If you’re not into video games it might be hard to even understand their appeal. If you are, you may not have thought past “they’re just fun.”
This isn’t about liking or disliking video games. We can take something valuable from how they’re structured.
When you begin a video game (think of just about anyone you can think of), it usually follows a similar path. Orientation, exploration, mission, acquisition, and reward.
First you’re immersed into that world and there’s an orientation. You learn how to move and what the buttons do.
Next you find out your objective, maybe it’s slay the dragon, save the world, or win the championship. Of course, you don’t just go straight to the dragon’s lair. You start with smaller missions. This is exploration.
This is, you may be thinking, when game really starts. You set out on your mission, a short-term goal that advances the story. You begin skill acquisition. How to run the plays in a sports game. How to defeat the low-level bad guys and loot them for their weapons, money, or xp.
You improve pretty quickly and what happens? Your avatar levels up and becomes stronger and more capable. This is the reward part of the cycle.
Then the loop essentially resets but everything is a little more difficult. The missions are more complex, the bad guys are harder to defeat, you get more skilled, and the rewards are bigger.
The cycle holds you engaged by keeping you right at the edge of your ability. A game that’s too easy won’t hold your interest. If the learning curve is too steep, the frustration is too high and the game isn’t fun.
The key is to find that middle ground where you’re challenged. You feel perpetually pretty good. You know how to play but you need your full concentration in order to keep advancing. You may “die” some but it doesn’t feel hopeless.
The same basic model is true when it comes to fitness. You start out in a strange new space called the gym. Your mission is to get stronger.
The so-called “light” weights feel heavy as you orient yourself and get used to all the movements.
There’s no clear-cut bad guys (well, I sincerely hope not) so you progress first by just surviving the early sessions. Each time you workout you’re a little bit stronger. Just like a good, challenging video game, you won’t just sail through. You don’t “die” like your on-screen counterpart, but you will have obstacles and sticking points. And you overcome them the same way, by persevering and learning.
Adding weights to the bar is the easy corollary to leveling up. The reward is a more capable body and an improved appearance. And the cycle continues as the heavier weights and harder workouts are a greater challenge than before.
While sitting in your chair playing video games won’t get you in better shape, hopefully now going to the gym can feel more like you’re heroically saving the planet from destruction.