Your Wealthy Avatar

June 26th, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

There was a recent discussion in our forums about the contrast between playing an online computer game (MMORPG) and, over a period of weeks or months, acquiring a substantial amount of gold for your character (avatar) versus experiencing the opposite situation of financial scarcity in real life.

The question posed was: What’s it like to enjoy financial abundance in real life?

Honestly it’s pretty much the same thing you’d experience in a virtual game world when your character has a lot of gold.

When you have an abundance of gold, the nature of the game changes, doesn’t it?

First, the price of items becomes less important because you can afford anything you want. You’re less likely to whine, “I can’t afford that!” If you have a million gold pieces and you’re earning a thousand more each day, would you fuss about whether a potion costs 10 gold or 50 gold? You don’t even have to think about it. What’s cheap and what’s expensive is relative to your assets, income, and mindset.

Second, in some ways the game becomes more fun, but in other ways it could be less fun. Your financial resources give you an edge. Your character is less limited and has more possibilities. It’s easy for you to secure equipment, lodging, transportation, etc. It’s easy to help out other characters. But you may have to change the way you play to keep it fun and engaging. In the beginning it was challenging just to acquire gold, but now that you have so much, adding more to your stash may not be as exciting as it once was. You’ll probably become more interested in other aspects of the game, such as socializing with the other players. The game becomes more of a social challenge than a financial one. This is an oversimplification, but my point is that when you have a lot of resources, your focus shifts away from acquiring more and toward something else that interests you and keeps the game fun. If the game stops being fun, you’ll probably think about quitting.

Third, your social interactions with the other characters may change when you have more gold. When you’re rich you can do more to help out other players, like buying them equipment and supplies. Some people may appreciate the help. But for others it may not be a good thing. If someone is new to the game, and you artificially advance them, you may rob them of the early learning experiences, so they may be a significantly worse level 30 player than someone who bootstrapped his/her way up from the bottom. You may also rob them of the fun of overcoming the game’s challenges via trial and error. However, when an experienced player is starting fresh with a new character, it makes more sense to give them some aid because repeating the early levels probably won’t do much for them. It takes time to develop the wisdom to make financially and socially sound decisions, and not everyone will be pleased with your choices.

You may want to protect your gold because it took a lot of work to earn it, but you needn’t be overly afraid of losing it because you know you could earn it back if necessary. This assumes you earned it in the first place. I’ve found that this is the same with many people in real life. Those who are very skilled at earning money usually aren’t too afraid of losing it, but those who aren’t very good at earning money become more clingy and tight with what they have because they don’t feel confident in their ability to earn it back quickly. The high achievers are still protective of their assets, but they don’t live in fear of a big loss if they trust themselves; when they do succumb to playing too tight, the game becomes less fun, and they lose their drive and ambition.

I wouldn’t say that the game is always better when you have a lot of gold, but in many ways it is. If you really enjoy the challenge of acquiring gold, then the early levels can be a lot of fun. If you remain in a state of financial scarcity for too long, however, you’ll limit your avatar’s growth. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy interesting growth experiences while in a state of financial scarcity, but the game typically gets boring, repetitive, or frustrating if you stay there too long. To keep it fun and interesting, you need to progress to different kinds of challenges.

If you’ve been stuck in a state of financial scarcity for longer than you’d like, it means you haven’t yet put in the time to master one of real life’s wealth building strategies. There are many to choose from, so pick a strategy that’s fun for you, and run with it until you get good at it.

You can create stuff and sell it. You can be a trader (buy low, sell high). You can get paid to support and/or optimize other people’s wealth building systems. You can acquire income-generating and/or appreciating assets. You can bring people together for lucrative deals in exchange for a fair cut. You can become a performer or entertainer. Real life has more wealth building opportunities than all the virtual worlds combined.

What causes people to get stuck in financial scarcity?

How would you become financially stuck in a game world?

Basically you need to avoid doing those things that will bring in the gold.

For example, you could avoid going on income-generating quests. Stick with non income-generating activities like walking around aimlessly or socializing with other characters. This could still be fun and interesting, but don’t expect to get paid for it.

