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This was an idea that came up in a discussion thread in Conscious Growth Club this week, and I thought it might make an interesting article. You may like this way of thinking if you’re into video games, especially games that involve different types of quests.
Your main quest is whatever you consider most important in life right now. This could be your life purpose or mission. It could be your alignment with certain values that you consider sacred. It could be a major transition that you’re considering or facing.
In a game your main quest is whatever goal you must eventually accomplish in order to complete the game and activate the victory sequence. That could be defeating a major opponent, saving the world, solving a mystery, etc.
Your purpose for playing games is probably to have fun. Making progress towards your main quest is part of what makes the game fun and interesting. It’s also rewarding to finish games that have an ending, so keeping the main quest in mind is wise if you eventually want to finish.
However, the main quest in a big game can often feel pretty distant, especially early in the game. So most of the time, you’re probably not focusing on the main quest directly, even when other characters remind you of it repeatedly. You may not even be capable of directly working on the main quest, such as if you cannot find or access the main opponent that you’re supposed to defeat.
A subquest is a smaller goal or project that directly supports your main quest. Subquests serve as milestones or stepping stones on a direct path to accomplish your main quest. Subquests are generally mandatory. While you may be able to sidestep them now and then, you’d probably have to be extra creative or cheat a bit to skip one of them.
In a game a subquest may involve assembling a team, acquiring a critical item, or unlocking access to a new area of the map – anything that’s in the critical sequence of actions to complete the main quest and finish the game.
Most of your progress towards the main quest will be through subquests. You pick away at these subquests one by one until you’re ready to work on the final run to complete the main quest.
Depending on the game, these subquests may be very linear, meaning that you have to do them in a defined order. Or they may be more flexible, so you get to choose the sequencing to some extent. With flexible sequencing you may have multiple subquests open at any given time, each in different stages of completion, because many games let you begin new subquests before you’ve completed previous subquests.
A common source of confusion (and sometimes a little frustration) is having too many or too few open subquests. With too few subquests, you may have few options for what to do next to advance your main quest, and if you can’t advance at least one subquest, you can’t advance your main quest.
With too many subquests open, you may feel overwhelmed, like you have too many details to keep track of. You may feel a desire to thin out your options by completing more subquests, and it may even frustrate you when you get assigned more subquests. Different players have different tolerances for how many subquests they like to have open at any given time.
A side quest is an optional side project that doesn’t directly support your main quest, but completing a side quest could make it a little easier to tackle your main quest or a subquest, such as by building up your skills or gaining additional resources.
In a game a side quest may involve doing a favor for a townsperson to earn some extra gold, weapons, or items, none of which you actually need to complete the main quest.
Side quests can make a game more fun, expansive, and rewarding, but they also make it take longer to finish. If you’re not in a hurry, they can be interesting and worthwhile since they can add extra nuances to the storyline and more depth to the world, but they don’t necessarily provide the same sense of progress that subquests do. If you get bogged down in side quests, it’s easy to feel like you’re spinning your wheels and not progressing the main storyline much, which could make you feel impatient or bored.
Depending on your personality, you may want to complete every side quest to feel like you’ve fully completed every part of the game. Or you may want to focus on the subquests and move the main storyline along faster.
A minigame is a small game within the larger game. It doesn’t really support your main quest or subquests, and it’s more trivial than a side quest. A minigame is mostly a diversion.
In a game world, a minigame typically has dynamics that are different from other parts of the game, which is what distinguishes them from side quests. A side quest is also typically completed just once while a minigame can often be played repeatedly. Minigames can still be beneficial, like playing a gambling game to earn extra gold, but a minigame normally doesn’t advance or add value to the story.
Minigames can be fun and interesting, or they can turn into distractions that slow you down, depending on how you engage with them and how difficult they are. Minigames can add extra charm and playfulness to a larger game, even serving as a nice break from more complex quests. But they can also be a big time waster that can chew up extra hours without providing much value, especially if you get caught up in using them to grind out extra resources.
While I’ve tried to make these definitions relatively crisp, there are gray areas among them, and the definitions are just for the purposes of this article, so we can use these ideas as analogies. Try not to get hung up on the terms I’m using – they’re only meant for the context of this article.
Your Playing Style
How you play through a big game depends on your priorities and personality.
Some players will try to get to the end efficiently, skipping most of the side quests while enjoying the storyline as they pick away at the subquests till they complete the main quest. Then they call it done and move on to the next game.
The extreme version of efficiency would be speedrunning a game, in which players try to complete all or part of a game as fast as possible, including finding shortcuts the designers may not have intended or anticipated. Speedrunners are often able to skip subquests that most players would consider essential or expected for completing the game. For instance, a speedrunner might complete a game in a few hours that most players would take dozens or hundreds of hours to finish. A speedrunner completes the main quest a lot faster than most. But do they enjoy the game as much? That’s a matter of debate, but it usually takes a lot of extra practice to speedrun a game. Players don’t usually attempt to speedrun a game until they’ve already played through the game more slowly.
