Video Games Features
6 Things Nintendo Taught Me About My Life and Myself

Jesse Hawley | 18 Mar 2016 19:00
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4. Monster Hunter, Xenoblade Chronicles, sunk costs and decision biases

Monster Hunter is a harsh mistress. It doesn't pander to the player. You've got to commit the hours before the game is worthwhile, but when you do, it is inexplicably rewarding. Slaying a monster after a 45 minute cat-and-mouse chase around a volcanic island, challenging the same beast a dozen times in search of that one ultimately rare asset - therein lies the reward.

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Xenoblade Chronicles is similarly demanding but equally rewarding. These types of large-scale, time-intensive games are rich in lessons for how we spend our time and how we find satisfaction. Monster Hunter hooks you in with the pride of crafting your own weapon (endowment effect), followed by the thrill of procuring rare herbs or insects. This feedback loop of pleasure continues until before you know it, 100 hours of your life have been sunk into the game.

It's here that our brains start playing funny games. From what we can tell, brains do not like "admitting" time wastage or decisions poorly made. Regardless of how poor a decision is, our minds naturally embellish positive outcomes and dismiss negative outcomes to justify that decision.

This type of decision confirmation bias helps to justify the inordinate amount of time committed to a game. Another brain fart that helps us to justify committing hundreds of hours into supposedly meaningless or unhealthy endeavors is the sunk cost fallacy.

The sunk cost fallacy works against one's better judgement; "I've already sunk X thousands of dollars into the project, or X many hours, so I may as well keep going," as opposed to "that time or money I've already committed is gone and can never be retrieved, perhaps I need to cut those losses."

Being mindful of the sweet nothings our brain whispers to itself is one of the first steps towards seeing through them.

5. Materialism and the pile of shame

Some of us build it with books, downloads, or crispers full of wilted vegetables, but the pile made from videogames takes the longest to whittle down.

I am of course talking about the pile of shame.

The point of entertainment, like videogames, is entertainment. Let them entertain you.

We've already got more possessions than we have time to engage with, yet we continue to stockpile like an obese Labrador burying its food for the rainy day that'll never come. We see a game on sale that we'd theoretically like to play and since it's on sale, it'd be crazy to pass it up, right? We get home and chuck it on the growing pile of other impulse purchases and watch it gather dust for years until it's a thumbnail on eBay or Gumtree.

Buying for the sake of buying is materialism in its purest form, unhealthy and environmentally unsustainable. Instead of representing fun and new challenges, the pile of shame becomes an intimidating to-do list.

My pile of shame has taught me that I don't need what I don't make time for. I've come to terms with the reality of my schedule. I resist purchases and only play when I want to play, so I'm actually entertained, not entrained, by my pile of shame.

6. Handheld games and mindfulness

We're living in the age of distraction, and spreading our attention thin is one of its curses. I first realized this playing games on Nintendo handhelds, first Pokemon, and more recently with Bravely Default. Instead of committing my focus to fun and engagement, I found myself doing other things while playing - watching TV, day-dreaming. I was depriving myself of a complete experience of anything.

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The same type of inattention happens outside of handheld gaming: Scrolling on a phone instead of giving someone our eyes, turning every new experience into a photo op, or permanently plugging our ears in giving us no chance to sit and simply ponder. Of course, none of these things is bad in itself, but they're all examples of diffused concentration.

This "multi-tasking" can often produce the illusion of productivity, but it's ultimately a case where "the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts." Texting while chatting is sending a mediocre text and temporarily alienating the person you're with. Playing a game while pondering is running around in circles on screen while blocking our brain from resolving whatever it is it wants to daydream about.

It's not mindfulness per se, but one solution is this: The point of entertainment, like videogames, is entertainment. Let them entertain you. As I mentioned, games are complete, immersive experiences, so become immersed. Going through the motions is meaningless and a waste of scarce time. This type of mental commitment enriches most things: savour your food, draw in the roses, feel the shower's water, and relish your game.

Nintendo has taught me about myself in more ways than six, but that's it for now. Though, there is a parting lesson from the big N that I think applies to most things, including learning about one's self. It's in the name: Nintendo loosely translates to "leave luck to heaven." I'm not sure what Nintendo originally intended that to mean, but my interpretation is "leave luck to heaven...but take everything else into your own hands."

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