Many times people will use the phrase “I don’t know what to do” in order to justify their financial scarcity.

So you’re going broke because you don’t know what to do? Is that accurate? Your problems would be easily solved if you only knew what to do? All your financial problems can be traced back to not knowing what to do?

Seriously?

Is it perhaps more accurate to say that you’re using this as an excuse to avoid accepting one or more of the quests that are RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE?

I don’t think I’ve ever met someone that claimed they didn’t know what to do who wasn’t butt up against the most obvious solution, staring them right in the face the whole time. They claim ignorance in order to prevent themselves from having to face that solution, which is often quite clear to everyone around them. They think that other people are actually buying their excuse, but the reality is that there’s a whole gossip network around the person where friends and family keep asking, “Why won’t s/he just do X?” But after dealing with years of denial, it’s too hard for friends and family to be straight with that person and lay out the plain and simple truth because they expect the truth would kill the relationship.

If you’re one of those people who goes around saying “I don’t know what to do,” please believe me when I tell you that no one around you actually believes your story. You’re more transparent than you realize. To other people it just sounds like pointless whining.

If you’re playing a game and you don’t know how to earn gold, how would you figure it out? Is the solution to walk around complaining, “I don’t know what to do”?

No, that would be stupid. You’d never do something like that, would you?

How could you figure out what to do?

You could start by reading the game’s instruction manual. ;)

You could ask the other players who have a lot of gold or even a moderate amount of gold for advice. Chances are that anyone who has more gold than you has more of a clue than you do. If you really want to earn a lot of gold, make a study of how the game’s resource system works. Try different ways of earning gold. Read books about gold mining. Experiment. Discover through trial and error what works best for you.

But for goodness sakes, if you sit around whining “I don’t know what to do” while other characters are happily earning gold, don’t be surprised when the armory guy comes to strip you of your sword and chain mail for being late on your payments.

Choosing good quests

To create a wealthy avatar, accept quests that will earn you some gold. Invest your time and energy into those quests, and you’ll acquire gold.

This is an oversimplification because in real life there’s more financial risk than in most games. Virtually anyone can get rich in a game world simply by playing long enough.

Let’s consider some possible ways to choose a quest that will earn you some gold.

How about letting your parents or family decide for you?

Perhaps your family really wants you to become a healer because they know that healing pays big bucks. So they strongly encourage you to go to shaman school. You also believe that’s a good way to earn a lot of gold, but you really don’t want to be a healer. You don’t think it would be fun for you. Should you ignore your feelings and take their advice?

Only if you’re a total loon.

The point of the game is to have fun, right? So why on Azeroth would you try to acquire gold by committing to a long-term quest that you don’t expect will be fun? What will happen? You’ll become bored and frustrated, and you’ll soon want to quit. You’ll waste everyone’s time and disappoint those who are counting on you.

Even if you can force yourself to succeed on this path, you’ll end up hating your life. It will become a total grind. So what if you earn a million gold. Will spending it be any consolation for the sorry state of your emotional life?

It’s okay to go on a short and dull mini-quest every once in a while, and that may be a necessary step for advancement sometimes. But if the bulk of your time is spent doing stuff you don’t enjoy, the solution is obvious: quit and start over on a different path. And don’t bemoan how far you’ve traveled down the wrong path. Let it be game over.

What if you accept only those quests that you expect will be the most fun?

That would certainly be interesting. You’d be enjoying the game and having a good time.

But maybe some of those quests wouldn’t earn you any gold. Maybe you’d even have to pay for some of the experiences you’d like to have. Eventually you would get bored by the limited options available to you, and you’d feel anxious to progress to something more rewarding.

This hedonistic approach might work in certain games where every roaming monster carries a purse (yet you never see those monsters shopping in any of the stores), but it often falls flat in real life. Every analogy has its limits, so we have to be careful not to stretch this one too far.

Is there a better approach?

What if you played the game with the goal of balancing having fun and acquiring gold? Surely there are plenty of quests you could accept that would be (1) fun and interesting, and (2) profitable.

From time to time you might do quests that are fun but not profitable, or profitable but not fun, or neither profitable nor fun. But suppose you aim to spend 80% of your game time on quests that are both fun and profitable.

