Corey and Lori's Quest Log

Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Posts Tagged ‘Decisions’

Choose Wisely – the Holy Grail of Decision-Making

Friday, April 15th, 2011

“But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” – The Grail Knight (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

You are in a dusty, cramped room carved centuries ago from the sandstone cliffs of Petra. The chamber is lit only by flickering candles. An ancient Grail Knight stands before you and gestures towards the many cups and goblets. Some are gold, others silver, others inlaid with precious and semi-precious gems.

If you make the wrong choice, both you and your father will die. How will you decide which goblet is the Holy Grail?

Our lives are filled with choices. Once we make one, we can rarely go back and change our mind. If you are like me, you sometimes dread the possibility that you might choose poorly. Sometimes we refuse to choose at all, but that too is a choice, and rarely a satisfying one. Fortunately, most of our choices aren’t really matters of life and death; we just treat them that way.

We make choices because we have goals and priorities. Each decision we make is a reflection of what we consider important. When we agonize over a tough decision, it is tough because we have conflicting priorities. By looking at our choices, we can learn more about our inner motivations. It isn’t easy, and it may be stressful, but life is full of Valuable Learning Experiences… as are games.

The Interesting Route

“We came upon a crossroads, not marked on any map;
We chose the ‘interesting’ route; ‘safe’ had to be a trap.” – Corey Cole, “Can’t Keep Carolan Down”

Nick U Turner was a Game Master who ran a great fantasy role-playing campaign filled with challenging choices and sometimes deadly decisions. In one session, we came to a crossroad as we approached an unknown valley. It had a sign showing that one direction was “Safe” and the other “Interesting.”

Now Nick was one of those devious game masters. It could be perilous to accept anything in his world at face value. Then again, one of the best ways to be devious is to do precisely what you said you’d do, but have the players not believe you. We will never know whether he was offering the choice between an adventure and a shortcut, or if the “safe” route really was a trap. But we managed to convince ourselves of the latter, and an interesting adventure ensued… as advertised.

Real life offers many choices between “safe” or “interesting”, and it is often hard to tell whether a real choice is “safe” or “stupid”. There is nothing wrong with choosing the “safe” path most of the time, but if you always go that way, you will miss a lot of fun, challenge, and excitement. We all need to take the “interesting” route sometimes. The “safe” choice is not a choice at all; it is an abdication of choice. Only your “interesting” choices give you a chance to add value to your own life and to others’ lives.

Smart Choices

“He chose poorly.” – The Guardian of the Grail as Walter Donovan drank from the wrong goblet and died horribly – from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

If you want to lead a valuable life, you will have many difficult choices to make. I’ve written in the past about “Expected Value” or EV, and the professional poker player’s approach to making decisions. This is a rational decision-making process which takes into account the anticipated probability and cost of failure as well as the likelihood and value of success. However, neither poker nor real life is that simple. We do not have perfect information from which to calculate the chances of success and failure. For that, we have to rely on our very fallible instincts.

“How We Decide,” by Jonah Lehrer, is an excellent book that discusses how we make decisions. The process is a combination of rational calculation and emotional response. Our bodies are wired to warn us of danger through physical sensations such as shaking, sweating, and so on. Anticipated success sets off a dopamine reaction that we perceive as pleasure and excitement. These quick reactions are wonderful in a crisis, when a slow decision could be fatal. But they can be misleading when we need to find the best long-term solution.

Smart choices require us to pay attention to our instincts while also using rational thought. Sometimes we need to override our natural desire for a short-term gain in order to ensure long-term benefits. We also have to make a conscious effort to discard false influences on our thinking. As investors, we are warned that, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results,” but we often believe it is. And that makes sense – We also hear that, “Experience is the best teacher.” That is true in the long run, but we are overly influenced by what has happened to us most recently.

