A couple of months ago, I discovered a free, open source real-time strategy video game called 0 A.D. If you’re not familiar with the term real-time strategy, it basically means that you can control your characters continuously, unlike turn-based games like chess.
I’m not a huge gamer, but 0 A.D. reminded me so much of the game I used to play years ago called Empire Earth that I had to try it. In both of these games, you manage a civilization and the goal is to defeat opposing civilizations. You can collect resources, such as food, wood, stone and metal, which you can use to build buildings, research technologies and advance to new epochs.
Empire Earth, although an older game, is actually pretty impressive when it comes to advancing your civilization - it has 14 epochs, starting with the prehistoric age and ending with the nano age. 0 A.D. has only three phases: the Village Phase, the Town Phase and the City Phase.
Real time strategies can be very difficult. Like I said earlier, you need to make decisions constantly. You also need to be able to quickly adjust your strategy based on what the opponent is doing, find a good balance between building a strong economy and a strong army, and explore the map and build new cities close to resources before the enemy gets there.
Keeping track of all of these things isn’t easy at all. Needless to say, when I started playing, I sucked (I was playing on very easy, by the way). This supposedly very easy AI beat me in every way imaginable - defeated my army, destroyed my buildings, collected more resources than me. It seemed like no matter what I did, I’d lose.
One time I had to leave the house so I saved the game I was currently playing. The enemy had completely surrounded me and had the victory in the bag so the next time I played I decided to give up on the current game and start a new one.
Fast forward a couple of months and after a lot of playing I’ve gotten much better. I was able to beat the medium difficulty, which was two levels above very easy. One day I looked at the saved games and saw the one that I saved months ago. I decided to resume it.
Even though my civilization was in a very bad situation, I was able to turn things around and beat the computer. That felt good!
After I finished the game, I thought about the reasons why I was able to pull off this dramatic, underdog victory, and how a couple of months of irregular practice can still result in such a drastic improvement in skill.
This ability to improve our skills (and by the way, I’m sure this applies to things other than video games as well) might not be obvious, because we improve slowly each day. However if we can somehow compare our current work with our past work, this can be very evident, and also very inspiring. For example, I remember reading some code I wrote a long time ago and thinking how it was unnecessarily complicated. But what that really means is that I can write much better code now. Another example also comes to mind - when I joined Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills, I was uncomfortable and nervous and I had trouble looking people in the eye during my speeches. There’s a ton of other examples, but I’m sure you get the point.
No matter how much you think you suck at something, the chances are you can become pretty good very fast if you’re consistent. I think we often underestimate the amount of time it takes to improve our skills, and we get discouraged and decide upfront it won’t be worth the effort. If that’s you, regardless of whether you made this decision consciously or maybe even uncosciously, I hope this post inspires you to to change your mind and allow yourself to feel hopeful again.