Ah, the Arcade.
As a kid, I remember wandering into the local Ryan Family Amusements in the Cape Cod Mall, enamored with the shining lights and loud noises, excited for what adventures lay ahead.
Armed with five dollars in tokens (dutifully earned from a week’s worth of chores), I’d carefully wander through the aisles, watching others playing fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, old school classics like Rampage or Donkey Kong, and ticket games like Skeeball or Rock’n Bowl.
I’d then settle my eyes on the game that intrigued me the most that day, and devote the next two hours of my life to mastering it….or losing a lot of quarters very quickly 🙂
Who knew that the basic lessons learned in the arcade could translate over to life and fitness goals; they even helped shape me into the person I am today.
Let’s take a look at some of these awesome arcade lessons.
There are cheat codes and combos
Everybody loves a good cheat code.
And combos make you feel like a badass, inflicting massive damage with minimal but directed effort:
I remember games like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Killer Instinct. I remember studying Orchid’s 80-hit combo, practicing for days so that I could get to the arcade and unleash fury on an unsuspecting victim. Yes, hammering away on the quick attack button might defeat the bad guy, but putting in a bit of effort to learn combos meant maximum damage with minimal effort.
I remember playing games like Top Skater, and learning about the special cheat code that let you play as a freaking surfer…dropping the jaws of all the confused people watching (I LOVED doing this).
Some codes made games more fun. Some codes gave you an advantage. Some combo moves allowed you to advance more rapidly.
Just like in the arcade, there are combos in real life and cheat codes:
Want a flawless victory? Go with the killer combo of Paleo Diet + Strength Training + Intermittent Fasting. C-C-C-COMBO!
Creating a financial budget that saves a few dollars a day is the “quick attack” button. Making one phone call to renegotiate your rent and another to lower your cable bill is an Ultra Combo (thanks Ramit!).
Working hard and hoping for a raise is good. Spending two hours of prep to negotiate a higher salary? That’s a cheat code.
Why do more and get less results when you can do less and get MORE results? Pick and choose the codes you want to use, combo effectively, and achieve a flawless victory. Stop worrying about landing 100s of quick, weak attacks and instead knock people out with one big combo.
Not all games are created equal
Not all games are created equal, and not all games are worth playing!
I could drop a quarter into a grabber game that is over in half a second (“THE CLAW!!“), or I could drop four quarters in Time Crisis and play for over an hour (thanks to my First Person Shooter skills – and this shooting trick demonstrated by the late Andy Whitfield).
Not bad for a buck!
So, although it was fun wandering and playing lots of different games once (and being terrible at them), nothing made me happier than finding a challenging game that that I truly enjoyed and dumping all of my time, energy and effort into honing my skills and racing for the top score in that one game.
As with Arcade experiences, not all life experiences are created equal, either:
Think about your gym: You could spend an hour doing leg presses, leg curls, leg raises, hip abductor and adductor machines, calf raises, and then an ab workouts…or you could spend 15 minutes doing one exercise, heavy squats, and get FAR more results in far less time. Win.
Instead of spending hours doing cardio (if you don’t actually enjoy it), why not spend 20-30 minutes doing the Beginner Bodyweight Routine or Star Wars Workout anad then go home and WATCH The Empire Strikes Back?
Instead of playing the calorie counting game (weeee!), why not play the “let’s stop freaking out and just focus on eating real food” game? It’s more fun and requires less work – I promise.
Think about where you spend your time and money: Is $100 a month (and 2-3 hours per day) spent on cable TV better than $100 spent on language instruction, or 10 books that enrich your life? Your call.
Seek out the “games” in life that are the best use of your time, that bring you the most happiness, and that challenge you in a way that you want to be challenged.
What do you spend your tickets on?
One of the most important lessons I learned about life is delayed gratification. It came from games that allowed me to earn tickets, like Skeeball and video poker.
True story: When my mom was out of town and it was Dad’s turn to take care of my brother, sister, and I, he taught us to play poker using LEGO Duplo pieces as poker chips. I was five years old. And I wonder why I love casinos…
Tickets could always be turned in for prizes, from bouncy balls for 5 tickets to speaker systems for 25,000 tickets.
There were two ways to approach the arcade:
- Spend all of your tickets each time you finish, buying lots of tiny knick knacks. Nothing too exciting, and you’ll probably lose them or grow tired of them in about five minutes, but they can be fun for RIGHT NOW.
- Save your tickets, stockpile them at home, and return when you have enough for an actual prize of worth.
I bet you can guess which camp I belonged to. If you answered: “the weird kid that loved saving tickets almost as earning them,” you’d be right. I would have been the kid who waited forever in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.
This attitude has carried over to the rest of my life:
- Rather than stuff my face with empty calories throughout the day, I’d rather hold off on snacking and instead later enjoy a big (and healthy) nutrient dense meal. I know the special power boost I’ll get from my big meal destroys the short lived rush from low ticket food.
