First, a little background.
I spent an embarrassingly large portion of my holiday break playing (and beating) Bioware’s massively addictive RPG for the Xbox 360, Mass Effect. (Female Paragon Sentinel, if you must know). I generally like RPGs (role playing games).
One of the first games Chris and I ever got hooked on playing together was Uncharted Waters for Nintendo, an RPG where you were a ship captain in 16th century Portugal. You sailed around the world, buying spices, artwork and other items low at one port and selling them high at another, building a fleet of progressively bigger ships while winning the heart of the princess.
Oh, and also avoiding getting boarded by pirates. This is probably why I have failed to respond to my friends’ repeated requests to join the pirate team on Facebook Pirates vs . Ninjas. I can hold a grudge like nobody’s business. I’m not sure I’ve ever forgiven their ilk for setting fire to my 16-bit carrack full of cloves all those years ago. (Although I’m sure the smoke was quite aromatic as it sank into the Mediterranean.)
Anyway, at least three times in the last two weeks, (particularly in my work life and my participation in social media) I’ve had a moment where I thought “Huh. This is pretty much just like an RPG…”
In a role playing game, whether it’s a video game or a live action version (like Dungeons & Dragons), it’s all about building your character. In the beginning, you figure out what kind of character you want to play: a fighter, a priest, or a rogue. Whether your character is a shoot-from-the-hip renegade or a charismatic, smooth-talking diplomat. You make choices, usually without having all the information you’d like, and those choices have consequences. (This is where you learn the value of asking lots of stupid questions before you act.)
You have the opportunity to help others, or to exploit them for your own gain. One path pays better up front, the other pays better over time. You learn that influence is a form of power that you have to respect and use carefully. It’s easy to lose and tough to earn back.
You have attributes: personal strengths and weaknesses. As you gain experience, you have to choose when to use that experience to further develop your existing strengths, or to bolster your weaknesses.
You learn the value of a good, solid team. No one character is “balanced” enough to handle everything the adventure throws at you. You learn to find people whose strengths and style complement yours–and you learn when to hand off to them, instead of crashing and burning trying to do everything yourself.
You also learn that while you got into it for the treasure and adventure, in the end it’s the relationships you made and the conversations you had with the other players that you remember most.
Navigating your real life, and your virtual life in social media, is still all about building your character. It’s about seeking out valuable experiences that have something to teach you. You have to determine what kind of character you want. Managing your influence in a smart way is an important strategy. So is learning when to apply your energy to developing your strengths, and when to apply it to bolstering your weaknesses. You learn the fine art of collaboration: how to seek out and develop complementary, mutually-beneficial relationships.
Oh, and lastly, you learn to watch out for those @!$#& pirates.