How I Use Online Gaming as a Tool for Self Development

I’ve always been drawn to video games, ever since I was very young when I would get to experience my neighbor’s Nintendo system. I was fascinated by the experience of going into a new world and exploring and interacting with it.

A few years back I was able to get my first PC capable of supporting current, mainstream video games. I got into a game called Planetside 2 which is free to play.

The game is a massively multiplayer online first person shooter game. The premise is that there are 3 Empires waging endless war with each other for control over a handful of continents on a planet, with hundreds of players fighting together at the same time on one continent.

There are control points scattered around the massive continents which are linked together in the form of facilities / buildings / bases, and when you log in to play, you deploy at a spawn point of your choice at or near one of these control points. Eventually one of the Empires gains majority control of all of the control points and ‘wins’ the battle for the continent. The battle is then reset.

Each Empire consists of a number of player classes which feature different sets of skills, abilities, and weapons which are individually suited for different styles and roles of fighting. There is the Infiltrator, the Medic, The Engineer, the Light Assault, Heavy Assault, and MAX class.

The more kills you get, and the more you participate in converting control points to your own faction’s control – the more experience points and certification points you earn. Certification points can be used to purchase upgrades to your abilities and gear.

When I first started playing the game, at that point I did not have very much experience with the complexities of this type of game structure. My initial style of playing was that I wanted to just get into the action and didn’t really have any plan or strategy, and wasn’t very good at it. So most of the time my play sessions would end in my getting frustrated when I would face other players who are clearly much more skilled than me. It was very hard for me to get kills and work towards upgrades.

Most of the player classes require you to thrive on being ‘right in it all’, exposed, and relying on your split second reflexes and confidence in order to rack up kills and experience. Whenever I tried this style I would fail to get better and not enjoy myself because I would be constantly worried about what is coming at me around the next corner, looking over my shoulder, being exposed, and intimidated by the skilled players I’m up against. With this style of play my reflexes and aim suffered significantly. Overall I don’t thrive under that kind of immediate pressure and lack of control.

Conversely, the Infiltrator’s cloaking abilities and long range weaponry enable them to sneak behind enemy lines and convert control points undetected, hack enemy equipment, gather information, and help turn the tide of battle while tucked relatively safely away in a strategic sniping hidey-hole. Out of all the styles of shooting / aiming, I found that long range sniping was what I was best at and enjoyed the most. I’ve actually become quite adept at being a sniper which I didn’t expect myself to initially. I also enjoy exploring and taking my time, and Sniping requires you to explore the lay of the land and find a strategic position which allows good line of sight to the enemy while remaining as hidden as possible. The Infiltrator class is overall about precision, stealth, accuracy, and controlling the fight through remaining hidden. And there is much less risk of getting shot right in the face after 5 seconds of combat, lol.

After many hours playing as an Infiltrator, and occasionally foraying into other classes, I began to see that my experience playing this game and finding the class and strategies that I’m best at, mirrors how I have tried different approaches to challenges in life with different results. For instance I’ve learned through trying out different jobs outside of my comfort zone, that I like to prepare myself by learning, assessing the lay of the land, and developing a process that is specified for my particular strengths and weaknesses, rather than just throwing myself blindly into the deep end with new things. So I started to see how playing a game can be really good practice and simulation of ‘real life’ situations and challenges – in terms of identifying strengths and weaknesses, what skills I can learn or develop more, and being consistent in applying methods and strategies that are best suited for the way I function.

Another important aspect of how the game supports me is identifying mis-alignments in my starting point of what I’m doing. For example, in game, when I would find myself getting frustrated, I learned to remind myself to identify how I am creating my own frustration. I started getting better at seeing where I jumped into a fight because I want to experience the thrill of winning, but because I rushed and did not consider the nature of what’s going on and what I’m up against, I thus set myself up to be overpowered immediately. So I realized I need to prepare and evaluate how I position myself within a battle, which is how I like to approach things in real life as well.

And in relation to that ‘wanting to experience the thrill of winning’, it’s interesting because I never enjoyed the winning/losing aspect of competitive activities which is why I never was interested in sports growing up. But once I started getting good enough within the game to be able to rack up a lot of kills and stay alive, I got a taste for that moment of satisfaction of using my skills and abilities to assert my superiority on the battlefield — something I’d never experienced in sports or through actual physical prowess. And so the desire grew more to beat other players / be superior – to get that energetic rush, that high of superiority and winning. But this desire also came with the reality of losing / being beaten by others again and again who are simply more skilled than me. And this would make me very frustrated and want to ‘get back at them’ and ‘beat them’ in return. But from this I learned that the reality is some players I just couldn’t beat because they’ve put hundreds more hours into the game than me. And so, interestingly, once I came to terms with this fact, when I would experience being beaten and unable to win against a certain player, I would practice reminding myself that it’s okay for others to be more skilled than me, and it’s pointless to fixate on wanting to win – and so rather than spoil my own experience of the game, I can let go of the interaction and move on to something else or seek out a different battle in which I’m able to position myself more strategically. Obviously this is a very practical approach to have in real life as well. So these types of scenarios in the game have helped me practice being more solution and strategy oriented in how I approach challenges and failure. Sometimes a repeated failure or frustration is showing you that you have to acknowledge that you’re up against something that’s beyond your depth or skill level, and you have to simply let go of it, or adapt and change your approach.

Also, what these experiences of frustration-in-losing forced me to do was to look at where my underlying desire / taste for that ‘superiority’ experience is actually coming from. And in bringing it back to myself and looking at my self honest experience of my life overall — I found that the desire to experience winning and superiority corresponded with areas of my life in which I have unresolved experiences of powerlessness, inferiority, and inadequacy. Simply seeing this has helped with letting go of those moments of wanting to ‘beat other players’ who clearly are more skilled than me, because I realize they’re simply activating my own inadequacies, which are related to certain areas of myself and my life which I need to work on. So the game is quite cool in the sense that it provides scenarios in which such reactions can activate so that I can investigate what’s behind them. And this is more comfortable than experiencing a similar scenario physically with other people in a non entertainment context.

So in summary, what have I learned through the last few years I’ve spent playing Planetside 2? I’ve learned that because gaming offers a range of scenarios that I would otherwise not experience, it can become be an extremely valuable tool for specializing and learning about one’s self, and developing skills and strategies to become more effective in taking on the challenges of life.

To develop your skills of self reflection, self honesty, and working with your mind and behavior, check out the Desteni “I” process

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