- I spent two years living on very little, building Nerd Fitness from the ground up while also working a full time job. I knew that putting off short term distractions and focusing my effort on something I truly wanted would lead to the greatest “delayed gratification” victory ever. 3.5 years later, I couldn’t feel more happy or humbled at my life as a video game.
Stop sabotaging what you REALLY want by chasing what you want RIGHT NOW:
- That cookie might make you temporarily feel better, but it’s not gonna help you look in the mirror with pride and self-confidence.
- Skipping your workouts to watch another episode of House of Cards might make you temporarily happier, but three months from now you’re going to wish you had started TODAY.
- Spending your money on a bigger TV, better car, and more shoes might make you feel better temporarily, but you’ll always have that big trip on your list saying “some day.” Start saving now, and plan for that epic splurge on a big adventure. I’ve done both – experiences trump possessions every damn time.
Now, I’m not saying you should be spending 20 hours a day working a job you hate to save money until you can retire and THEN be happy. It’s important to enjoy the game you’re playing too.
What I’m saying is this: Stop spending all your tickets on junk, and start saving for things that will actually bring you success and happiness!
PLAYER ONE, YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE
Although I was too young to play the original Gauntlet, I remember dumping hundreds and hundreds of tokens into its successor, Gauntlet Legends.
As a fan of RPGs, I was immediately enamored with the concept of being able to pick a class and character (Wizard FTW!), crawl through dungeons, level up, and consistently face more challenging situations.
However, the game only allowed you to play for a limited amount of time, since your health bar was constantly depleting. Sure, you could discover health potions in treasure chests, but that timer was always counting down.
Once your life got low enough, you’d hear the famous overlord voice yell “Player One, You are About to Die!”
You could put more quarters in to keep playing (and I usually did), but that voice and the constant countdown was a reminder that my time playing was limited, and I had to make the most of it. It forced me to play with a sense of urgency instead of dillydallying around.
Life is a game and we’re all on a timer.
How often do we start a sentence with “someday”?
How often do we spend days doing something unfulfilling…wishing things were different?
It’s time to add some urgency to our lives. Your pocket isn’t full of quarters and you don’t get to add more time.
We get one playthrough, and we need to make the most of it:
- If there’s something on your bucket list you’ve always wanted to cross off, start planning for it. Not tomorrow. Not after breakfast. NOW. Start with these step-by-step instructions.
- If there’s a skill you’ve always wanted to learn (a new language, parkour, swing dancing, a musical instrument), stop making excuses (you’re lying) and start making it a priority.
- If you’re in a bad situation, it doesn’t mean you need to STAY in that bad situation. It means you need to put steps in place to make a change and level up.
These changes might be painful or cause discomfort. But better for it to csuck a bit and then improve than spend any extra time being unhappy. Life is too damn short.
I discuss this in my TEDx talk: if you don’t like the game you are playing, pick a new game.
The late Steve Jobs felt the same way: “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
I’m going to leave you with one final lesson.
Arcades have hundreds of games because everybody likes something different. I love watching people set a high score in any game, regardless of whether or not it’s a game I actually want to play. I watch them be good at the games they enjoy, and then move on to the game I enjoy, focusing on bettering my own high score.
Life is no different.
Appreciate the hard work of others at the game they chose to play, be it their chosen profession or athletic ability, but don’t think less of yourself when you don’t measure up on their playing field.
I’m not a fan of running, so if I based my self worth on how I stacked up against a marathon runner I’d have a very poor opinion of myself. Instead, I focus on the fact that I did 2770 pull-ups and have gotten damn good at handstands. That’s the game I’m playing.
Remember, you don’t know how many quarters it cost somebody to get to that point in their life or level of success! Let them play their game, and you play yours. Compare yourself to you from yesterday.
Okay, now it’s your turn.
I’d love to hear what Arcade games occupied most of your time, and what lessons you learned from them.
Here are a few more of mine:
- Donkey Kong taught me to study timing patterns and hone my skills. And that hammers are awesome.
- Rampage taught me that teamwork can be crucial for world domination. And to not punch electrical signs.
- Mortal Kombat taught me how to finish what I started, and finish strong (FATALITY!). And that Sub-Zero is the man.
- Cruising USA taught me how to drive, and that double-tapping the gas is a great way to pop a wheelie. (kidding, San Fransisco Rush taught me to drive.)
How about you?
What was your favorite Arcade game to play, and what life lesson did it teach you?
PS: I’ve been on a lot of trips recently (with a few epic ones on the way) that I’ve been chronicling through my Instagram Account @SteveKamb. Follow me there!
PPS: Thanks to all the folks that came out to the Chicago Meetup last week! GOOD TIMES, and I’ll definitely be back.