In the World of Warcraft they have recently added an “Achievement System” which rewards the player for actions they do in the course of the game. In between player-vs.-player battlegrounds and questing, I have been chasing such achievements as, “Explore the Eastern Kingdoms” and “Eat all four varieties of Valentine’s Day chocolates.”
Many of these achievements have little to do with real accomplishments in the game, but they do chart your progress through the wide variety of WoW content. There is no “reward” in the usual sense; at best you get the right to add a new title to your character name or perhaps get a special mount or in-game pet. Yet I (and many other players) spend time doing these achievements to varying degrees of compulsion.
I’ve recently had some “real life” (but still game-related) achievements too – a 70% game in bridge and two consecutive “bowler of the week” awards for high scores. Bowling and bridge are time wasters too by many people’s standards. So are reading, watching television, following news stories on the Internet, and just about anything we do outside of “work”.
Every Day Achievements
Actually, we could make a pretty good argument against the importance of work-related achievements too. Does it really matter to the world that you got promoted to Supervisor or exceeded your weekly sales quota? Or are they just about personal satisfaction and the social value of recognition, in which case these accomplishments are exactly as valid and important as a bowling award?
As with most things in life, achievement is what you make of it. If you take pride in your work, but are frustrated about lacking control over the complete product, then a promotion may put you in the position to do something about it. Similarly, achievement in a game or sport can measure your progress in improving your mind and body, and that can pay dividends in “real life.” And our brains are wired to get a self-esteem boost from completing tasks and achieving goals. Having others recognize your achievements and compliment you on them helps too.
Do Achievements “Just Happen”?
Are achievements just luck? No matter how much knowledge, talent, preparation, and hard work you put into something, luck will always be a factor in your degree of success or failure. The “drunkard’s walk” concept says that, when enough people do something enough times, some of their results will be exceptional. In that sense, there’s nothing “special” about bowling a perfect game or winning a spot on American Idol.
But there’s an old saying, “You can’t win the lottery without buying a ticket.” Luck favors the prepared. One of the truisms about starting your own business is that 90% of businesses fail in the first three years. Another is that most major business successes are achieved after 2, 3, or more total failures.
Does that seem unlikely? Actually, by the magic of statistics, it makes perfect sense. Suppose you have average qualifications for starting a business. A lot of those failures are below-average companies and totally unprepared founders, so you’re already ahead of the game, but let’s say you still have an 80% chance of failure. That’s just a 20% chance you’ll succeed the first time.
But now say you’re resilient and you promise yourself that you will try again if you fail. The chance you’ll fail twice in a row is 64%, three times in a row drops to just 51.2%. That’s right – You just have to try three times to bring your chance of success up from 20% to 48.8%. Those odds beat the heck out of giving up the first time you fail. Many famous authors have faced rejection after rejection before finally finding the right publisher to help make their books successful.
Full Speed Ahead
“Never give up, never surrender – Full Speed Ahead” – Galaxy Quest
There is a message here – Don’t give up. If you fall down, stand up and get going again. If you only make it partway to your goal, keep pushing until you get there. Then make new goals and Keep Going!
That can be a hard message to swallow when you’ve failed, but it’s the lesson almost all successful people have learned and follow every day. I worked for two failed startup companies, then failed to get my own desktop publishing software to market before coming to work for Sierra.
How important is failure? If I had not taken on that project, Quest for Glory would probably never have been made. We were introduced to Ken Williams by a friend (Carolly Hauksdottir) who did free-lance art and animation for Sierra, but Ken didn’t hire us because of our Dungeons & Dragons background. He needed an Atari ST programmer to meet a commitment to Atari, and I had just spent two years working on an Atari ST project. Once I was in-house as a programmer, Ken was much more willing to talk to Lori about designing a role-playing game for Sierra.
Even then, we had a hard time convincing Sierra to produce our first Hero’s Quest (later Quest for Glory) game. Sierra management came very close to canceling the project because they “didn’t get” what made it special. So many factors go into a project, success and failure are both pretty much impossible to predict.
Only Geniuses Need Apply?
Google, Microsoft, and a few other companies have prided themselves on hiring “geniuses”. Google once ran a series of billboards in the San Francisco area that just had a mathematical puzzle on them. The solution to the puzzle led to a Web page that gave people who found it priority applications to Google. Google also ran ads on the back cover of the Mensa Bulletin.
I learned something interesting from a TED speech by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling book, “Eat, Love, Play.” She talked about the origin of the word “genius.” Today, we think of a genius as someone who was born with incredible intelligence and talent, and who automatically excels at everything they try because of their destiny. It hasn’t always been that way.
In Latin, the word “genius” originally meant, “guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth; spirit, incarnation, wit, talent.” Using that definition, it isn’t that someone is a genius. Under the right circumstances, the genius suffuses them with whatever it takes to do something brilliant. It can come and go, and you have to take advantage of it when it appears. Since we get to choose our definitions, I suggest we also eliminate the “from birth” part.
The fact is, even we flawed individuals can sometimes do genius level work if we provide the right environment for our guardian spirits, then recognize and take advantage of them when they surface. In sports, the arts, and industry, we constantly see second-tier talents rise to the top and become stars through focus, dedication, and perseverance. These can be summed up by one word – Commitment.
You would be hard-pressed to say that Lori and I were destined to create the Quest for Glory game series… or The School for Heroes, for that matter. We were competent game masters, but others had more thoroughly fleshed-out campaigns, far more publications, better rules knowledge, and so on. I was a competent programmer, but again not really a superstar. My graphics programming knowledge was (and still is) minimal; at most companies, that by itself would be enough to not even get a job interview.
But we loved gaming, and when a strange set of coincidences led to the opportunity at Sierra, we committed to it fully. I dropped my almost-complete desktop publishing project. We sold our house in San Jose and moved to Oakhurst with our year-old baby and started jobs for much less money than we had been making in Silicon Valley. Then we refused to give up even when things went poorly. The end result was the achievement of several very good games. For Sierra, we were a gamble that paid off in substantial income and good will. That came about because we recognized our opening, caught the ball, and ran with it. Trust me; it would have been a lot easier to give up at many times during that process.
When the Going Gets Rough – Keep Going
What does it take to be a Hero and achieve great things today? It takes the kind of person who prepares themselves through observation, study, and practice. The kind of person who keeps going in the face of challenges. Someone who does what needs to be done when there are so many tempting, easy distractions out there. Someone who watches for opportunities and genius, then welcomes them instead of denying them.
Don’t give up; don’t give in. Decide what you want to achieve, then commit to achieving it. If you fall, stand up and do it again. Do that enough times, and you will achieve success. You can be a Hero.
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