Imagine if someone told you that they would give you $20 for every point you could score in a Mario-like video game. But–you could only play it one time. What would you do? Seriously, think about it…what would you do?
If I was just given that offer and asked that question, here’s how I’d answer:
I would talk to people who were experienced in playing the game and ask them questions like, “Are there games similar to it that I could practice on?” “What is important to get on each level?” “What are the dangers?” “Where are the coins and the secret weapons/powers?” I’d try to find out if there was a books about the game written by the manufacturer or people who know the game well. I’d memorize their instructions and look at maps (draw them if necessary). Bottom line—I’d take it very seriously because this will be the only opportunity I will ever have to get $20/point in a video game.
But what if you got the offer after you’d already started playing?
If I was just beginning to play level 4 and was asked by a player near the end of Level 1 for advice, I’d pause my game and tell him this:
1: You can pause the game: Pausing is, arguably, the most important step in getting points. True—there is no virtue in pausing in and of itself—in fact, it is somewhat costly as you aren’t getting points or moving forward while you’re paused. However, if you want maximum points you will need to look at your maps, survey the environment, review the instructions, receive counsel, rest your eyes, eat, sleep, etc. If you try to do those things while you are actively playing, it will be ineffective at best and fatal at worst. Remember the exhortation of Mad-Eye Moody, “Constant vigilance!” The truth is, though, no one can be constantly vigilant. You need rest and refreshment as well as training, re-orientation and reflection. The lower the level the longer you can pause. BUT BE CAREFUL! Most people pause only to escape the game and fill their mind and time and thoughts with other distractions—they learn nothing, grow nowhere and come back to the game more tired and less focused than when they left it. If you’re only going to pause like that, it is better not to pause at all. You have to decide—do you really want points or not? You really can’t play two games at once (although many try…). (Ex 20:8-10, Matt 6:24)
2: Make the most of Level 1: There are hardly any points in level one, but there are hardly any (active) dangers, either. It is a great place to run around and get real comfortable with the controller. If Level 1 is played well, moving your man in Level 2 feels extremely natural. No one ever accidentally runs off the bridge into the lava on Level 2 who spent a lot of time moving around in Level 1. Sadly, hardly anyone does this since there are very few points to be had on the first level and it is very easy to get to the doorway of Level 2. Most just sit around bored and distracted until the level 2 door opens. It is kind of ironic that the least dangerous level is in some ways the most dangerous—failure to take advantage of its opportunities can seriously handicap you for the rest of the game. (Prov 2:1-12) [which brings me to #3…]
3: Pick up the keys!!!: Statistics show that most people who successfully open the treasure box in Level 3 for the super sword and the door in Level 4 for the power food, open them with keys picked up in Level 1. Nevertheless, most people don’t pick them up in Level 1–even the Level 1 players who have old people standing around them yelling, “Pick up that key! Pick up that key!!!” often refuse to do it. I think this is because players notice right away that carrying keys slows them down and bars them from going to certain places on the screen. This just feels wrong to them. Young players think that maximizing freedom, speed and mobility is the best way to get points; when, in truth, what you need most is power, knowledge and ability. There are many keys on the first two levels, and they are way easier to get there than the ones on level 3 and 4. Trust me–pick up the keys early! Gaining abilities always limits your options and always slows you down, but everything that is valuable is costly (and it costs more and more with each level). In this game, you really do only get what you pay for. Pay wisely. (Ps 119:9-16)
4: You can play with a partner: Starting as early as level 2, you can join forces with another player. This is an incredible opportunity to increase your total points, but only if 4 things are true: 1: You are partnered to a good player; 2: You are a good player; 3: You have both seriously prepared yourselves for partnered play; 4: You are both seriously committed to partnered play. If any of these 4 things is not true, you are much better off playing alone. Of the 4 requirements above, level 2 players often only concern themselves with the first two. In fact, the last two are at least as important. Playing with a partner requires very different skills than playing alone, and these are learned—it does not come naturally. A good solo player that never studied partner play is likely to suck in a partnered game. When partnered, maneuvering is much more difficult and you move way slower, but your power, knowledge and abilities can be greatly enhanced. There is great wisdom in an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (Eccl 4:9-12)
I have been partnered since the beginning of level 3. I’m not sure if I could say if the game is harder with a partner, but it might be in some ways. It is significantly more enjoyable (but occasionally significantly more painful). I can for sure say, though, that I’ve gotten more points. I’m way better as a partnered player (after all, that is how I was designed to play—it is not good for a man to play alone Gen 2). If you want to play with a partner, I cannot overstate the importance of the four things above. You need to know the game well, be comfortable with a controller, and understand the rules and dynamics of partnered playing. How do you do this? Read the guides. Watch (and evaluate) other players. Talk (and listen!) to other partnered players. Then, and only then, should you start evaluating potential partners. If you are a Christian at that point in the game, you’ll understand that the only person you could partner with (while maintaining a clear conscience before God) is one who’s best interest it is to be partnered to you. You must become a great player first or you’ll ruin someone’s game. This is time-consuming, expensive and painful (but way worth it in my experience). BEWARE! This is a big risk. Look around you—there are tons of low-pointed, crippled, and miserable partnered-players out there. Become a great player, learn partner lore, then (and only then) find a great partner. (Prov 18:22).
5: If it wasn’t for God’s grace in my life, I’d tell you to jump on the exploding mushroom: Understand that they don’t call it a “dog-eat-dog world” for nothing. There really are very few people in the world who will ever be truly committed to your best interests. It isn’t so much that they are against you, but that they are for themselves–which prevents them from love (1Jn 4:7-8).
Do you know any good players who are able to teach you? Do you know any bad players that are able to teach you (never underestimate the value of a bad example—sometimes failure teaches the most valuable lessons)? The important things are: 1: are they able to teach you? and 2: Are you willing to learn? One of the great dangers of level 1 is the false sense of ability it can give. It seems so easy and safe that it lulls people into a bored self-confidence. The designer of the game created level 1 so you could learn and grow, but most players just screw around bored while they wait for the door to level 2 to open. This is a huge mistake. If you want points in level 4, play level 1 with the same passion. LEARN from experienced players. If you can’t find a trustworthy mentor, at least pause your game and watch men play—remember you can learn a lot from both success and failure. However, watch and listen with discernment. Just because someone tells you something doesn’t mean that it’s true, and just because something looks like a success doesn’t mean that it ultimately is. This is a complicated game. That is why instruction from an experienced mentor who loves you is more valuable than what you can glean from your own observations. Unfortunately, love is way more rare than you think. If you have access to an experienced mentor who loves you, make the most of this opportunity! Sadly, it seems to me that most don’t. Listen and watch with strong intention (tempered with careful discernment). Here’s another thought–if the Manufacturer loves you and wants you to win, how stupid would you have to be to not listen to His instructions! (DUH!)
One thing that you will never be short of is people telling you how to play your game. This is one reason why people don’t value a loving experienced mentor—we’re all just sick to death of the seemingly incessant voices telling us how to play. It is just easier to quit listening altogether than to listen with discernment. Don’t do what is easy—this is $20/point! Listen with discernment and value those that love you well. Play well. God help you. God help us all. (Prov 3:5-8)