I recently got a Steam account after watching the documentary “Indie Games” and falling in love with Edmund McMillen. This year, one of my resolutions is to beat Super Meat Boy: a platform game where you (Meat Boy) run, jump, slide down walls, and avoid fatal objects in order to save your girlfriend (bandage girl) from Dr. Fetus.
While this resolution seems trivial, I’m doing this because I love video games but since they’re not a “productive” use of my time I rarely complete them. This resolution has made me play more often, and that gameplay has taught me some valuable lessons.
1) Go for it, don’t be afraid to take risks because chances are you’re dead anyway.
While playing Super Meat Boy I’d often hesitate to try one of my ideas because I feared it would be a deadly mistake. Ironically, I usually ended up dying while trying to play it safe. I would’ve been better off testing my theory because even if it failed that just meant I should try something else next time. And despite my fear, my instincts tend to be correct.
The same happens in life, particularly in the classroom. For instance, we end up writing for the teacher, in fear of a bad grade, instead of writing for ourselves. When we put forth our best honest efforts the results tend to be better than when we try to alter our writing style to satisfy others. And that lack of genuineness always seeps through to the reader.
We don’t know if something is a mistake until we make it. And we won’t know if something is a success unless we try it. So take risks. People will appreciate the effort. Plus, “playing it safe” makes for dull work and mediocre results.
2) It’s there for a reason
In the world of meat boy, even the smallest piece of flat wall is there for a reason—a place where you can jump. Keep your eyes open because as difficult as the game is, it is not impossible (contrary to popular belief).
Everything Team Meat did in this game was intentional; the same way everything an author (or a professor) presents is intentional. Thus, I’ve found this lesson to be a valuable one in the classroom. Writers and professors present you with their words because they are important to them, so important that they are sharing them with you. So take notes and pay attention.
3) Take breaks
After the first world or two, Super Meat Boy becomes Super Frustrating. Sometimes you need to quit the app for a few minutes or a few hours. And sometimes you just need to admit defeat and call it a night in the hopes that tomorrow will be better.
This skill is crucial for everyone to acquire, especially us college kids if we want to survive undergrad. Taking breaks is all about being honest with yourself. Are you really going to have a 5hr nonstop writing session? Maybe some of you can, but I know I can’t. Be realistic with your goals and honest about your abilities. At a certain point, we all burn out. That’s when we need to leave our desks and do something else: eat, nap, take a walk, play videogames, talk to a friend, etc. Usually, an effective break is 30 minutes or less (though in certain circumstances an hour is acceptable). But sometimes taking a break does mean just going to sleep and trying again tomorrow. There is danger in staring at an essay or project for too long. It starts to lose meaning and you start to doubt everything. When you hit a wall like this, particularly towards the end of your night, don’t waste another 2hrs beating yourself against it. You will become even more exhausted with no progress to show for it.
So much like Super Meat Boy, sometimes you just need to close the laptop and go to sleep.
4) Nothing is more satisfying than struggling and overcoming
The challenge of Super Meat Boy is what makes the game so addicting. You have to keep trying because you know it can be done. And with each level attempt you get a little farther and farther until finally… success!
It’s satisfying when you surprise others with your capabilities, but it’s even more satisfying when you surprise yourself.
We often think we are held back by our abilities, when in reality we are held back by our assumptions about them. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as “math people, science people, English people, art people, etc”. I believe that we flourish in the fields we put effort into. Unfortunately, once we reach undergrad, many of us believe that are skills are set in stone: if we are mediocre scientists then science is not our thing. All of us should challenge those assertions.
Remember, if you are not struggling you are not challenging yourself and if you are not challenging yourself, what’s the point?