Tag Archives: gaming

Leveling Up in Life

These days, experience-based games like World of Warcraft are very popular. Players of these games generally play through many quests, defeating enemies, dedicating many hours to “leveling up” their character, getting ever closer to the top level, where they no longer have to gain experience, and they are fully powered-up and epic in battle.

Does this sound familiar to people in the modern workforce? To me, it reminds me a lot of the “rat race”–the constant striving for promotions, raises, better hours, more vacation time, more leadership, etc. People play games like WoW to escape work, or so I thought, but instead they seem to be duplicating the same conditions in play as in work.

Life Today = Meeting Goals Rather Than Having Experiences

We generally live our lives, these days, like it’s a goal-oriented game rather than an experience. Stopping and smelling the roses went out of our heads a long time ago, replaced by a drive to get “the most” and “the best”, all in “the fastest” time. Students who take AP classes to get college credits while still in high school are hailed as “go-getters;” collegiates who manage to get through a four-year degree in three years or less by taking classes during the summers (and even winters) are praised for their “academic drive.” And people in the modern workforce who advance rapidly through their chosen field or company are looked on with favor.

This drive even extends down to our children, sad as that sounds. No longer can kids just go outside and play at random games; now, they’ve got to be learning all the time with “educational” games. They’ve practically got to know how to read and write before they hit kindergarten, otherwise they’ll be considered “behind.” (Not knocking educational games, but surely there’s time enough for them to just be children, too?)

This Used to Be My Life, Too

I lived like this, trying to “level up in life,” for a long time. I was one of the “bright” kids in my school, a girl who was going to get out there and be somebody before she was 30. I picked up on things very quickly, was fast, accurate and (usually) neat in my preparations; I got good grades and participated in all sorts of activities, and so I got honors and won awards. I took that same drive into college, obtaining my BA in English with Magna Cum Laude and a slew of other academic honors. I even advanced into my ill-fated teaching career with that same attitude, pushing to get my Masters in Middle-Grades Education in 2 years so I could go out into the world and make money doing what I supposedly loved.

But where did all that drive and ambition get me? I ended up crash-landing back at home, recovering from severe depression and suicidal feelings. All that pushing and stressing and struggling, and it had gotten me no honors this time, no rewards. I couldn’t teach anymore; I just simply wasn’t made for the job, even though I had worked so very hard to achieve it. So I began to question this “most/best/fastest” way of life. What had all my striving been for, in the end? What had I been doing with my life all those years I was working to become something? There are quite literally years of my life I barely remember except for vague memories of working my butt off writing papers or completing tests, all to get “somewhere better”–a better college, a better job, etc. I thought I was doing it right, living a correct life.

My New Life: All About Experiences

In the wake of my capsized teaching career, in which I had faced death at my own hands, “leveling up” in life didn’t seem as important anymore. I began to focus instead on rebuilding my charred inner world, trying to salvage what I could of my life and my interests. And, in fact, I rediscovered myself among the ashes, and began to write my novel as a way to pull myself forward. I began to live life as I had never experienced it before–weeks of just BEING rather than DOING, just writing rather than publishing, just playing the piano rather than performing, just being with friends rather than being constantly “busy.”

Some people might look down on me for this, maybe thinking I’ve become complacent, lazy, and unmotivated. Nobody’s said anything to that effect, of course, but since I spent such a large part of my life driving ahead at 80 mph, it feels very strange to be going suddenly 30. Or maybe I’m still a bit paranoid about what “other people” think of my life, worrying that people will think I’m not as smart as I once was, or that I just don’t care anymore.

But this new speed of life is far from “not caring.” Actually, in a way it feels like I’ve dropped an addiction: an addiction to perfection, to needing to be the absolute best, fastest, and most. Some days I’d like to care about that stuff again, because it felt somehow normal to be addicted to that lifestyle. But I know that if I start caring about it, it’ll be as virulent as any addiction, taking over my life again before I know it. I don’t have to chase after every success if the chase is going to dehumanize me and strip me of joy; I have to chase after the successes that are important to me. And right now, just living is enough of a success, considering I was contemplating suicide not too long ago.

Am I Enjoying This? YES!

Now that I’m not so worried about “leveling up” in life, I find myself able to enjoy my life. Sure, days aren’t as action-packed as they used to be; sure, I’m not doing a whole lot these days beyond writing, singing, blogging, designing, and gaming. But…I’m okay with it. I don’t have to get to the next level of my life soon–I think I’ll just roam around in this game and explore a bit, enjoy the level I’m on right now.

Competitive or Casual?

This is one of the most salient questions in all kinds of gaming, not just the nerdy kind with dice, but even video games and sports: do you play competitively or casually?

The question may seem to be a no-brainer for some people–of course you play competitively. What other reason would there be to play, except to win and learn how to win more? Once you remove the competition aspect from a game, a lot of the fun of it leaches out, and it becomes a mere distraction instead of something you can rationalize spending time on.

But, for others, the competitive angle actually eats away at the heart of what made the game popular in the first place: it’s fun. You know, fun? What we used to have playing this game before it became a nail-biting, tooth-grinding, money-gobbling event? For that matter, when a game is not played casually anymore, is it even a game anymore?

