Scott H Young

Personal Development as a Game


The similarities between personal development and role playing games are often striking. In role playing games or RPG’s, players have a character which must do certain tasks to gain experience points. Personal development involves doing certain tasks to gain experience as well. In RPG’s, a fundamental aspect of the game involves increasing the skill level of the character you are using to make them stronger. The core message of personal development is to improve ourselves.

I bring this up because I think using a game as a metaphor to describe personal development can be especially useful. Games are supposed to be fun and challenging. Games such as RPG’s specifically involve building and improving a character. Whether or not you personally enjoy games, especially RPG’s, drawing connections between the two can be valuable.

Seek Change

A primary lesson we can learn by making connections between RPG’s and personal development is that we need to seek change to make improvements. In computer RPG’s one might gain experience by playing in a certain area of the game. However, once a particular skill level is reached, the player has to move to a new area in order to gain more experience.

This is incredibly true for personal development as well. When we have learned all we can, we need to change and move on. It is easy to get attached to our present situation, however. It is easy to get caught up in our current situation and not want to move on when that move is necessary to continue growth.

In RPG’s it is also necessary to get new items and skills that will later be discarded in favor of new ones. An item that served you at a low level must be discarded when new items become available.

Again, this is like personal development. It is easy to adopt certain habits, behaviors or environments in order to improve ourselves. However, once we reach a point where there are different habits and behaviors that would better benefit ourselves, we have to discard the old ones.

This can sometimes be difficult. We might say to ourselves that these habits served us well, and that we should continue with them as they made us what we are today. There is an excellent quote from Albert Einstein, “The level of thinking that has gotten us to where we are will not take us to where we need to go.” Therefore, although certain ideas, beliefs or habits might have served us in the past, we need to let them go and improve them if we want to reach the next level.

Progress Takes Time

Another great lesson that can be gained from looking at RPG’s is that progress takes time. In order to build a character, it takes a lot of time and work to gain all of the experience necessary. While there are some ways to improve more rapidly than others, few games have a shortcut that allows you to skip this process entirely.

Once again this is like personal development. It takes time to make progress and build experience. Expecting instant results will only leave us disappointed. This progress must be built continuously and it takes time. Once again, while there are techniques and tools to increase this process, there is never going to be that tool or technique that instantly transforms your life.

Focus on Your Strengths Not Your Weaknesses

In RPG’s it is important to identify the strengths of your character and focus on those, rather than try to create a character without weaknesses. The best characters tend to focus on a few of their natural strengths and avoid their weaknesses.

Personal development works the same way. Focusing on your natural talents and highlighting your strengths will allow you to be effective in certain areas. If you try not to be bad at anything then likely you won’t be especially good at anything either. It is impossible to do everything, so focusing on building a few of our key strengths is more critical than shoring up every weakness we have.

Understanding is the Key to Success

In an RPG, those players that know how the game works can build a new character to be very strong relatively quickly. Where as those players with a poor understanding of the finer points of the game will ultimately waste a lot more time and resources to get to the same ends. In many computer based RPG’s where the rules are often hidden from the player, experimentation is often a critical step in gaining this understanding.

In personal development this is the same. Understanding how things work is a critical part of succeeding in any endeavor. This is why I suggest reading every day. A better understanding of how the “game” works will allow you to get things done far faster than if you do not. Like the RPG, this understanding also comes from trying things out and experimenting. By personally experimenting it is easier to gain an understanding of how the “game” works.

Improvement is More Important Than Status

In an RPG, the rate at which a player is improving his character will have a much larger impact on the end result than the particular level he is currently at. Worrying about what current level you are at seems almost ridiculous, since it is your level of improvement, not your ability that matters in the end.

Personal development is driven by your level of improvement. Unfortunately, many people don’t try to improve themselves because they feel self-conscious for being too weak in a particular area. Other people decide not to improve an area because it is better than average.

Both these mindsets would seem ridiculous to someone playing an RPG, seeing as you are always trying to improve. If you have just started building a character, you wouldn’t feel self-conscious that it was worse off than someone else, because you are just starting. Also, you wouldn’t simply stop when you are better than average because then you are far below your true potential.

Growth Brings Happiness

An RPG is fun because you are constantly changing and improving. Where you are today is further than you were yesterday. Improving yourself allows you to see new areas of the game, battle new monsters and often meet new people. In essence, the improvement, not the arbitrary point, is what makes an RPG fun.

Once again this is the essence of personal development. Being a millionaire or an Olympic athlete doesn’t bring happiness. Happiness comes from the constant improvement and change we experience in our life. Happiness comes from experiencing new things, reaching new levels in our development and increasing our understanding.

Of all the parallels between RPG’s and personal development there are I believe this point is the most valid. The purpose of setting goals and developing ourselves isn’t to reach some arbitrary objective. The purpose of that is to expand our experience of life.

It may seem a bit odd to relate personal development to an RPG, but I always find that by looking at things from different perspectives can often give us completely unexpected life lessons. The most ironic thing of all is that people who often obsessively play an RPG won’t invest any time into the real life version! Instead they substitute their own growth with that of a fictional character.

While I have taken RPG’s as an example of something I believe can serve as a good metaphor for personal development, there are plenty others. Thinking of our personal development from a variety of perspectives can allow us to think of things in new and empowering ways.

See you soon, I’ve got to go level-up. ;)


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3 Responses to “Personal Development as a Game”

  1. Sean Walsh says:

    Well Said!

  2. Panda says:

    Wow, awesome metaphor! ^_^

    Just a guess, perhaps many gamers bought into that prevalent idea in society you mentioned in Work, Retire…then Die. They may use RPGs to fulfill their need for growth.

  3. aaron says:

    This site i stumbled by chance and im happy to say i had the exact mindset few years back :)

    The “one thing” that keeps us on toes to playing the game (and improving skills) is to face the level boss or game boss.

    If we can win a game by accumulating only 10/100 of a skill or cannt even win by upgrading to 100/100 (maxed out), then that game aint FUN.

    In life, we need to have such bosses (called goals) that are within our reach to keep motivating us but not overwhelm us.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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