Life, Chaos and Video Games

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People like to say that life isn’t a video game. They say you can’t start over again, you have to live with your mistakes, and you don’t get a tutorial or quest guide through life. These people have never played a Soulsborne game, I feel, or they wouldn’t say that. Granted, the only Soulsborne game I’ve played to such an extent is Elden Ring, but perhaps my point still applies. In the Soulsborne series of games (comprising Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Sekiro and Elden Ring), there are very few checkpoints, you will die and you will die often and miserably – your first enemy encounter is meant to teach you this. You will struggle, you will throw yourself at immovable walls, you will experience frustration. You will lose progress, you will find out halfway that you’ve fucked up your build, you will encounter bosses and enemies which are hard counters to how you play, forcing you to adapt another one.

Yeah, that sounds more like real life, doesn’t it?

Take my own life, for example. I’ve joined my present company during the height of the pandemic in 2020. I have just joined the industry and am very new to almost all the concepts within. I figured I would do a lot of learning to grasp it, and I have, but I still feel like I have a long way to go. To continue the Elden Ring metaphor, I’ve only just killed Godrick the Grafted (the first boss, for you non gamers) and am happily riding Torrent (my horse) down Liurnia of the Lakes (the second level). I won’t say I’m entirely hopeless (I did kill a boss) but I won’t say I’m quite skilled at the game, either (I keep getting killed by those enemies in the lake). So imagine how I feel, when the seniors at the job keep resigning. Now, I’m the most senior person in the department, and I am expected to train any newcomers, which may include people like me – people who have had no experience in my field of work. Imagine that? I am nowhere near the level of expertise where I can teach. I can barely do the job myself – I’m still learning myself, as I hope I’ve made clear. Where do I come off, telling these other people how to do my job?

If life were a video game according to people who keep saying it, I can’t start over. I don’t want to start over. I want things to be the same. You can’t say you’ve never wanted things to remain constant in your life. We crave stability. Financial concerns are the number one reason for divorce in the world (I heard this somewhere, don’t quote me) but underlying that is our need for stability, for financial stability, and if our spouse can’t provide that then the marriage is doomed. Divorcing parents are a source of stress for children because parents are meant to provide stability. When that bedrock is gone, it will tear away the foundations of a stable childhood, and the repercussions will be felt throughout the child’s entire life. Unlike the video game metaphor, this one is a more solid idea – almost everyone wishes to have stability in their lives, instead of the ability to do over.

Life, however, is almost never stable. The Soulsborne games teach us that life is chaos, and could be upended at every turn. An enemy could hard counter your build. An ambush could force you to lose all your runes. The knight you killed could come back to life, making you realise that he isn’t the boss of the dungeon, the invisible snail that summoned him is, and you have to run around trying to find something silent and invisible while a murderous knight with a zweihander tries to decapitate you. The same thing goes with life. All your seniors could leave you, the undertrained employee, to train the next batch of colleagues. A pandemic could hit, sending all of your forecasts and analysis flying into the drain. Someone you love might come down with an illness, forcing you to care for them and seriously consider the possibility of living without them. Life is a sea of chaos with islands of stability in between, all the while Death chases after you slowly and steadily, certain in her own inevitability.

What do you do? You can try to continue with the video game metaphor, of course, but at some point it will all fall apart.

For example, some players, faced with the Morton’s Fork of choices in the game, may scream and pitch a fit. Sometimes, their rage is understandable, and even a major point of contention for almost everyone regardless of where you stand on the sliding scale of Privilege and Detriment. Hop on Twitter and you’ll see much rage and consternation, but I’d like to direct your attention to those railing against the inequality in wealth, because I feel they have something there.

Why am I talking about money? As I’ve written before in my Medium blog, money is options. Money is choice. Money is being able to decide whether you want to save or splurge, invest or spend, chunky or smooth. Lack of it limits your options. You can’t spend – you have to save. You can’t invest – you need the goods that money buys. Fuck chunky or smooth, we can’t fucking afford fucking peanut butter. Eat your fucking bread plain, motherfucker, and be glad you even have bread. So in a fair game, everyone would be able to earn money at the same rate, with equal chances. That is assuming the game isn’t rigged.

In real life, the game is rigged – oh boy is it rigged. There will be those born into privilege and be able to skip the hard parts of the game and breeze through it, while there are those born into poverty and war and forced to deal with instability every day of their lives. We have those in power funneling riches to their own accounts, depriving the people who depend on them of any choice in their life. In real life, money is choice – not having it deprives you of it, which is why corrupt politicians are such a sore sticking point for many. If they didn’t do what they did, we’d have more choices available to us. He literally robbed us of our choice. You’d excuse us if we’re just a tiny bit miffed.

In this case, the Elden Ring metaphor falls apart. In Elden Ring all players earn their runes the same way – killing enemies. You lose all of them when you die (even in Elden Ring you can’t take it with you), but if you can find it again, you can pick it up again. Regardless of your class and ability, you get this very same chance to earn your Runes. Life isn’t like that – everyone earns money, their power to choose, in a different way. Because no matter how I want it to be, the reality is – life is not a video game.

So what do you do?

Despite the fact that the video game metaphor is, as we’ve established, flawed, the only thing we can do is what we always do when we’re stuck in a game. We do what we can with what we have. That doesn’t mean giving up, of course. It doesn’t mean that we resign ourselves to the waves of chaos and accept that we were born to lack privilege and they were born to it like some kind of weird birthright. It doesn’t mean that we just throw ourselves into the ocean and let ourselves drift onto the next island of stability.

No. We fight. We take to the streets with rotten eggs and pickets and we demand that bastard return our choices to us. We demand that a patch be released so that more of us have a choice of how we earn our runes and that the new method be fairer than the previous. We become iconoclasts – we tear down the figureheads of old that kept the system in place and we establish a new, better one. And while we’re doing that, we keep sailing. We point our broadsides to every pirate or invader wanting to send us to the Locker and let our guns sing their terrible arias. We learn how to navigate by the stars or find rutters to guide us through the straits. We learn when to shout ‘Down Storms’ls’ or ‘Hands, Wear Ship!”

Too much metaphor? What I’m saying is, that we learn from the video game instead of wishing life was like it. We demand equality, we demand justice, and we demand a new system that is fairer than what we have because quite frankly the one we have is completely fucked. And as we demand that, we deal with the issues of our lives as best we can. We learn how to teach juniors. We learn how to stretch every paycheck. We grow sealegs and learn to be as stable in the sea of chaos as we are upon the islands of stability, all the while dreaming of those perfect, sandy beaches and tropical sunsets on our beachside barbecues. We fight, while dreaming of a day when we won’t have to.

It won’t be easy. Neither Life nor Elden Ring is. But like in both, you only truly lose when you stop playing. So what do you do?

Continue. That’s what you do.


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