Where I’m Coming From

I’m mainly coming from a background of collectible card gaming and miniatures gaming with this article, but you can see elements of these same two schools of thought clashing in the worlds of sports, races, card games like poker, etc. In any type of game, it seems, you are always going to have the people who absolutely have to be the best at every game they play, and the people who play it to have fun with friends and socialize rather than win.

But sadly, the competitive type tends to quash out the casual type when they are brought together, like hunters shooting bald eagles–the casual players are already endangered due to everything in life having to be a competition in this day and age. Once the competitive players start sucking the life and fun out of a game by making it all serious, the casual players eventually stop trying to play. It’s no fun sitting across the table or standing across the court or field from someone who acts like every missed roll or every missed play is a nail in their coffin.

Yes, You Can Be TOO Competitive

I personally am competitive in my heart, but I hate the way that competitiveness transforms me when I play a game. Suddenly, I have to win, I have to be the best, because I’m such a perfectionist I can’t stand to lose. It really drains the fun out of the game for me, and it’s not fun for my opponent to watch me disintegrate into wordless anger every time the dice don’t roll my way. Thus, I’ve largely gone toward casual gaming, to take some of the intense pressure off and to try to train myself to have fun again.

One thing I’ve noticed, however, in my odyssey away from competitive gaming, is how much competitive gamers look down on casual gamers. To them, we are an inferior breed, weaker players, not really even worth “real” players’ time, because we don’t take the game as seriously. Having been very competitive before, I understand why they get like this–sometimes, it feels like the whole world is staked on your next card, your next shot at the basket. But when a game becomes that important to you, hasn’t it become less of a hobby and more of an addiction?

When Games Are No Longer Fun…Re-Examine Yourself

I don’t intend to solve this quandary in one blog post, but I did want to bring this to people’s attention. Whether you play games just to have fun or you play them to win, if you’re happy doing it, then you’re doing something right. The only time I worry is when it seems that games are no longer fun and they are instead things that you have to win at to be happy. Then, I believe, competition has crossed the line into obsession.

Game Tactics: Are You Proactive or Reactive?

In most collectible games, like Magic: the Gathering and HeroClix, there are typical tactics and strategies to follow. Lots of players will look for “killer combos”–cards or miniatures you play together to win more or more quickly. (In the case of Magic: the Gathering, people often put their most tournament-capable decklists up online for others to copy and play.)

Sometimes, these combos will suit your playstyle perfectly. Other times, it will seem completely alien to play these cards or these miniatures together. It all depends on what kind of player you are–proactive or reactive.

Proactive Player

  • Shows himself/herself as a threat early on
  • Strategy is quick to set up, quick to knock down
  • Best defense is a good offense
  • Shines in one-on-one games
  • Overwhelmed in multiplayer games
  • Reflexive and aggressive

Reactive Player

  • Looks harmless until other player strikes first
  • Strategy takes a while to set up but is resilient
  • Best offense is a good defense
  • Shines in multiplayer games
  • Can’t stabilize soon enough in one-on-one games
  • Slow, strategic, defensive

My Personal Type

Personally, I’m much more reactive than proactive. I tend to play like a spider–camp out, weave my web, and wait for the opponent to step into my trap, while building up so much redundancy that by the time anybody realizes what a threat I am, it’s far too late for them to do anything about it. But I don’t generally attack first–I wait to be provoked into action. In multiplayer games, where I have the most fun by far, I often find myself allowing the other players to thrash each other before stepping out from behind the curtain and mopping up.

Do We Game Like We Live?

This self-knowledge led me to ponder something, though: as gamers, are our favorite strategies reflective of how we live our lives? I found out that I’m pretty reactive in real life too–I’m your ally unless you cross me, and then I am your enemy until you explain yourself. Otherwise, I try not to make enemies of people because I hate the feeling of another person being angry at me. I don’t necessarily have to have the last word, as my “mop-up” strategy implies, but I do prefer to stay out of a fight unless personally attacked. Once I’m attacked, all bets are off!

If you’re a gamer of any sort, think about this the next time you sit down to a game, and see how your tactics fit into one of these two basic types. You might just find a little self-knowledge hidden among the bits of your favorite hobbies, like I did!


HeroClix is best described as “chess with comic-book characters”–within this game, you get to play your favorite characters in a self-created team, facing them off against your opponent’s team of characters to see which team comes out on top!

Many of the most popular Marvel and DC characters appear as models in the game already, as seen below (top left to bottom right: Captain America, Superman, Green Lantern, Black Widow, Incredible Hulk, Batman). However, that’s not all there is to know about HeroClix–read on to find out more!

captainamerica superman
greenlantern blackwidow
hulk batman

Basic Gameplay

To play HeroClix, you start out with a point total, say, 300 points. Every HeroClix figure is worth a certain number of points; to build a working team, you select heroes whose point values are less than or equal to the chosen game total when added together. (If the combined points of all your chosen heroes are more than the point total, you have to reformulate your team.) But as long as you stay within the point total, any type and combination of figures is open to you.

