Monday, March 28, 2011

Alter Ego

{In which I draw life lessons from a game in an effort to rationalize procrastination}

While avoiding the wedding photos last week, I stumbled across an online text-based sim game called Alter Ego. It's not exactly a super fun sort of game, but since the alternative was to actually process the photos (at a time when they were giving me a ton of trouble and filling me with self-doubt), I found the game distracting enough for my purposes.

You start out as an infant and answer a few questions before you're "born" into the main part of the game, in which you experience life through modules. Each module presents a scenario and lets you choose your response.

In the early life stages, those choices affect your stats, which track how you're doing in important spheres of life (familial, intellectual, social, etc.), personality/character traits (confidence, expressiveness, trustworthiness, etc.), and some other stuff (wealth, relationship status, etc.).

Your stats become important in later stages of life, as they determine the outcome of your choices — which, in turn, can influence your stats. For example, if you're going to choose to stand up to your boss, your chances are a lot better if your confidence is high; otherwise, your vocational sphere might take a hit.

There are a lot of modules, but you can't get through all of them before you're pushed to the next stage of life (to simulate real life, I suppose). As you move through the stages, new modules are introduced — job, relationships, education - and it becomes a matter of prioritizing. Eventually you die and the game is over (try not to die prematurely because that kind of sucks).

The first time I played through the game, I tried to take it seriously and make choices based on how the real me would react. That's how I learned that I would like to be a lot nicer than I actually am. I did try to be honest, but the temptation to pick what I thought should be the "right" answer (even if I probably wouldn't follow through in real life) was too strong. After a while I decided I liked my nice alter ego better, and didn't try to make her reflect the person I am.

That's probably why she turned out so wonderfully: she was smart, confident, healthy, trustworthy, popular, and happy. She made it into an academically rigorous college and became a rich, successful businesswoman, on top of already being fabulously wealthy as a famous model (ha, I wish my real life happened that way). Her stats were outstanding across the board, and she made it safely to sunset, the game's version of a nebulous afterlife.

Playing this game naturally led me to think about my own life. Not for the first time, I wished I could call up a set of accurate, objective, and quantifiable stats about myself anytime I wanted, instead of having to resort to the time-consuming method of biased qualitative self-reflection. If you've ever played any RPGs, you'd know how handy it is to be able to keep track of your stats, and how effective the thrill of "leveling up" is as a motivator for mundane tasks. I think I'd exercise a lot more if, rather than having to convince myself of its intrinsic benefits, I can see the stats change, however incrementally: +5 health, +2 happiness (yay endorphins), +1 attractiveness, whatever (-10 energy too, probably).

In any case, I'd like to think I have pretty decent stats. I've been told I'm smart, I can be passably pretty if I put in some effort, and if I want to I can be outgoing and interesting enough to convince people I'm a fun, friendly extrovert (though only for a couple hours). But unlike in the game, where you earn your stats by choosing correctly, I'm hardly responsible for my own attributes. They're mostly determined by upbringing and genetics (thanks Mom and Dad!), and yes, I realize how fortunate I am to be blessed with so much. In fact, I should probably do a lot more to make the most of what I've been given. Like be more thoughtful. Or stop being so lazy.

I admit I'm not all-around perfect like my alter ego, but I'm still rather pleased none of my stats seem unbearably dismal, even if I can't take the credit. Although there's this one fact I find decidedly unsatisfactory: I'm poor! Stupid student loans. Give me a few millions and I'll be set. :P

Well... maybe. There is another thing I'm not all that sure about. You see, my alter ego never married. I did play around with the relationship module a few times, but I usually found the stats of the guys she met to be less than ideal (high trustworthiness was non-negotiable, although I still wanted the other stats to be mostly moderate-or-better). And even after you stop being picky and settle for someone who's sort-of acceptable, you have to spend a lot of yourself in order to nurture the relationship, and sometimes it will still fizzle out despite your efforts.

My alter ego did get close to getting married once, but her decision to settle came back to bite her - her fiance hit her on the eve of their wedding (low calmness and gentleness stats) and she decided to call it off. After that, she decided relationships are too much trouble and focused on other life experiences - then before she knew it, she was old.

Joking about cute guys aside, I usually shrug and say "eh, maybe" when it comes to dating and marriage (for myself, that is; I'm beyond excited when it happens to other people. DETAILS PLEASE! :D). But I was startled to find a part of me saddened by my alter ego's lifelong singleness. I guess that, despite all my insistence that I don't care if I get married or not, I'd feel like I'm missing out on an important part of life if I never marry.