When we get lucky, or someone compliments us, we get a surge of pleasure that influences our next decision. We are more likely to say “Yes” to a question or take a risk. When we have a loss, or failure, or are criticized, we become depressed. Then we are more likely to say “No” or to avoid taking another chance. If we were out in the wild foraging for food, those would be good instincts. They aren’t so hot in our modern, complicated lives. Most of the time our next decision has very little to do with the previous one or to what just happened to us. But we act as though everything is related, and sometimes make very bad decisions as a result.

The only way to overcome this is to be aware of it. If you catch yourself becoming angry, stop and think about it. Anger and depression are not good environments for making wise choices. If you’re really happy, that’s a little better, but can also prove costly. This isn’t easy. We are servants of our emotions, and they are useful when we need to make a quick decision, but they get in the way of careful choices. Stop for a moment between tasks. Break the chain of false cause and effect.

Don’t Be So Sure

We tend to discount or ignore information that contradicts what we already believe to be true. This is known as “confirmation bias” and is one of the reasons for the permanent gap between liberal and conservative politicians, people of different religions, and so on. Successful people are able to put aside what they “know” to be true when new information tells them something else. We aren’t very good at this, so somehow we have to break the pattern.

Jonah Lehrer writes, “The only way to counteract the bias for certainty is to encourage some inner dissonance.” Be open to new ideas, especially when your first reaction is to ignore them. You may realize that your preconceptions were incomplete or just plain wrong. Shake up your certainty and listen before you leap.

A Hero’s Choice

“You chose… wisely.” – Guardian of the Grail, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

We make tough decisions all the time never knowing whether we are making the right choice. But we can use experience to help us decide on each new decision. In my case, I know that Quest for Glory, Castle of Dr. Brain, and Shannara would not exist if I had chosen the “safe” path of working at “regular” programming jobs. Perhaps I would have made the jump years later and created some different games. But at some point, we have to take that leap of faith to realize our potential.

A Hero does not sit back and play it safe. Like Indiana Jones, a Hero takes worthwhile risks for big results. He uses his knowledge and wisdom to help decide – What kind of man first used the Grail? – but in the end, he makes the decision and lives (or dies) with the results. If the gamble fails, the Hero learns from the failure, but never quits. He just chooses more carefully and correctly the next time.

Don’t be afraid of making a difficult decision; fortunately, very few of yours will result in a horrible and painful death. Choices give you the chance to change your destiny. Make the most of your choices to make a positive difference in the world.

You Decide

Friday, December 4th, 2009

”Did you ever have to make up your mind?” – The Lovin’ Spoonful

What is the Meaning of Life?

ChooseThrough the ages, philosophers (and everyone else) have pondered the ultimate question of life, the Universe, and everything. According to Douglas Adams, the answer is “42”. Lew Brown wrote in 1931 that, “Life is just a bowl of cherries.” Erma Bombeck came back with, “Then what am I doing in the pits?” Pity, that.

Maybe they’re all asking the wrong question. Try this variation: “How can I give meaning to my life?” That’s a question you can answer, especially if you think of Life as a Game. In a game, you only have a few controls, and your contribution to the game comes from the decisions you make and how you use the controls. Life is the same; it’s all about the decisions you make.

The Way to Give Meaning to Your Life is by setting goals and making decisions that support your goals. Such choices are the only thing over which we have any control. We don’t decide our parents, our birthplace, or the time in which we live. But we are constantly confronted by choices, and how we handle each one has a profound impact on the rest of our lives. Indirectly, the ripple effects of each decision affect many other people in sometimes obvious, but often subtle ways.

Choice. Life is all about choosing.

For Better or For Worse, You Must Choose

If the Meaning of Life is about making meaningful choices, then what happens when you refuse to choose? Whether you call it procrastination or aversion to risk, failing to choose is making a choice. And it’s rarely a good one.

Now it’s ok to take your time and make sure your decisions are informed. After all, every decision matters. Just don’t let yourself get paralyzed to the point where you are afraid to decide at all. Every time you have a choice and fail to make it, you lose out on some of the “game play” of your life. You turn an interactive experience into a movie. And where’s the fun in that?

