It is increasingly common to come across books talking about self-creation or apps to help you gamify your life. As an avid gamer and self-improvement junkie, I could not be happier. I always found it odd that gamers are stereotyped as lazy or unsuccessful, since the act of playing a game seems like the ultimate productivity training. In any case, psychologists have confirmed what my 10-year-old self highly suspected: you can get more done by turning everything into a game.
From a psychological angle it makes sense. When you “win” or “progress” in a game, even an arbitrary one such as when a clever parent awards a child points for cleaning their room, the brain gets a dopamine hit. The main consequence of getting a dopamine hit is wanting more dopamine hits, so you can trick yourself into getting chemically addicted to productivity. I’ve always been more interested in gamification from a philosophical angle, though.
In my first post I talked about a life philosophy, based on the teachings of Nietzsche and lessons learned from World of Warcraft, that views life as a game. You are not only the player, but also the one who defines the rules. In time I want to get into the nitty gritty of applying gamification to your own life, but for now I want to explore it in broader and significantly less helpful terms.
The Fantasy of Self-Creation
I believe there are three kinds of people who emphasize fantasy in their lives. I do not mean the genre but rather any form of art or entertainment that allows them to leave this world and explore a new one. I tend to think of video games, books, and movies, but there are others. All three categories have a dark side, but each also has positive potential.
Now like I said, none of these categories are inherently good or bad. Observant readers, or, you know, readers with eyes will have noticed that I have plastered the phrase “a rejection of escapism” all over this site and all the social media used to promote this site. That said, I think the majority of Escapists do not have anything to worry about. I just have personally known many people – myself included – who tend toward the dark side of this category.
For a lot of people, fantasy is just a way to kill time or blow off stream here and there. After a long day of work you just want to lose yourself in a steamy romance novel or jump into a first-person shooter and murder your friends. This is normal and healthy. The problem is when escaping becomes the main focus of your life. When you have no real life goals or passions outside of your fantasy of choice. In my experience, Escapists who toward this extreme do not lack other interests, but merely believe themselves incapable of achieving their dreams in the real world. If these limiting beliefs are broken, it is astounding how quickly these people can turn into happy, successful forces of self-creation.
While the Escapist divides life between time spent productively and time spent escaping into fantasy, the Professional makes fantasy productive. The author who spends a lot of time reading so that they can write better falls into this category. So does the Hearthstone player who pays rent by streaming on Twitch. In general, there is nothing negative about this. It is a job like any other, and if the Professional likes what they do and can pay their bills then they will probably live a good life.
The dark side of this category is that a lot of people see these jobs with rose-colored glasses. We all know a thousand people who are writing the next great novel and have been as long as we can remember. It sounds easy and fun to be a writer or a professional gamer, but the truth is being successful at either of these careers is usually harder and more painful than following a more traditional path. Putting in a solid eight hours of high-level content creation every day is one thing, but wasting your time on video games while insisting that one day you’ll make a career out of it is another.
Again, I feel the need to emphasize that none of these categories are inherently good or bad. Desdenada was specifically built to cater to people in this group, and for better or worse I consider myself a part of it, but that’s not a measure of quality. It just happens to be where my interests lie, and I feel like it’s a group that is underrepresented.
On a good day, the Seeker reads books or plays games as part of a quest for meaning and inspiration. They learn lessons and explore worlds, but always with end goal of leaving the fantasy behind and returning to the real world better and stronger for it. I don’t know if I ever would have taken a spontaneous solo pilgrimage to the enchanted wilderness of Bella Coola or dropped everything to move to Mexico if I hadn’t spent so much time with World of Warcraft, falling in love with the idea of adventuring in strange and exotic lands. Meanwhile, Venezia studied Microbiology due to her formative experience with Jurassic Park.
The dark side of the Seeker is truly dark. I spent a lot of my life in this category, and not in a good way. The same way the Professional might spend a lot of time hanging out at Starbucks talking about their book without ever actually writing about it, the Seeker can spend all day playing World of Warcraft and making plans to go on real-life adventures without ever actually following through.
Create Your Fantasy
In conclusion, I’m speaking to the Seekers. There aren’t a whole lot of you, but I know you’re out there. You who see fantasy as a tool of self-creation. You who hear “gamify your life” and do not think “maximize your productivity” but think instead “define your own reality”. There may not be a lot of your, but one thing is certain: you sure stand out in a crowd. Augmented reality, gamification, quantification of self, and the culture of self-actualization are on the rise. This is our time, and while others might see it as a time of turbulence and negativity, we know that life is nothing more than what you make it.
As usual, Nietzsche said it best: “One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.”