6 Life Lessons That I Learned While Playing Computer Games!

Alright, this is definitely going to be one of the nerdier ones. There will be quite a bit of game lingo in this one. I understand that most of you haven’t heard of this game or played it, so I’ll do my best to explain how it all worked, so that all of this make sense. We all have a nerd inside of us, so I hope that all of you can relate on at least some level! Enjoy! 

The Stalemate at Hoth

I recall that it was mid 2007. Playstation 2 was still a thing and my neighbour and I would play from time to time. Star wars: Battle Front 2 and Call of duty: 3 were the two games that we played the most at the time. Having no responsibilities was nice. I was always more of a console gamer than a computer gamer. I remember kind of thinking that it was weird that people gamed on the computer using a mouse and keyboard. I had no idea that all of that was going to change. 

I was sitting in my living room watching tv after school one day when I heard the gate to my backyard open. I knew right away that it was most likely my neighbour coming to get his ass handed to him at Hoth in Battle Front 2. We had been playing a game mode in which both players take turns trying to take over all of the planets in the Star wars universe and I had pushed him back to Hoth, but couldn’t take it no matter how hard I tried. Hoth was the final planet and we had been in a stalemate for weeks. 

I got up and walked to the door to make sure it was actually him. If it was, it would mean that he was obviously prepared to finally lose, and I didn’t want to take that liberty away from him. I opened the door and as I had guessed, it was my neighbour. The only thing is that he wasn’t there because he wanted to play Star wars, he was there because he had found a new game. I didn’t know it at the time, but that game would become my life. I would play that game religiously. To this day, I don’t think there is any other game that I’ve invested more time into. “What game could this possibly be?” You’re probably impatiently thinking to yourself. Let me tell you!

The game was called Rise of Nations.

Rise of Nations 

Rise of nations is a real time strategy game. You start in the Stone age with a small city and a few villagers and you have to use them to build farms, to collect wood from the forest and stone from mines. You use a library in the game to research new technologies that eventually allow you to progress through the ages and advance your civilization. It goes from the Stone age all the way up to modern times. As your civilization advances through the ages, you have to start collecting more resources such as oil and other modern things. As you advance through the ages, you will also end up building more cities and the population of your civilization will grow. You start off with about 5 people, but end up with hundreds.

The slow truly get left behind in this game and if you don’t progress through the ages as fast as your opponents, they will overwhelm you with futuristic technology. It’s not uncommon to see and archer shooting arrows at a tank before getting blown away. Although skill was very important when it came to playing rise of nations, I found that a lot of the time you could beat somebody who was a lot more skilled than you by outsmarting them. I wasn’t anywhere near the best at this game, but I do however, remember turning quite a few “hopeless” games against arguably better players around only to win in the end. I won not because I was better, but because I was able to outsmart the other player(s).

Rise of nations became like a drug to me. I’m not going to lie, it honestly consumed a lot of my life for over a year. I think I could even go as far as saying that I may have suffered from a gaming addiction. I remember that I would get up at 9 A.M and play until 4 A.M the following morning during summer vacation at one point. Yeah… I wasn’t joking about the “addiction” part. Yes… I took brief breaks to eat, shower and go to the bathroom.

Still…I couldn’t stop playing the game and I would even try and plan out different strategies to defeat opponents the rare times that I wasn’t playing the game. 

You will inevitably learn new things and come to new, unexpected conclusions when you spend 100s of hours doing anything and playing this computer game was no different. Here are 6 life lessons that I learned from a computer game! 

Lesson 1: Use your strengths and know your weaknesses!

No matter how many hours I spent playing Rise of Nations, I was never able to get very good at attacking. I found I could easily outsmart most people when they attacked ME because I was decent at collecting resources and defending myself, but I just wasn’t the best attacker. I remember that I lost quite a few games when I first started playing online because I hadn’t yet become aware of how bad my attacking skills were. After many hours of gameplay, it dawned on me! “I suck at attacking, but am a great defender!” Great! Now, I knew that I sucked at one of the most important aspects of the game, but how could I use that to my advantage? I didn’t want my win/loss ratio to get any worse than it had already gotten. Every noob knows what I’m talking about and can probably relate. I decided to use my strengths and to always be aware of my weaknesses. Instead of always trying to attack the enemy only to end up losing, I would try to get the enemy to attack me first, repel it and then counter attack. That generally gave me an upper hand against most people and helped me get closer to having a good win/loss ratio. I still apply this to everyday life even to this day.  