Could you do it?

Could you do that in real life?

After all, you’re the one who chooses the quests. And there’s a virtually limitless supply of quests available.

Writing this article is a mini-quest for me. I love writing, so it’s fun for me to do this. This particular article probably won’t be very profitable, but it could generate some extra traffic over the years, and I earn gold from web traffic in a variety of ways. Maybe I’ll even sell a few more instruction manuals. :)

The point is that you’re the one who’s choosing these quests, aren’t you? So if you’re not having fun, whose fault is that?

I don’t want to see you blaming yourself for picking lame quests, but it would make your life a lot better if you realized you’re the one who’s responsible for making those choices.

Sometimes the bad guy forces a quest on you, one that you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself. When that happens, just accept it and get through the quest as quickly as you can. And remember that it’s still supposed to be fun.

Skill building

Just as there’s an element of skill to playing games, there’s also an element of skill to earning gold in real life.

Some players just plain suck at it, don’t they?

If you’re one of those sucky players, what’s the solution? You need to find a way to suck less.

This means learning how to capitalize on your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.

Where is your character strong? Are you good at vanquishing monsters? Casting spells? Healing people? Motivating and inspiring your guild? Set yourself up in a role that plays to your strengths as much as possible. Do more of what you’re good at and less of what you’re bad at.

What about your weaknesses? Where are the chinks in your armor? How can you work around them? Can you educate yourself to become a better player? Can you recruit teammates whose strengths will compensate for your weaknesses? Most likely you’ll need a blend of training and recruiting. Make your avatar as good as you can, but recognize that you’ll still need help if you want to achieve your full potential.

Decide how you’re going to develop your character. If you’re a warrior at heart, don’t go to mage school. If you’re a cleric at heart, don’t study lock picking. Train yourself to take better advantage of your strengths.

If you can’t decide what kind of character you’d like to be, then make any choice and start pursuing it. You’ll find out soon enough if you chose wrong, and then you can go back and start fresh with a new character and develop yourself along a different line. Often this is the only way you’ll learn what your true strengths are. You may have to try on several gauntlets that don’t fit in order to find the one that fits you like a glove.

When I played computer role-playing games, I almost always chose to be the fighter guy. I wasn’t into casting spells or doing stealthy maneuvers. I didn’t like to be subtle or sneaky. I was the kick-ass warrior guy who’d run into a group of monsters and start wailing on them. I must have thought RPG and FPS were synonyms.

Even when I did pen and paper role-playing, my favorite characters to play were the fearless warrior types. One of my favorite characters to play was called The Tackler. His special power was that he was exceptionally good at running headlong into groups of enemies and tackling them to the ground.

Often I like to control my real-life avatar in a similar manner. When communicating with people, I tend to be very direct and forthright. I’m not very subtle or sensitive. I’m disgusted by people who gossip behind people’s backs. Is this the only way to play the game of life? Of course not. I like playing this type of character though, and when I try to behave too differently, it doesn’t feel right; it feels like I’m out of sync with my avatar.

Recruiting teammates

In an MMORPG, it’s pretty hard to get ahead by playing solo because your options are more limited. Bigger teams can tackle bigger challenges and earn bigger prizes. Teammates can help compensate for each other’s individual weaknesses. The social experience of interacting with other players and working together as a cohesive unit makes the game more fun.

As my primary teammate, I have Erin, who loves to play the healer. She’s the perfect complement for my avatar. I run in first and get beat up, and she keeps me alive and tends to my wounds so I can return for another round. We’ve accomplished some interesting real-life goals this way.

Interacting with teammates can also help you develop a more well-rounded avatar without losing your sharp edge.

For example, sometimes I’m too aggressive, and I have to learn to tone it down a notch. Years ago, Erin and I were playing the MMORPG gameĀ City of Heroes. I played a martial arts scrapper character (a tough fighter who inflicts a lot of damage), and she played a healer. While waiting for our teammates to arrive before embarking on a mission, I grew impatient and decided to run in solo and get a head start on bashing enemies. Erin’s character remained in the street waiting for the rest of our group. She sees me enter a warehouse filled with enemies, and about 30 seconds later, my character comes running out the door and immediately falls flat on his face at her feet — dead. With my last virtual breath, I typed, “Do NOT go in there!”

