This is the exact skill that any good test taker must have, and utilize, at all turns. When faced with the impossible, a gamer looks around and focuses on the familiar. What worked when you were ambushed by a squad of elites and a platoon of grunts in Halo: Combat Evolved will almost certainly keep you from getting demolished by a crowd of zombies in Call of Duty: Black Ops. Even if it doesn't, at least you have a starting place where half of the challenge-the crushing, unknowing part-is already behind you. A few tweaks to tactics, a little experimentation with weaponry and there will be nothing left but the sweet sounds of victory, be they the spattering of purple blood or the crunch of dusty bones.
Checking in with yourself to correctly appraise your situation is incredibly important, and it's something that gamers do better.
Furthermore, when tactics fail and we still hit the wall, we gamers tap into another power that most mortals lack: our ability to take stock. So you can't make it through this room running and gunning-what else could you do? That all depends on what you have with you. In modern RPGs like Skyrim, the solution could be as simple as rifling through your inventory only to find that spell tome you needed, or a potion that momentarily doubles your damage with a bow and these small realizations could easily spell the difference between life and a fun experiment with ragdoll physics (thanks, Giants). Checking in with yourself to correctly appraise your situation is incredibly important, and it's something that gamers do better.
I often ask my students what about the test they enjoy and what they fear. Their fears are nearly always mundane: "triangles--I can't stand triangles." My follow up is always, "Why?" When they can't come up with a good answer--because I forget the formulas, because I have trouble understanding all of the involved vocabulary--I take them back to square one. Why? Usually, when a student takes stock of his abilities, he finds that what he thought was once impossible is now far from it. Maybe it was difficult before, but perhaps his Spanish class or, if he's lucky as well as super nerdy, his Latin class, has made all of those vocabulary issues disappear. Like a gamer faced with insurmountable odds, my students are forced to look at their weaknesses as opportunities to experiment with a new tack. In the end, like a Spell Tome of Fast Healing hidden amongst so many notes "From A Friend," these skills and their potential effects on overall confidence blow the expectations out of the water. In the face of that adversity, rifle through your belongings--trust that you can overcome, and facilitate the win.
There's an inherent difference between the way we, as gamers, see the world and the way that others do. My best students are gamers-kids whose skill sets need only be tweaked, not taught to them, and I suggest that we all own what we have. Our ability to solve problems is what puts us ahead, both in virtual worlds as well as the real one. Our courage, even in the face of failure, is what keeps us there. Play hard.
Cj Hayes is a teacher and writer working in Santa Cruz, California where he lives with his wife and dog, and blogs at www.cjhayestutor.com.