Growing up in the 80s and 90s I was introduced to video games. For today’s youth gaming has become a cultural phenomenon with people even making their careers out of playing them, turning their skills into careers and world championships being played out at Super Bowl-level events. Some of my favorites as a kid were Mario brothers, final fantasy, and Metroid. Many of the games I leaned towards were heavy on problem solving, reading, and character progression. If you were unable to beat a certain boss, progress to the next level, or just got stuck in the game there was something that you had neglected to do. This in many ways is similar to strength and conditioning and to training in general. While I would never recommend that my athletes spend their time playing video games, these games can sometimes work as a perfect training metaphor. Let’s explore.
If you have ever found yourself playing some form of role play game you know that in order to get to the end there is a lot of character progression that must happen. Generally you will spend time “training” your character through fighting monsters, acquiring new items, and recovering or powering up in order to increase their stats so that you can make it to the next level. Some games take this idea to the next level by including hunger, and after a tough day of fighting monsters you will often find your character spending a night at the local INN getting their rest for the evening. In the video game with each “level up” you increase your strength, speed, health, power and a host of other attributes.
What better metaphor for training exists? You have to build on your weaknesses to achieve your desired results. If you want to “level up” your strength you need to train with weights, if you wish to increase your speed then you will perform training to enhance the qualities of speed IE: strength, power, elasticity etc. There are even apps that have attempted to turn training into a video game such as Fitocracy. Through this app you can report your workouts and gain “experience points” towards leveling up your life.
What Type of Character are You?
Each and every one of us has natural strengths, as well as qualities that we can improve. We also each start with different levels of each of these qualities. This is in parallel to starting a new character in your favorite game. Often games will give you a choice to start characters with different attributes. Some can perform magic, others are experienced hunters, or brutal warriors. Recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses can help you choose where to focus your energy. You may be naturally strong like a warrior character, or you may have a more ability toward endurance or speed. Knowing your skills and leveraging them for performance is the best way for you to achieve success. Simply put if you are naturally more gifted in endurance activities then you will have to focus more on working at your strength/power or vice versa. Utilize this knowledge when choosing training modalities to have enjoyable and productive experiences. If you are naturally stronger than you may wish to train with a more strength oriented program, or if you are more drawn to endurance activities running or spinning may be a better option. The lesson is that we should always work to utilize and develop our strengths as well as improve our weaknesses and knowing what character type you are can help you make a better decision.
Join a Group / Guild
Many times in video games avatars are tasked with joining a guild, tribe, or faction. A group of individuals with certain skills to help you progress through the game. In life, building up your tribe or support group is a big key to success. If you are trying to get in better shape or improve your performance, spending time with those who are unmotivated or don’t share the same goals as you will make it harder for you to succeed. Seek out those who have the skills that you wish to attain. Research groups or clubs in your area, sign up for classes at your gym, and don’t be shy to approach someone at the gym. Personal training is also a great way to stay motivated and gain a coach type character for your tribe.
This is an important lesson because the challenge of getting in shape and reaching your goals is exponentially harder when you tackle it alone. However if you enlist the help of other guild members with similar interests you will see your character flourish.
Cherish the Whole Game and Defeat your Final Boss
The best part of any video game is the journey in which it takes you on. Most gamers will tell you that starting out with a new character and turning them into a powerhouse takes dedication. Sure there are speed bumps along the way, you may get killed while on a quest, or crash land on another planet, but the important thing is that you look at the whole journey as a preparation for the final boss (or goal). Your fitness journey is going to have speed bumps: Dinner parties, injuries, changes of heart towards training, emergencies, and other unforeseen circumstances (life). These can often work to derail you from your goals. However if you persevere through these obstacles, at the end you will face your final challenge whether it be a fitness competition, 10k race, or backyard football game with your kids. Enjoying the process and progressing is the best way to make sure that you are ready to defeat your final boss.
While drawing parallels between video games and training may seem like a stretch, in my mind progressing through a game offers the perfect comparison to a fitness journey. Starting off with your new character (you), leveling up skills while developing strengths that will help you defeat your final boss, all while seeking help from others along the way.