How can you recruit teammates to help you out in real life? It’s pretty much the same process you use in a game, albeit a bit less structured. Simply talk to people and invite them to do something fun and profitable with you.

That’s how I recruited people to help out with my computer games business many years ago. I found people I thought would be a good fit for the team, and I asked them, “Hey, would you like to…?” Then we had a conversation about the possibilities of working together. I don’t recall looking at many resumes. I just asked around. These days it’s how I do joint-venture partnerships. It usually starts with a line like, “Hey, what do you think about this idea…”

That’s how I started my latest mastermind group. I asked someone to join it, and he said yes. It’s only three people so far, but it’s off to a good start. It’s a small team where we all help each other succeed. We had our third meeting recently, and all of us have benefited from it. Each of us is strong in areas where the others are weak.

Don’t think you have to go it alone. Financial abundance is easier to achieve when you make it a social adventure, not a solo pursuit. You’ll probably find that the social aspects make it more fun. Isn’t it more interesting to tackle one of those dragons as a team instead of trying to take it on all by yourself? The best part of going on quests is the fascinating people you meet along the way.

Courage

Courage is an essential element for going on quests because good quests, especially those that are very lucrative, often involve some risk. You might die. You might get robbed. You might encounter a puzzle you can’t solve and get frustrated.

So why do people take on those risks? Why do people keep fighting dragons and risking their character’s lives to do it?

Mainly because it’s a lot of fun. To play sheepishly makes the game boring and pointless. It’s better to play full out and risk death now and then.

Nobody wants to get their character killed. But they understand it’s a possible outcome, and they accept it. In the grand scheme of things, getting your virtual character killed is a minor setback.

It takes practice to find the right balance between playing too fast and loose versus playing too tight and timid. With practice you’ll settle on a strategy that works for you.

How’s your real life strategy working for you? Have you achieved the proper balance between courage and safety?

Most of the time, people play their real life characters way too tight and timid. Yes, some people are on the fast and loose side, but if you’re reading this article, it’s a safe bet that isn’t your problem.

In real life people often exaggerate their fears. They run from things that are largely imaginary. I mean… how often do you have to risk death to acquire financial abundance these days? I guess that depends on where you live and what type of work you’re doing. But where I live most people who choose to become wealthy can do so without substantially increasing their risk of death by dragon’s breath.

What’s the truth of your situation? Are you exerting the right amount of courage? Are you taking reasonable risks, or are you playing too tight?

Courage is what keeps you in the sweet spot of having fun. Courage isn’t something you are or something you have. It’s something you do. When you do courage, the game is fun. Real life is fun.

When you see a quest that scares you but also excites you, that’s the best kind of quest to accept. Those are the really fun ones.

What are some of the quests that are right in front of you, waiting to be accepted? Have you been avoiding them because they require courage? If a quest requires courage, that’s exactly why you should accept it. It will be fun!

Your wealthy avatar

The hardest part of building a wealthy avatar is adopting the right mindset. This is the mindset that people naturally adopt when they enjoy a role-playing game. The point of the game is to have fun and to advance your character. If you’re not having fun, and other people are, you’re probably doing something wrong. If you’ve been playing for a month and you’re still stuck at level 3, you’re probably doing something wrong. You’re one of those clueless newbies who just doesn’t get it.

When you have the right mindset, and you keep playing the game, it’s only a matter of time before you have a wealthy avatar. Sure you’ll have a few setbacks along the way, and your expectations won’t always be met. But if you apply a sound strategy that fits the rules of the game and meshes well with the social landscape, in the long run you can expect to succeed.

Your financial challenges aren’t there to beat you down. They’re important training exercises. Your financial problems are solvable, but in order to solve them you must learn and follow the rules of the game. Are you following those rules, or are you violating them? Are you spending more than you earn? Are you racking up debt instead of creating value? Are you wasting your time on quests that aren’t fun and profitable? Are you ducking the challenging quests that are staring you in the face because you’re scared? Are you trying to do everything alone instead of building or joining a cool team?


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