See example below, drawn from my own collection of figures:

Non-Working HeroClix Team for 300-Point Game Working HeroClix Team for 300-Point Game
Wonder Woman (127 points)
Wonder Girl (87 points)
Amazon (50 points)
Scarlet Witch (62 points)
Total: 326 points
Wonder Woman (127 points)
Wonder Girl (87 points)
Amazon (50 points)
Elektra (36 points)
Total: 300 points

I wrote up an even more detailed article about HeroClix gameplay on my “How to Play Clix” page.

Choosing Characters Based on Powers and Abilities

Different characters are gifted with different abilities–for instance, Spiderman’s amazing wall-crawling and web-swinging abilities translate into the HeroClix ability called “Leap/Climb,” and the Flash’s lightning-fast movement translates into “Hypersonic Speed.” Hulk’s superpowered muscles grant him “Super Strength,” and Captain America gets “Energy Shield/Deflection” courtesy of his iconic shield.

These abilities are denoted by different colors printed on the base of each character’s figure. (The base of the figure is called a “dial” because it can turn to show differing abilities as the figure takes damage.) Here are my common-sense descriptions of all the powers and abilities in the game thus far.

Choosing Characters Based on Their Stats

Characters also have numbers printed on their dials, which show how strong they are in combat. For instance, the 127-point Wonder Woman I mentioned earlier starts out with 10 movement, 10 attack, 17 defense, and 5 damage–this means she can travel up to 10 spaces on a HeroClix map in one turn, and that when she attacks another character, she adds 10 to whatever number you roll on your two six-sided dice. That 17 defense means that whenever another character attacks her, they can’t damage her unless their attack number plus the number that appears on the dice equals or beats 17. And that 5 damage? If she successfully attacks another character, that character’s dial is clicked down 5 times. Considering that all characters’ dials have space for only 12 clicks on them, that’s a LOT of damage!

However, not all characters need high stats to be great at what they do. I wrote up a little bit about Experienced Destiny as an example of how low stats don’t automatically mean a bad Clix figure. Sometimes you need figures with “low” stats to be more tactical figures in your strategy!

Putting Together Your Team and Its Strategy

A large part of Clix is building a strategy that makes sense for you. Some people like to play characters that run into the fray and smash things up; others like to play characters who stand at a distance and shoot. Some players choose to take higher risks and start the battle sooner; others like to play slowly and subtly, waiting for an opponent to fall into their trap. Some players choose just a few very strong characters with high point values to make up their team; others (like me) choose to have many weaker, smaller-point-value characters which together overpower opponents with sheer numbers.

Whatever abilities, characters, and gameplay style you find yourself drawn to, you can build successful teams. Give HeroClix a try with your friends–play a few casual games. Who knows, you might run across a killer combination of figures that no one ever thought of before!

To Learn More about HeroClix

Official Site: HeroClix.com
Excellent HeroClix Forums: HCRealms
My HeroClix help pages: HeroClix @ The Gamer’s Repose

Magic: the Gathering

Magic: the Gathering is a collectible, fantasy-based card game, involving decks of at least 60 cards that you construct yourself. The basic premise is that you and your opponent are each given 20 life points to start. In a two-player game, the one who runs out of those 20 life points first loses. The game is about finding ways to protect your own life points while devising ways to take down the other player’s life points.

To Start: Find Your Preferred Way to Win

There are five basic “colors” of cards you can use to build your deck: White, Red, Green, Blue, and Black. Each color has a different philosophy of how to win:

There are also Artifact cards (which can be used with any color) and Hybrid/Multicolor (blends of two or more colors). Some philosophies of winning work well together (Blue and Black, for instance, or White and Green), and some philosophies have a harder time working together (like Red and Blue, or White and Black).

Literally endless strategies are available to be explored–there’s something for every personality. If you like to win by simply blocking anything your opponent tries to do, there’s a strategy for you (Blue and sometimes White). If you like to steamroll your opponent with huge creatures that trample across the field, there’s a strategy for you, too (Green all the way). And if you just like to blow your opponent’s stuff up, there’s a strategy for you, too (Red and sometimes Black).

Modes of Play: It’s Not Just a Two-Player Duel!

Magic: the Gathering does involve one-on-one games, but that’s not the only way you can play. Multiplayer (three or more players) games are allowed–in these situations, the last player left standing wins. Also, there’s alternative forms of the game as well, generally meant for casual play:

  • Two-Headed Giant (teams of two playing off against each other)
  • Archenemy (one player is the “villain” while a team of three players are the “heroes”)
  • Vanguard (special large-size cards with various characters from Magic lore are used to change up the rules of the game slightly)
  • Elder Dragon Highlander/Commander (choose a Legendary creature as your “general” and build a deck around him/her)
  • Mental Magic (pick up a card off a stack of random cards. You cannot play the card as itself–rather, you must play it as another card with the exact same cost. Requires lots of knowledge of various cards!)

For More Information

Visit MagicTheGathering.com for official product updates and informative articles; MTGSalvation.com also has lots of information on the history and lore of the game. I also have a website called The Gamer’s Repose, which has a fairly large Magic: the Gathering section featuring tips for beginners, and gameplay advice.