31 Oct Lessons from the Arcade #1
I was watching my son play some retro arcade games on the weekend (OK, I was playing, too).
It was fun to watch how to play these games through a fresh set of eyes. There were lots of laughs, lessons and a few frustrating moments… possibly more than a few. I had to dust off the old skill set from a lifetime ago. If you are to believe my son, that equates to about a century!
As I watched and played, I realised these games offered me some valuable lessons that are applicable way beyond the arcade.
While these are simple games, much simpler than the modern-day Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo, they hold a level of complexity that is genius in design, both clever and painful… but we will get to that.
We played a range of games, and each had something to teach me about how we do life.
The stand-out was Frogger, the Konami hit from 1981.
In Frogger, the aim is to get across the screen from bottom to top, through a range of challenges, and park your frog on the bank.
To do this, you need to hop through cars and trucks, across lily pads and over some logs before timing it just right to leap onto a safe space on the bank.
Sounds easy, right? How hard could it be?
Well, throw in some crocodiles, snakes and a range of distracting bonus prizes, and things get interesting.
I think you get the picture now. As I said earlier, genius in its design, both painful and clever.
So, through this simple yet challenging game, what did I learn from my son?
Here are my learnings…
1. Be clear on what you seek to achieve
Maximum points? Collecting the bonus prizes? Simply completing a level?
Each one is possible; all of them a little tricky.
As Oprah Winfrey says, “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the one time.”
So, be clear about what are you trying to achieve. As Stephen Covey states in his brilliant book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.”
We need to be very clear on the goal(s) we want to achieve, so we can make choices as we play this game – and our life. Choices that enable the goal to be realised.
We can achieve this clarity in several ways, but one thing is true regardless of your goal setting process: capturing the goal and recording it allows you to return regularly to the goal and maintain your clarity.
I am a fan of writing goals down and making them as tangible and real as possible. Putting pen to paper gives life and power to our goals, our ideas, our future.
2. Stay focussed on your goal
In Frogger, a range of opportunities present themselves as you play.
A purple frog appears in the log section and can give you a piggyback to the bank for bonus points.
A fly appears in the slots on the bank, giving you bonus points if you can get to the bank while it’s still present.
In life, interesting opportunities also appear as you head towards your goal. You may choose to look into or pursue some of these; others may seem useful, but take you further from your goal.
“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”
— George Lucas
So, when the “shiny things” appear, be sure of your choice relative to them. Ask yourself, does this new thing complement my goal, complete my goal or corrupt my goal?
If you understand your goal well enough, you will quickly find a clear answer.
3. Be mindful of the path you take
While we need to focus on our goals, we also need to be mindful of the path we take to achieve them.
Now, I am not trying to go all “grasshopper” on you (cheers, David Carradine), but it’s important we consider where we tread as we head towards our goals.
In Frogger, there are four basic levels that continue infinitely. Simple, then… no. What changes is the complexity of the distractions and pitfalls that appear between you and your goal.
Cars increase in speed and number, snakes start wriggling along the centre bank, logs turn out to be crocodiles, lily pads disappear from under you… you get the picture.
If you aren’t focussed on the journey, the pathway, you will get into trouble fast!
Much like a GPS can recalculate our pathway as we move, sometimes we need to do the same in the game, and in life. We see a snake enter the fray, and then we need to work around it. Similarly, if something unhelpful appears in life, how do we work around it to achieve our goals?
How do we press onward mindfully?
As Chuck Swindoll says, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
Or, to go back another two millennia when Epictetus, the famed Greek philosopher, stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
4. Look for the patterns and systems
As I have mentioned, there are only four levels to Frogger. They do repeat.
There are changes but, fundamentally, they do repeat. We can learn the patterns with practise.
In Frogger, the disappearance of the lily pads isn’t random. The same set disappears, and when it does, you have a few seconds to react (or maybe don’t ever jump on them).
The cars do increase their speed, but not randomly. They level up noticeably in a single step when you achieve certain points and outcomes.
There is a pattern you can build into your system of play.
As we work toward our goals, we also need to be mindful of looking for ways to make things a little easier. You could potentially build systems that take a lot of the effort out of achieving your goals.
James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, offers a thought on the interrelationship of goals and systems:
``Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.``
The learning here is to look for systems that enable ongoing success.
5. Have some fun and be kind to yourself
I had a ball with my son while we played Frogger. We laughed at each other’s gamesmanship (or lack thereof) and when “that joystick didn’t work properly!”
We didn’t know how to be experts at this game, so we had to embrace our current experience level and learn. I found that because I had played this game a lot as a youngster, I had this story in my head about being better at it than I actually was.
My son played from a place of curiosity and fascination, what I might call “open inexperience”. And guess what? Very quickly, he was beating me!
“Inexperience is an asset. Embrace it.” – Wendy Kopp
So, why did he start beating me?
It could have been the youthful hand-eye coordination he has, but I think that would be a shallow answer.
I’d offer that it was largely because I took myself too seriously and expected too much. My “experience”, no matter how dusty, got in the way of simply having fun and being in a place to learn. As I got frustrated, I forgot to be kind to myself and reset my expectations.
I was like the golfer who hasn’t swung a club in 10 years expecting to get a hole in one, let alone a par!
So, as we reflect on Frogger and the lessons I received, I would offer that this one is potentially the most powerful: be kind to yourself and enjoy the process. If you aren’t, then step back, reset, recalibrate, then re-engage.
After all, life is for living.
“There’ll be two dates on your tombstone and all your friends will read ’em, but all that’s gonna matter is that little dash between ’em.” – Kevin Welch
For the Frogger Fans
For those of you who chuckle with fond memories of Frogger and think this is an era that has passed…. no way.
The phenomenon of arcade games is alive and well. In fact, the challenges for world domination continue!
The current Frogger world-record holder is Pat Laffaye of Westport, Connecticut, USA. On August 15, 2017, he scored 1,029,990 points, becoming the first and only person ever to break one million points on an original arcade machine.