Reflections: What science fiction and video games have taught me about life

[3 minute read] (ESL learners – click on the bolded words to see explanations and notes. Try the exercise at the bottom after! đź™‚ )

If you had a look at my bookshelf, you’d find a pretty diverse range of genres: adventure, biographies, non-fiction, essays, science-fiction, romance… but in a way, I consider all of them to be “personal development.”

Even if the book doesn’t explicitly teach you something about communication, emotions, or other self-help topics, it teaches you about different perspectives, decisions, and lessons. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find it, and sometimes it seems to reach out of the page and smack you in the face.

I recently found a very interesting passage that had this sort of effect, in the science fiction book Ready Player Two.

There are no spoilers, so you can feel free to keep reading even if you’re planning to read the book:

“My friend Kira always said that life is like an extremely difficult, horribly unbalanced videogame.

When you’re born, you’re given a randomly generated character, with a randomly determined name, race, face, and social class. Your body is your avatar, and you spawn in a random geographic location, at a random moment in human history, surrounded by a random group of people, and then you have to try to survive for as long as you can.

Sometimes the game might seem easy. Even fun. Other times it might be so difficult you want to give up and quit.

But unfortunately, in this game you only get one life. When your body grows too hungry or thirsty or ill or injured or old, your health meter runs out and then it’s Game Over.

Some people play the game for a hundred years without ever figuring out that it’s a game, or that there is a way to win it.

To win the videogame of life you just have to try to make the experience of being forced to play it as pleasant as possible, for yourself, and for all the other players you encounter in your travels.

Kira says that if everyone played the game to win, it’d be a lot more fun for everyone.”

This passage truly resonated with me because I had found myself thinking something along those lines already years ago.

It was around the time I used to play a lot of video games. I loved playing Viva Piñata on the Xbox in particular (it was a gift from my brother) — and I would spend hours crafting my garden.

It was amazing fun, and I could get engrossed in the game for days on end during the summer. But I’d always have the nagging feeling that instead of spending time building virtual houses and tending to virtual plants, I could be out there in the real world, building real relationships and tending to a tangible goal instead.

So why not look at life as a game instead? You can play it all day long — in fact, you don’t have any other choice.

Did you find this passage as inspiring as I did? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

ESL Notes (12 words / expressions)

Definitions written with reference to Cambridge Dictionary

Explicitly: in a way that is clear and exact. For example a book that you find in the “self-help” section of a bookstore is explicitly a self-help type of book. (Back to the text)

Smack: to hit something, in a way that creates a short loud noise. (Back to the text)

Spawn: appear or start to grow suddenly. Here are two examples from the dictionary: “The new economic freedom has spawned hundreds of new small businesses.” and “Her death spawned countless films and books.” (Back to the text)

Resonate with me: makes me think of a similar situation, or it is something familiar to me that I can understand easily. Here is another example: “Her experiences resonate powerfully with me, as I live in a similar family situation.” (Back to the text)

Along those lines / along the lines of…: something similar. For example, if you have a conversation with a friend, and later someone asks you what she said, but you don’t remember exactly, you could say, “She said something along the lines of being really tired of her job.” This means she said something like that, but not those exact words. Another example from the dictionary is “I was thinking of doing a meal along the lines of that dinner I did for Annie and Dave.” This means I want to do a meal that is similar to the dinner that I did for Annie and Dave. (Back to the text)

Would: You probably know the word “would” used in conditional sentences: “If I were you, I would go talk to her.” You can also use “would” to mean you did something often in the past. For example, “When I was a teenager, I would go out with my friends every weekend.” This means “I used to go out with my friends every weekend”. Note that you cannot use “would” in this way with state verbs (be, have, believe, like, understand, etc.). (Back to the text)

Craft: make, in a way that needs talent or skills. For example, if you make a bag, maybe you just cut a piece of fabric and glued it together. But if you craft a bag, we would imagine that you make a more complex, high-quality or beautiful design. (Back to the text)

Engrossed: when you’re engrossed in something, you give all your thoughts and attention to it, so that you don’t notice what’s happening around you. (Back to the text)

On end: without stopping. (Back to the text)

Nagging: complaining or criticizing. (Back to the text)

Tend to something: to care for something. This is most often used with plants or injuries. Here are two examples: “He carefully tended to his sunflower plants.” and “The nurse gently tended to the patient’s cuts.” I used it partially because of this connection to plants (the video game is about creating a garden). (Back to the text)

Tangible: Real and not imaginary. (Back to the text)


Want to start using these words and make sure you don’t forget them? Try this exercise! Think about these questions (discuss them with someone) or write down your answers, using the word or expression in your discussion or answer.

  • What rules are there in your company or your school? Are they explicitly stated somewhere, or are they “unwritten” rules?
  • When is the last time you accidentally smacked a part of your body against a wall, piece of furniture, etc.?
  • Is there a change in your country’s law that has spawned something new recently? Can you think of a historical event that has spawned many movies, books, poems, etc.?
  • Is there any celebrity or well-known person who’s experiences resonate with you?
  • Answer any of the following questions using “something along the lines of…” to compare what you want to something you saw or know already. What kind of house would you like to live in? If you write a book, what kind of book would it be? What was said in the last advertisement you heard or watched?
  • What is something you did often as a child or teenager? Use “would” for past habits in your answer.
  • Do you have any items in your home that were hand-crafted? Do you appreciate crafted items more than mass-produced ones?
  • Have you ever been so engrossed in your thoughts that you forgot to get off the bus when you were going somewhere?
  • What is something that you love to do so much, you could do it for days on end? (or hours on end, weeks on end, months on end?)
  • Do you know anyone who nags a lot? (i.e. complains and criticizes a lot?) What do they nag about?
  • What tangible benefits do you get at work? If you don’t work yet, what tangible benefits does someone you know get at work? (tangible benefits are ones like a salary, a pension, dental care, short working hours, etc.) (Sometimes jobs claim to offer benefits like professional development opportunities, but they do not really offer many options for this — those would not be tangible).

Feel free to try writing some more sentences, or a text, of your own to practice some more.

Thank you for reading! These ESL notes, links and exercises each take several hours to make, so if you found this useful, the kindest thing you can do is to like the post, leave a comment, or share with anyone who needs it. Have questions about any other words? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply!

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