Originally published on Medium

(Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash)

Do cheat codes only work in games?

I’ve been playing video games since I was 10. It started with Age of Empires which loaded my brain with strategic thinking. Then I went into MMORPGs like Runescape, which taught me interaction and supply-demand economics.

I advanced to some RPGs like Skyrim, Assassins Creed and then back to Age of Empires when I was 21. My skill the second time around in Age of Empires? Much better, and it had nothing to do with my age. That’s when it clicked.

I figured out how to skill up in games. Armed with the epiphany — real life is a game — I realised I can skill up in real life too.

Grinding is a process in video games: Performing repetitive tasks for gameplay advantage. It’s the real world equivalent of practice.

The result of grinding? Every few hours lead to a level up. A declaration that you’re better than you were before.

I’d grind for hours in video games. In my school life, I spent more waking hours inside games than outside. In the real world, I didn’t spend enough time grinding. Still don’t.

Why, if I can spend hours in the game world improving my character — gaining advantage over other players — can I not do it in real life? What’s different here? Seems rational to work on your character in real life, a game which everyone plays, compared to Runescape, which a tiny fraction of the world plays.

I narrowed the differences down to three questions. These are the core of hacking your life.

The first question: Do you get immediate feedback?

In the game world, feedback is built into metrics: trackers for your progress. You kill a monster and immediately gain experience points. The more you kill, the stronger you get.

Oh, you just killed an orc-lord, here’s 20 EXP. This experience leads to a level up — A declaration to the world that you’re better than you were before. What’s the equivalent declaration in real life? For spending countless hours working on a skill?

In the real world, after becoming an amateur, you enter the valley of despair — where the path to mastery seems impossible. Imagine this happening in a video game — you’re killing new monsters but you LOSE experience points. What-even !? Blasphemy! This isn’t how it’s supposed to work!

The question is, would you carry on in such a situation. Where the metrics tracking your progress are flawed until you reach mastery?

The second question: What do you do to level up?

In video games, it’s simple. Want to become a mage? Get the blood of 4 different imp races, perform the ritual and you’ve awakened the mage ability. You can now use magic to become better at magic. Simple. Not easy, but simple. No matter who you are, the process is the same.

How do you become a writer? Well, there are quite a few paths, depending on your abilities. If you want to write in less than 140 characters, start with twitter. Articles? Start with Medium. Books? You can self publish or look for an agent. How to do some of those is again a convoluted mess. Daunting enough to stop most people.

The third question: How do you track performance?

How do you know you’re leveling up?

Straight forward in video games, like we just saw.

But for a writer? Is it by the number of people reading your writing? — If you do that, you’ll end up writing junk click-bait soon enough. Look at BuzzFeed. Nothing wrong with it, that’s what works for them. At least they are successful.

Is it by how much money you make? or maybe how happy you are each day?

Be conscious of where you’re going because of the things you’re tracking.

There’s no universal rating for your skill in writing. No metric such that if you’re higher on that scale than Stephen King or Shakespeare, you’d be a better writer than them in every respect.

What gets measured gets managed — Peter Drucker

What can we do about it?

Well, the good part about living in the real life is that you can create your own metrics! You don’t have to stick to metrics chosen by the game developers or the society.

Your metrics won’t be perfect, but you get to work on them and keep improving them to closely track your skill. This becomes a new skill in itself — how well do you choose your metrics.

You see? You get to level up your level-tracking to be able to level up effectively!

It’s a wonderful game — the world just provides feedback. You can have the highest score, but it doesn’t mean anything to anyone but you.

Though sometimes, people come together and form a community. Then, they choose common metrics to judge each other by. Like the amount of money they are earning, how passionate they are or how happy they are. Then, anyone wishing to join this community is forced to adopt these metrics. Frustrating, eh?

What are you going to choose?

  • Going at it alone, crafting your own metrics? — and levelling up your life via those metrics? Maybe building your own community in the process?
  • Joining the community you were born into? — and their predefined metrics?
  • Searching for a community that matches your interests and personality via their metrics?

With the trackers sorted, what remains is answering the first two questions.

Get immediate feedback, and keep your actions simple. Break down complex tasks into the simplest unit. That’s an art form, something for you to figure out — what works for you. That’s your cheat code to life.

(Photo by Jamakassi on Unsplash)