I worked for a phone company for a very short time and really struggled with the activation portals that we used to set up people’s phone plans, but had no problem engaging customers by using charisma and humour. Instead of constantly beating myself up about not being good with the activation portals, I tried to focus my energy on what I was good at; talking to and engaging customers. Through my use of charisma and humour (My strength), and knowing and accepting that I’d need my coworkers to help me with the portals (My weakness), I was able to still somehow get sales against all odds. 

The same thing applied to basketball. At 13-14, I’d hardly ever even really touched a basketball and one day my friends told me that they wanted me on their team for a school basketball tournament. I said no because I didn’t even know how to play basketball. All I knew was that you couldn’t carry the ball and that you needed to score. Despite this, my friends insisted that I join their team. It very quickly became apparent that I was bad at well… everything! It initially seemed like I had no strengths when it came to basketball. 

Somebody shot the ball at some point and it bounced off the backboard. I jumped over everyone with ease and got the rebound, passed it to my team mate who then scored shortly after. I had discovered my strength! Although I was bad at everything else, I was taller and could jump higher than everyone. Don’t you love early puberty induced growth spurts? We quickly took advantage of my strength (Jumping and being tall) and I stayed aware of my weaknesses (everything else). We ended up winning the tournament. Not just because of me, obviously, but I definitely played an integral part and the outcome may have been different had I not learned to use my strengths and to know my weaknesses.

Lesson 2: Don’t give up when the going gets tough!

My palms were sweating, knees weak mom’s spaghe… you all definitely read that in Eminem’s voice and are now smirking because you know it’s true! 

Anyway, I was nervous and my heart was beating quickly. (P.S: My palms actually were sweating). The game had just begun and I had somehow ended up with 3 of the 4 noobs in a 4 on 4 game. One of the better players at the time was on the enemy team. I was pissed. “This is exactly what I get for agreeing to random teams” I thought to myself. The game started and I was going to just resign, but I decided to just try anyway. I had outsmarted better players before, so I decided to give it a try. The game had many different game modes and settings and in this specific game, the host had decided to make it so that nobody could attack anyone for 30 minutes. I decided that the only feasible way to win this game would be to somehow attack the best player right away and knock him out because that would probably cause at least one of his team mates to rage quit which would put me on equal playing ground. I tried to collect as many resources as I possibly could and tried to advance through the ages as fast as I could, but this guy was always one step ahead of me. I watched in horror as the Peace timer slowly got closer and closer to zero. I knew I had to figure something out because my teammates were very far behind everyone else. I was pretty much in a 4 vs 1 game at this point and I really needed to even the playing field. 

Rise of nations had 4 final technologies that one could research in the library once the final age was reached. I’m going to explain two of them because they’re crucial to the story. One was called Missile Shield which prevented enemy nukes from exploding in your territory and the other one was called World Government which caused captured cities to assimilate instantaneously. There are many different ways to win in rise of nations; You can either occupy 70+ percent of the territory on the map, capture the enemy capital and hold it until it assimilates, or have your opponent just give up by resigning.

I could tell by the opposing player’s score that he had significantly more resources than I did and that I would lose for certain in a long drawn out battle, so my plan was to research World Government once I’d reached the final age, fire a nuke at his capital city to reduce its health to zero and try and capture it because that would eliminate him instantly because World Government would mean that his capital would assimilate instantly which would mean that he would lose. 

I know this is probably kind of hard to follow because most of you probably haven’t played the game, but don’t worry and just try to stay with me here! 

This all seemed like it may be able to somehow work, but we were playing on a water map which meant that I would need to get my army across the ocean without them getting sunk or spotted by enemy ships. The timer neared zero and the enemy began researching Missile Shield. I prayed that the timer would hit zero before he was able to successfully research it because firing the nuke and reducing his capital city’s health to zero was one of the most important parts of the plan. Long story short, he ended up completing the research for Missile Shield a couple seconds before the peace timer ended. The situation was grim. My team mates were still very far behind and it was looking hopeless. The timer ended and I decided to try my luck with ground troops alone. I moved my army along the edge of the map and was somehow able to land them without being spotted. I sent them right through enemy territory and to his capital and had them attack It. He had been preparing to attack me and my teammates, so it took a while for him to get all of his troops back to the other side of the island to defend his capital. This gave me a very crucial head start! His army eventually arrived, but I made sure that my army only attacked the city and not the enemy troops and against all odds, I was able to take it just before it was too late. It assimilated instantly which meant the enemy player was instantly eliminated. All of the  other cities in his territory also instantly assimilated and became mine. I suddenly had a huge territory that split the enemy island in 2. As I had hypothesized, one of the enemy players rage quit almost instantly. It was now 4 against 2 and I now had an extreme upper hand. I remember my team-mate just typing “Wow” In the chat box. I ended up winning the rest of the game without much help from my teammates. The situation was grim, but I didn’t quit no matter how hopeless the odds seemed and won the game in the end.