I’m writing this partially as therapy, because I have a long history of procrastination. And yet I know that most of the best moments I’ve had in life have been when I took a stand and made a decision. I took big risks in dropping a project to go to Sierra, in starting my own company to develop Shannara, and in many other life decisions. Not all of my choices have been wise, but choosing has almost always been better than waiting on the sidelines.

The Bridge to Success

The Bridge Rose Meltzer, a five-time World Champion at bridge, said, “The thing about bridge is that you lose more than you win. You have to pick up the pieces and go on. I keep trying every day.” What a great attitude in gaming and in life!

How liberating is it to know that even the best decision makers often get it wrong… or get it right and fail anyway to the roll of the dice? The key is to make your choice and accept that you made it. As we learn from playing games, you can often recover from a bad decision. Maybe I shouldn’t even use the word “bad”; very few life choices really have clear-cut right or wrong answers. All you can do is make a reasonable choice each time. Each one gently nudges your life in a new direction, and the sum of all your choices adds up to the life you live.

Last week, a friend pointed out that the way to win a war is to have a clear objective and only do things that move you towards that objective. The catch phrase for Vietnam was, “Win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.” Every action we took that caused us to lose respect from the Vietnamese worked against that goal, and we took a lot of such actions.

So what’s your objective in life? Are you going through life without a battle plan? If it’s just to “stay alive,” I can tell you the odds are stacked against you. Not many people have managed to live forever so far. So maybe you should make some plans that you can accomplish in a normal lifetime. That might be to contribute to the world in getting us into space, or creating worthwhile entertainment, or in any of a number of other ways. It could be to enjoy yourself, to find time to spend with friends and family, or to explore the world. But make yourself a goal – or several goals – and use them to help you make choices that further your goals.

The Game of Life

Think about your favorite games and why you like them. It probably isn’t the great graphics or the license, or even the wonderful text. It’s the choices you make and how they affect the story. When Lori and I designed each of the Quest for Glory games, we often asked, “What meaningful choices can we give the player? What problems do our characters have that the player might be able to help them solve?” These questions became the heart of the game play and story lines.

All great games have decision-making at their heart. In poker, do you raise or fold? In bridge, do you take the finesse or try to find a squeeze or endplay? In billiards, do you try to sink the target ball or snooker your opponent by hiding the cue ball behind other balls? Without choices like these, a game stops being a game and turns into just an activity.

If making choices is essential to making games fun, then how much more important must it be for life? Our personal story lines and our “life play” are directed by the choices we make.

A Winning Team

Life isn’t a solitaire game. We play it with other people, and our choice of partners and teammates makes a big difference in our life experience… and theirs. Certainly a good part of my life has been shaped by whom I married and by friends I met along the way.

How we choose to act, work, and play with others has a huge impact on how our lives play out. Work on developing empathy – knowing how to deal with people based on their needs as much as on your own. If you want to play on a winning team, learn how to convince others that they should play with you. Consider their needs and desires and find ways to help people while they are helping you. Pick a win-win scenario any time you can, and you will soon have many friends and teammates working with you to achieve your goals.

Another important factor is self-confidence. That comes from knowing what you want and being able to visualize how to enroll others into helping you accomplish your goals. If you have trouble being assertive, try role-playing in front of a mirror. Remind yourself that you are a capable, competent person. Practice your communication and negotiation skills.

This isn’t about arrogance. You aren’t demanding special treatment just because you want it. It’s entitlement by competence. You’re entitled because you are doing the work and earning the respect and assistance of others. An attitude of “quiet competence” will be recognized by the people you work with. They will respect it and want to work with you.

It’s Your Choice

If you want to be a success, and to create meaning in your life, recognize that you have the power to do amazing things. All it takes is commitment, willingness to treat other people’s goals as almost as important as your own, and a lot of work to build up your practical knowledge and communication skills. Treat life as an exciting, engrossing game and choose the decisions that will help you win at it.

Find your dream and follow it!

The next time someone tries to confound you by asking, “What is the meaning of life?” you can look them straight in the eye and say, “I know the meaning of my life. Maybe it’s time for you look for your own.” We all have as much meaning as we allow ourselves to have.