When I tell people I’m planning to walk across the United States, often the response is a baffled “why?”
There are so many reasons for me to go on this walk. A desire for adventure. To see the country. To meet new people. To shove myself out into situations that I would otherwise avoid. To test myself and see what I can handle – and prove to myself that I can handle more than I think. To slow down and really experience every moment – it doesn’t get much slower than walking! To prove that the world is full of awesome people. To show people that they don’t have to just go along, that they can go after their dreams. That you can have that adventure you dream of, and you can dream as big as you want.
But one of the biggest, and maybe the silliest, among my list of reasons is video games. Specifically, Guild Wars.
When I thought up this wacky adventure many moons ago, it was pretty simple. First I thought, “Hey, you know what would be fun? Walking across the country!” Then I thought, “Hey, you know what would be even better? A whole group of people walking across the country, and we could pick up people as we go, so by the time we reached California we’d be this mass of people walking westwards!” But oddly enough, nobody actually wanted to join me. People rarely understand my genius visions.
Then one day I was playing Guild Wars, running around in Ascalon helping pig farmers round up their pigs and little girls find their flutes, and I thought “Man, I wish I could live here. Just running around, seeing the land, helping people in need, and having adventures.” Then came the epiphany:
Why the heck not?
And so my straightforward coast-to-coast walk got a little less straightforward and a lot more fun. Now instead of just walking along, I’m approaching the whole thing as if it were a game. Specifically, an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). I’ve made up a brief character sheet for the players – namely myself and Anna – and I hope to complete quests (for example: various sights I hope to see) and unlock achievements (for example: each new state I walk into) along the way.
I mean, I’ve been playing Guild Wars for six years now – I think that’s the longest I’ve ever done any one thing. It was bound to rub off on me in some way. I’m impressionable like that.
(Because really, who wouldn’t want to venture through quaint villages with waterfalls and people handing out gold pieces?)
She spoke about how more and more people are turning to virtual worlds and online gaming to escape the frustrations of reality, explaining that people are using these virtual realities and games to escape what is broken and unsatisfying in real life. Gamers can feel more satisfied and empowered in a virtual world where we can achieve more than we can in our everyday lives.
In video games we have a whole world of people just waiting to give us epic missions and help us achieve our goals, whereas most of the time in real life we feel alone and lacking any clearly defined goals. We turn to those video games because of a sense of accomplishment, of community and teamwork, and problems that we know can be solved with enough hard work.
Video games send us on an adventure were we have important tasks, awe inspiring environments, epic stories to fulfill, quests and missions that are achievable, and a whole network of people signing on to team up and help each other out. Real life, in comparison, can feel drab, boring, frustrating, lonely, and often pointless.
She asked the question “Why doesn’t the real world work more like an online game?” Exactly, Jane McGonigal. An excellent question! And jumping off from that idea, I asked myself another question: how can I make my life work more like a game? Or, why not approach life with the attitude I would approach an online game?
So now I’m doing just that, attempting to bring the positive aspects of gaming to the real world. Forget signing off, if it all possible I want to be able to feel that excitement and satisfaction that I do while gaming all of the time. There is a whole network of potential team-mates and collaborators out there. There are awesome environments waiting to be seen, quests and stories waiting to be fulfilled, battles waiting to be won.
So I’m going to try. I’m sending myself out on an adventure, one that will hopefully end in an Epic Win.
Although I’m hoping no dungeons waiting to be cleared. I’m not a big fan of dungeons. I like to leave those to the experts.