I. Love. Spelunky. This game has a random level generator so balanced that it truly keeps the game fresh every time you play it. I also love to extract bits of wisdom from the games I obsess on and Spelunky is a treasure trove of life lessons. Whether or not they were deliberately embedded in the game design makes no difference to me.
Lesson #1, STAY FOCUSED ON YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL
It is really easy to get distracted in Spelunky. Each stage is littered with shinny objects, crates, treasure chests or my personal favorite, Gold Scarabs that beckon you ever closer. But every time you diverge yourself from the path too much, you increase your risk. Maybe you’ll find more monsters, more obstacles or more situations that will force you to waste your bombs and ropes who could come in very handy in a situation down the road. All these distractions keep you from seeing that the only real goal here is to find the Exit. Sure, you need money and items to help you along, but you can easy acquire the ones that are within easy reach instead of risking your life trying to get anything but the low-hanging fruit.
In life, I have had many business ventures and opportunities that I have chased spontaneously. This lack of focus on one single target, one single idea, has come back to haunt me in the form of wasted funds and wasted precious time. These distractions can also come in the form of wasteful habits such as eating out too often, buying unnecessary gadgets or toys (including cars!), paying for entertainment and sometimes dating. The game Cashflow by Robert Kiyosaki is entirely dedicated to this lesson of staying focused on your ultimate goal and avoiding distractions. This lesson also seems to be embedded in nature itself as predators often go after weak prey instead of wasting time coveting more and better targets. ”A bird in hand is worth two in the bush” seems to be better advice than most people think.
Lesson #2, YOU CAN’T SAVE THEM ALL
One of the things you will find while playing Spelunky is a damsel in distress. If you carry her to the exit she will reward you with +1 Life on the next level. The problem is that while you are carrying her, you can’t carry any tools. You can put her down somewhere but if you take too long to come get her again, she starts to panic and running around frantically, possibly getting herself into more trouble. All this risk could cause you to get hurt in the process and lose 1 or more Life, which defeats the purpose of saving her in the first place, but once you start the process you will have no practical choice than to save her just so you can break even in Life points. Sometimes she is in a very difficult position and trying to save her would greatly increase your risk of getting hurt or even killed, which at that point it doesn’t matter anymore.
In life, you may be compelled to save someone else in need, but the reality is that sometimes you can make the situation worse by attempting to help. You could also be put in a position to need help or you could botch the attempt, all depending on the situation. Now, don’t take me wrong, i love helping people and this lesson is for those of us that deep down have that hero complex, this lesson is for those of us that leap to aid at a second’s notice without thinking and this is a good thing and more people should be like us, but everything in excess turns to turn for the worse and this lesson addresses being excessively helpful to the point were you hurt yourself in the process, or worse, also hurt the one you want to help.
This lesson teaches us that helping someone depends on our power and capacity to help and that it has nothing to do with intentions, as good as those may be. We are mere mortals and there is a limitation on what we can do to help others and recognizing that helping someone may sometimes be out of the reach of our capacity to help is not a bad thing, we shouldn’t feel bad or guilty about it, we’re not Superman and even he can’t save everyone all the time. Who is saving people in the world when he is busy being Clark Kent?
Lesson #3, BE COURAGEOUS
Because Spelunky makes random stages every time you play, you may run into situations were you can panic, especially in the ice caves. Every time you panic you make the worse decisions, you start holding down the run button and the fear slows down your reaction time to create a perfect storm of clumsiness. It actually pays off to remain calm and in control, you keep your chances from crashing and you can execute the ideas in your head instead of letting your panic do the thinking.
In life, courage can give you the self control you need during stressful situations when something important is at stake. It can also make you stand out from the crowd in good light in contrast to most people who choose to play it safe and risk free. How about talking to that person you have a crush on? Courage. Public speaking in an event? Courage. Performing in a competitive tournament, be it sport or video game? Courage. The lack of courage will paralyze you and close doors of opportunity.
Although Spelunky does teach this lesson, I have already learned it myself when i went to my first Armored Core tournament, which was on Armored Core 3 for the Playstation 2. My first round I, a tournament virgin, was to go head to head against a guy named Allain, better known as The Watcher. Everyone was telling me how good he was and how many past tournaments he had won and how badly and quickly he would defeat players. I totally lost my cool; the palm of my hands became moist, my fingers slightly shaking and I lost every nerve at the thought of being utterly humiliated in front of my gaming peers. This was especially painful because my robot design was so unorthodox that everyone thought it was just a big, slow, n00bish design. I didn’t care what the naysayers said. I practiced day and night. Iterated and tinkered with my design day and night. I believed in it. I believed in myself…that is until they told me that I had to face the legendary Watcher on my first round of my first tournament…with a totally experimental design. I started to panic at the thought of public humiliation and looking like a fool.
All my plans and all my tactics went out the window the moment the match started. I was making stupid mistakes, my aim was off, my timing was off, I picked the worse times to take shots. My spacial awareness was also gone and I let myself get flanked by the most obvious maneuvers and all because i was afraid. I just couldn’t muster enough courage. I now understand why some people do crazy things like climb Savage Mountain or Mount Everest or El Capitan. I now understand why people sky dive or ride huge rollercoasters or go around the world in a balloon or a sailboat or join toastmasters; It is to build up courage and that courage, in turn, allows them to make better decisions (among other things).
I can’t help but think that if I had built up my courage, I could’ve won that round.
A funny thing happened on the second round; I regained some of my courage when I realized that it was my turn to pick a stage. Part of my plan was to use the stage as part of my design. I had a different strategy for every stage in the game. The stage I chose was one that was not very friendly towards slow, heavy designs like mine but I had a plan…
I couldn’t believe it! I beat The Watcher under 30 seconds, something that no one has been able to do to that day. How? Courage. So, get out there and build up your courage, go on rollercoasters or rock climbing or skydiving or talk to strangers or speak in front of crowds and you will find that it will be much harder for you to be intimidated by someone or afraid of making a decision or fall victim to panic.
Thank you Spelunky and thank you, Derek Yu for making such a simple and great little game ^_^
The Watcher beat me on the 3rd round because I got cocky and overconfident. My plan for the stage he picked required for me to position myself at the corner of the map, something I deluded myself into thinking I didn’t need, but overconfidence is a lesson to be discussed another time :)