Just like the first lesson, this one also still rings true today. When I began learning Mandarin Chinese, everything seemed hopeless on paper. A new alphabet, tones and almost no cognates? Are you serious?

(Cognates are words that share a meaning and are similar in two languages). 

How on earth was I going to learn this language? Despite the odds being stacked against me, I pushed and pushed and pushed until my Chinese surpassed my German which was my best language up until that point. I was soon able to think and speak Chinese very easily and without much effort. None of these things would have happened if I had just given up when the going got tough.
The same thing also applied to my first couple months at the gym. I had gained a bit of weight from gaming and being so inactive and wanted to slim down and to build muscle. I really wanted my abs to be visible. I don’t really care that much about all that now as long as I’m healthy, but at a time when everyone was posting shirtless facebook selfies and so on, it was important to me. I didn’t want to show off, but I just really wanted to finally have visible abs like the Youtube fitness gurus that I looked up to. I got no results for the longest time despite my strict eating and exercise regime. It seemed pretty hopeless at the time, but I pushed and pushed and then something magical started happening! I started getting results! I was able to lift more and my body fat percentage began to drop. After pushing for quite a while, I finally reached my goal. This would not have happened if I had just given up when the going got tough! Yeah, I guess one could argue that computer games helped me get in better shape and Yes, I know that’s a weird sounding sentence.

Lesson 3: You can always turn things around! 

Alright, so maybe “always” isn’t the right word here. Maybe I should have used the word “Sometimes”. That same game taught me that you can sometimes turn things around when the situation doesn’t seem very positive. All the odds were against me in that game, but I was still able to turn it around because I believed in myself and trusted in my ability to maybe turn things around and to have a positive outcome.

I remember that I wasn’t doing very well in grade 11 math back in high school and was actually just under a failing mark at the very beginning of the semester. Math was never my strong point and it seemed like I would actually end up failing it which would have meant that I would have had to take summer school. Thanks to this mindset and also a very supportive and passionate teacher in the extra help room, I was able to turn the entire situation around. I didn’t get a fantastic mark at the end of the semester, but I ended up doing way better than I expected.

This lesson also came in handy when I originally got injured at my first job and had to start using my credit card to pay for things and quickly maxed it out. It was very discouraging for a while. I had debt and no means of paying it off because I was only getting 8 hours of pay on each pay check. Despite all this, I was able to hold onto a sliver of faith and eventually turn the situation around and pay it all off.

Lesson 4: You can smile in the face of adversity!

You probably think that routinely getting your ass handed to you on a silver platter must suck. Well it does… a lot… BUT you learn from every single loss. I was terrible when I first started playing Rise of Nations. I remember that I used to struggle against the computer players even when they were on the easiest setting… Sad, I know. Despite all this, I kept playing and got good enough to beat the computer players on easy. I started feeling like I was skilled. That feeling vanished as soon as I started playing online against real people. I got my ass handed to me more than I’d like to admit, but I was able to analyze each loss and learn to not make the same mistakes as often. I’d enter each game with new knowledge and new strategies. I was determined to not keep losing the same ways. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” as they say. Every time I thought I had the game figured out, somebody would outsmart me and beat me in a new way that I’d never thought of. Although losing sucked, I found that I couldn’t help but smile. Yes, I was losing the game, but I was losing because my opponent was presenting me with more challenges and opportunities to learn. I smiled in the face of adversity.