So now I'm feeling... uncertain. I've spent such a long time not wanting a relationship that I'm quite good at it now. I'm afraid I don't even remember how to have a crush on a guy any more. It's been years since the last time I did, and that one ended in such a disaster that I decided I'd rather not be crushed again, thank you very much.

And thus I've had a lot of practice thinking of all the reasons why it would never work out between me and any guy I know, and so far that's been pretty effective in keeping infatuations at bay. I've become an expert at guarding my heart against those sorts of things (if not against everything I ought to be guarding it against), but now I wonder if I should reevaluate whether I'm really as anti-relationships as I claim to be. Maybe if I gave it a shot I'd see why people think it's worth the investment.

Playing Alter Ego prompted me to make two main observations, and oddly enough they can be summed up by these things my boss and coworker said at work one day. Boss: "Linda, I think the only reason you don't have a boyfriend must be because you don't want one." Coworker: "I think it's because she's a cactus." Translation: I have good stats but I'm prickly. Hm.

So what will I do with that epiphany? I think it comes down to knowing what I want, so I can effectively leverage my strengths and minimize weaknesses and actually do something with what I've been given. And if I know what I want, I can decide whether to hold on to my self-defense mechanism or to take a chance on letting someone in.

I'm not particularly good at figuring out what I want, caring about the outcome, and working to actualize that vision. It takes risks and hard work and I've been avoiding both for a long time. But I think I should give them a whirl. I might be surprised by the results.

with love,


  1. Linda, don't ever start playing The Sims 4 or Second Life. :) Haha. Good luck if you really want to go out looking for a special someone. However, my philosophy is that God will put someone in my life if that's the plan, but otherwise, why worry about it?

  2. a lot of people seem to share your philosophy of "God will prepare," but to
    me it brings up all sorts of interesting questions. like, is there only one
    right person? and are you certain you will be able to identify that one
    person? how do you plan to interact with that person so you don't screw it
    up? how do you prepare yourself? (i assume you don't just do nothing and say
    God will take care of everything? but maybe i'm wrong.) do you have the free
    will to choose someone other than the person God prepared? or do you just
    consider whoever you marry the person God prepared? i suppose you can always
    wait until the end of your life and say, "well, this is what happened, so it
    must have been God's plan for me."

    as for me, i doubt i'll be overcompensating so much that i start actively
    looking for a relationship. i'm thinking about the issue because i'm
    concerned that my self-defense mechanism might be a roadblock to growth. of
    course it's hard to change my mental habits, but a little reflection and
    reevaluation can go a long way. at the moment i have no plans to make a 180
    and start a search; i just think it might be beneficial for me to be more
    open to possibilities.

    i mean, what if God put someone right in front of my nose but I'm too busy
    keeping everyone at a distance to realize it? :P

  3. yeah...

    God does not plan the end (the person He has for you to marry) without planning the means (how you will meet and fall in love at the right time, when you are ready to find that person, when you stop keeping people at a distance, etc.) ultimately God is sovereign over our resistance to His plan. our resistance might effectively make things longer or more difficult or more painful for us, but we cannot actually screw up God's plan. He's bigger than that.

    God will provide, which means we don't need to be anxious and worried about finding a spouse. But He will (probably) provide through our social interactions, etc., so we would do well to be open and mindful of how we might meet that person.

    theological musings aside, i'm glad to hear you're more willing to face the risks and work involved in opening up to someone. maybe i'll start praying for that special someone to come in to your life and sweep you off your feet =P

  4. thanks for your comment, brian, and for taking the time to discuss this with
    me on gchat :)

    i guess i'm really more interested in implications and practical
    applications. honestly, i don't really think God plans out all the specific
    details of how a person's life ought to turn out, and even if He did, we
    won't find out what it is ahead of time. so while the thought that "God will
    prepare" might be helpful in alleviating excessive anxiety, other than that
    i don't think it's a particularly useful philosophy when it comes to guiding
    actions and decisions. of course, if any of you disagree, i'd be more than
    happy to hear your thoughts on the subject :)

  5. i kinda of want to play this game now lol

  6. hahaha it sounds more interesting than it actually is, i think... but if you
    need to procrastinate on a project i guess it does the job ok :P