5 Incredibly Important Life Lessons I Learned Playing World of Warcraft
When I was seventeen years old, I became one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America. Below are some of the most powerful lessons I learned on my quest for Internet fame and success:
1. PEOPLE DISCREDIT WHAT THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND
I grew up in a very successful family.
My dad is a renowned spine surgeon whose work is studied all over the world, and my mom is a well-respected performer and voice teacher at a college. Our suburb is one of the Top 100 wealthiest suburbs in the nation. As an adolescent I was given every privilege known to mankind. The best schools, any summer camp I wanted, the best music teachers, sports teams, etc. No expense was to be spared for my future success.
But I wanted to play video games.
I don’t mean, “I just want to sit in front of my computer and do nothing with my life.” I was hungry and competitive. After I fractured my spine playing hockey at 14, I sat up in my room wearing a Velcro back brace and spent the 6 months it took for me to heal playing World of Warcraft.
But by the time my back pain had gone away, I didn’t want to go back to playing hockey. I wanted to become a pro gamer.
For four years, I played World of Warcraft. And all throughout high school, my family, friends, peers, teachers, everyone looked down upon what I was trying to do. They said you couldn’t build a future on gaming or blogging. They said, “There aren’t any jobs where you just sit in front of the computer all day, Cole.” (I think here is where we mention Twitch being bought by Amazon for a billion, YouTubers making six figure salaries, etc.)
My parents constantly told me, “Do what you love, Cole. Do what you love.”
I said I wanted to play video games because I loved video games.
They told me to “pick something more legitimate.”
This taught me at a very young age that sometimes when people say they want you to do what you love, that they support you, what they’re really what they’re saying is, “Do what we love too.”
2. THE CARROT OF SUCCESS IS ELUSIVE
I will never forget the day I reached the pinnacle of my success.
I logged online after school to find that my team had been awarded the title of Gladiator for the season — the most esteemed title you could have in the game. I was now considered a World of Warcraft celebrity. I had the title to prove my mastery. I was awarded an epic flying dragon to ride around in the game. I had reached the very top.
30 seconds later, I logged off and didn’t play for the rest of the day.
Because I had nothing left to accomplish — and had traded all of my friends in the process for better servers, better teams, better competition, just to reach this point.
And here I thought that becoming a Gladiator would be the greatest feeling ever!
But it wasn’t. It was actually quite sad. The real joy had been in the 3 years it had taken for me to get there. All the friends I had made along the way. All the late nights I had poured into mastering the game.
I looked around my wealthy suburb and realized that I was surrounded by real life Gladiators — men and women who had “beaten the game of life,” but traded a lot in the process. These were men with seven figure bank accounts and no relationships with their children. And wives with shimmering rings on their fingers and Martini addictions, who never knew where there kids were or what they were doing.
I didn’t want to end up like them.
Becoming a Gladiator taught me that the joy is not in the end, but in the journey.
3. YOU CAN LEARN SOMETHING FROM EVERYONE
Over the course of my gaming career, I’ve played alongside and against kids, adults, moms, dads, lawyers, fraternity presidents, computer programmers, cancer patients, army veterans, American soldiers, racist rednecks, catholic purists, life-long bachelors, hopeful widows, and adolescents that all too perfectly reminded me of myself.
As a teenager, this was the very opposite of my town and my school, where the only choices of friends were a few different peer groups: jocks, nerds, popular kids, unpopular kids, skaters, druggies, and Asian exchange students.
While my peers were busy listening to what James, the football star, talked about in math class, I was talking to a guy in Hawaii through my headset while playing World of Warcraft. He was telling me he had moved there with his wife a few years ago, that she suffered from postpartum depression, and one day he came home and found her and their newborn baby girl dead on the floor of his living room, bathing in their own blood. She had killed herself and taken their child with her. (True story — I tell the full thing in my memoir, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer.)
I was exposed to SO MUCH MORE online than my immediate surroundings provided. During raids, I had stockbrokers talking wall street in my ear; gamer moms making jokes about parenting, their kid screaming in the background; 27 year olds that had been working in a cubicle for 5 years, warning the rest of us of corporate life.
World of Warcraft taught me that when you put everyone on an even playing field (like say, an online game), we are all equal — and you can learn something from everyone.
4. YOU LEARN BY HAVING FUN
I was a terrible student. Really.
Straight C’s. B’s sometimes. I couldn’t even get an A in English, and I loved writing! School, for me, just didn’t make sense. I felt like I was being tested on my ability to memorize, not my ability to understand and then make something my own.
World of Warcraft taught me the opposite.
The game taught me the basics, and then encouraged my innovation. I could mix different gear sets and combine stats to lean my character more towards survivability, or pure damage. It taught me that the best players were the ones that came up with new play styles different from the rest. It taught me that it is ASTOUNDING how much you can learn and understand when what you’re learning has applicable value and you find it enjoyable.
I don’t remember a single thing from any one of my high school classes. I couldn’t tell you how to find the hypotenuse of a triangle, or which constellations can tell you north from south.
But I can draw plenty of parallels to the World of Warcraft, and explain to you, step by step, the process of mastering a skill.
5. THE ONLY THING HOLDING YOU BACK IS YOU
This is a bit existential, so bear with me.
When you play a video game, you control your character. If you want your character to cast a fireball, you hit the Fireball key on your keyboard and your character begins casting a fireball. Right?
Ok, now think about how your soul, your heart, your consciousness is the player behind the keyboard, and your body is the character.
If your deepest desire is to go apply for that new position, go talk to that girl, take a chance and leap off the edge of the cliff, and you’re mashing that button as hard as you can but you’re not moving, what does that tell you?
You are not connected to yourself. You are ignoring yourself. You are not listening to yourself.
This is the single most important lesson gaming taught me:
You are in control of your own reality.
If you want to cast a fireball, you hit the fireball button and your character just does it — no questions asked. If you want to go talk to that girl, you hit the “go talk to her” button and you just do it, no questions asked.
The difference between people who live the life they’ve always dreamed of, and the people who don’t is this, right here: the ability to listen to yourself.
You have to trust. Your body is your character. And your consciousness is the hand that controls the keyboard.
I’ve learned infinite lessons from gaming, but the above are my favorites.