This really helped me at the retirement home that I used to work at. We were routinely short staffed and it was hard enough to stay on top of things when we actually had enough people on. I still remember that despite the chaos and running around trying to make sure that everybody had been accounted for and fed, I still found myself smiling occasionally. My adrenaline was pumping and I was super stressed. Multiple people were visibly angry because the service was slow due to the fact that we were short staffed, but despite all this, I still couldn’t fight back the smile sometimes. Why? Do I like stress and headaches? No! Of course not! I liked the fact that my comfort zone was being pushed and that I was being forced to adapt and learn. Every time I was short, a new challenge would present itself and my coworkers and I were forced to confront it. We got better at being short staffed as time went on. Despite the adversity and shitty situations, I was still able to smile. Rise of Nations definitely played a role in that!

I applied this same mindset back in 2015 when I missed my connecting flight from Dublin to Düsseldorf. I missed my flight and it was my first time on the European continent. I was able to get another flight for later on that same day, but my limited travel experience at the time made me blow the whole thing out of proportion in my mind and I actually felt kind of scared and like I’d somehow never make it to Germany. Despite all this, I cracked a smile and hopped on a bus into town and explored! The situation “seemed” grim, but I still smiled and pushed myself to make the most of it! “Seemed” is in parenthesis because I wasn’t in any actual danger or trouble when I look at in in hindsight

Lesson 5: Life can be like a video game!

Life isn’t literally a video game and the things you do have real life repercussions. If you break the law, the 5 stars won’t disappear if you hide from the police for long enough. I hate to break it to you, but there’s no reset button either. Cheat codes don’t work either! If you’ve already read this article, then you’ll know that I tried to use the money cheat code in real life for years as a teenager. Still no luck unfortunately. 

Rise of Nations didn’t make me think that we were living in a virtual reality or that I could respawn, it taught me to relax and not take things too seriously. Part of why I kept losing when I first started playing was the fact that I’d allow the game to stress me out. It was just a game and games are supposed to be fun! There was no reason to be stressed. As soon as I relaxed and took the game less seriously and just allowed myself to enjoy it, I started winning more and having more fun. The same thing applies to real life. This comes in very handy when I travel. When I see seemingly interesting people (Especially at hostels) and want to talk to them, I sometimes just pretend that it’s a video game and just approach. As long as we all leave the interaction in the same or a better state than we were when I initially approached, then I win the game. It’s almost like interesting strangers are like the final bosses you encounter in a Zelda game. The only difference is that you defeat the final boss by either making it happy or by not dampening its mood when you interact with it. I’m aware of the fact that the interaction could go bad and that the person may not even want to talk, but that’s ok. I just respect it and move on. Pretending that it’s a video game really takes a lot of the pressure off and allows me to relax.

Lesson 6: Too much of a good thing can be bad! 

The sixth and final lesson that Rise of Nations taught me is that too much of a good thing can be bad. I know this is common sense, but I learned this the hard way. I gamed waaaaaay too much during this period and my health and friendships definitely suffered as a result of all of this. I didn’t go outside as much… ok hardly at all because I was always gaming which meant that I didn’t see my friends very much and I probably wasn’t the healthiest due to the fact that I was spending so much time in a chair in front of a computer everyday. Obviously I learned a lot during this period and a lot of the lessons still routinely get applied to my life today, over 10 years later, but I still played too much. I was addicted, but wasn’t aware of it. I try to always remember this lesson in my adult years and try to do things in moderation and to not get too carried away. I also try to catch myself when I start doing certain things too much. Obviously that is also easier said than done though. 

Video games aren’t always bad! 

Alright, I hope this wasn’t too nerdy for you guys and I apologize to all the parents whose children now once again have the excuses they were looking for to play video games. Video games taught me a lot. I learned German on Xbox, Spanish playing Age of Empires: 3 and a bunch of important life lessons playing Rise of Nations as a child. Video games get a very bad rep in our society, but as you can see, they’re not all bad. Some positives can come from playing them. I’m not claiming that sitting in front of a Playsation will make you come to life altering realizations or that holding a computer mouse for long enough will cause you to be enlightened. Although, one could argue that these are technically possibilities, I wouldn’t get your hopes up. I do, however, believe that we can learn at least one thing from almost anything we partake in. You can theoretically figure out your career path while constipated in a public washroom or you could figure out why you and your close friend no longer talk while waiting for a 20 pack of nuggets in line at Mcdonalds. Anything can lead to a new realization or epiphany and video games are no different. I learned a lot from Rise of nations and it will always have a special place in my heart. 

As always, I hope this all made sense and could help you, the reader in some way! If you liked what you read, please share it with other people who may also benefit from it! 

You got dis! 

This picture was taken at Albion Falls in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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