiful myth for ourselves. It takes constant reflection and assessment of how we perceive all the darkest elements of life.

It takes acceptance of the truth, humbleness to learn …and it takes grit.

It’s no wonder, given the option, most people try to escape from this obligation.

Real-life has Higher Costs

RPG’s hijack our brain’s perception of leveling-up – offering us low-cost simulation of what it craves.

The reason why so many people hide their heads in video games is because of the scary emotional element of leveling up in real-life. There is, simply, a very high physical and emotional cost when we “play” the game of life.

While we can press a few buttons and get a dopamine satisfaction in a video game, in real life we have to suffer.

Yes, in real-life we don’t have an experience bar that fills up. Instead, we have a time-spent-suffering bar that fills up – one that we have to keep track of for ourselves with a disciplined and well-thought-out schedule.

Of course, I’m being a bit over-dramatic to call what we do to level-up in real-life suffering

But, hardly.

Oftentimes, it really does seem as though we need to go through a lot of shit before we can get better results in things that matter to us.

It may be painful to accept the fact that life will continue dishing out this shit to us even when we are doing the right things to get better…

Ultimately, it is a rock solid narrative which develops a faith in the righteousness of our actions. Only then, will we have fortitude to continuing doing them. Only then, will we make it through to the next levels.

An aspiring author will have to continue to write everyday even when he has to tend to his sick mother. When his intimate relationship is rocky, he still has to make those deadlines. He has to bear the criticism of his early-works and persist so that he can create his masterpiece.

As a person who is leveling up in real-life we will eventually come to the realization that being on a higher-level means that we’re able to execute on effective actions in progressively tougher situations.

Bad days will no longer take away from our purposeful habits. The judgment of others will fail to stop us from action. The cravings for playing video games will not pull us away from what we need to do to win.

Because of our strength in bearing the suffering, persisting in our purpose – we reach a higher level.

In which we must, because:

If We’re Not Leveling-up

We’re falling apart.

As it turns out, the best way to maintain order is to ensure that we are actually aiming at improvement. It seems as though there isn’t much of a middle ground between decay and growth. We’re either pouring energy into growing ourselves – or we’re not.

In trying to become stronger and more aesthetic I maintain the order of my health. In trying to make more money, I give value to my business and my community. Through unquestionable virtue and loyalty, I grow my relationships.

This is the only path – for whatever we neglect does’t stay a static level, but degenerates…

The decay of what is neglected isn’t something that’s expressed in video games – full of save points and respawns. Perhaps another appeal to the escapism that they provide us.

The truth is, upon entering this thing called life, the stakes have always been very high, whether we choose to admit it or bury our heads in fantasy.

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