Many players may want to savor the experience of the game. They aren’t racing towards the end result, so they’ll do many or all of the side quests, and they may engage with the minigames too. They figure the game out as they go, and they’re not in a rush to get to the end. They may enjoy exploring and revisiting different areas of the game. They may have different personal priorities for playing that don’t always align with advancing the main storyline. And some may not care that much if they finish the game or not.
And of course some people are obsessive about finishing every piece of the game, including completing every side quest (regardless of how trivial or frustrating it may be) and perhaps mastering every minigame too. They might even use this knowledge to create extensive guides for other players.
You may have different preferred playing styles for different types of games too. A playing style that’s fun for you in one game world may feel boring or stressful in another, so you also have to take into account what styles the game mechanics reward.
Your Playing Style in Real Life
If you think about playing games as an analogy for how you play the game of life overall, what do you observe about your real life playing styles?
What kind of player are you? How do you prefer to play the game of life? What style of play feels most natural and rewarding for you?
Do you like to go with the flow and play mostly for fun, not caring much about finishing subquests or main quests?
Do you like focusing on subquests and a main quest, preferring not to get distracted by side quests and minigames?
Do you sometimes enjoy speedrunning by finding shortcuts?
Do you get bogged down in side quests or minigames when you’d actually prefer to work on subquests and main quests?
Do you know what your current main quest is? Do you have one? Is it something that could be completed eventually?
Do you know what your current subquests are? Is it clear how your subquests will help you make progress towards your main quest?
Perhaps the most important aspect to look at here is the alignment between your playing style and the mechanics of real life. Is your playing style a good match for the reward mechanisms of real life? Do you appreciate the way that life rewards your character? Or are you fighting or resisting life’s reward structures in some way?
If a bunch of experienced gamers were to watch you play the game of real life, making live commentary on your “play” as you went through a typical week, what sorts of things would they say? What would they conclude about your current playing style? Would they come to see your playing style as being a good and natural fit for you?
I actually encourage you to take this seriously and write down some one-line comments you think such people might offer up as observations if they actually watched you for a week, such as:
- Do you even know what game you’re playing?
- Nice example of thrashing there.
- This is painful to watch.
- Yawn… let’s order pizza. I’ll nap till it gets here.
- Ooooh, good move!
- Wow, you sure do love Netflix minigames…
- Oh boy… it’s the 10th social media side quest of the day… how many more likes do we need again?
- Where are our teammates? I thought this was a multiplayer game…
How Are You Questing?
Consider what your approach may look like in different parts of life, such as your health and fitness, relationships and social life, work and career, finances, etc.
If you feel that a particular area of life is going well for you, notice how that area looks when you view it through the gaming lens. What’s your current style of play in that area? Why do you think that area is working well for you? What sort of commentary would a group of gamers make about your style of play in this area?
And then look at other areas of life that may not be working so well. How are you approaching those areas?
Could you transplant your successful approaches to the less successful areas?
Could you customize your approach for each area of life?
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a main quest in every area of life. Not everyone cares about that. But suppose you find that when your life is working well in a certain area, you’re exploring a lot, taking time for side quests, and enjoying the occasional minigame. And suppose that in the areas of life that aren’t working well for you, you’re trying to speedrun or focus too intently on the main quest. You might find more enjoyment in life – and make better progress too – if you explore more and go at a slower pace.
If all out speed is what matters to you in some area of life, are you looking for shortcuts and finding them like a speedrunner would? Does it help to think about better ways to speedrun your goals? Are you asking questions like: How could I accomplish in 2 hours what most people would do in 200 hours? What’s a much faster way to make this goal happen? Can I accomplish the main mission today, even if it’s not how other people would do it?
Many goals can be speedrun, and the best candidates for speedrunning are goals that are similar to ones you’ve already achieved. Another advantage of speedrunning is that you can show other people how to speedrun similar goals. There’s extra money and prestige for those who can do that.
Making Real Life Changes
I wrote this article to encourage you to look at your life from a different perspective to see if these ideas spark any useful insights that could lead to real life changes that may benefit you. How could you leverage these ideas to improve your style of play?
As a personal example, for many years my exercise routine mainly involved early morning runs or elliptical workouts. Sometimes I was into weight training or bodyweight exercises. It felt like I was mainly doing maintenance exercise, which was still useful, but there wasn’t any sense of working towards a main quest or even subquests.
Exercising felt mostly like a daily side quest. It was still worthwhile and supported my other subquests by helping my character have good energy, but I felt like it had drifted away from my ideal playing style.
Even when I was getting stronger, what did that matter? It’s nice to be able to lift heavier and feel more muscle on my body, but it still felt like a side quest, given how I was approaching it.
When I enjoyed exercise the most, it was when I did marathon training and martial arts classes. I really liked the group energy. I liked training up, such as by earning new belt ranks or running longer distances. This approach to fitness felt more like a subquest or even a main quest, at least in the physical aspect of life. Finishing the L.A. Marathon 20 years ago was a nice accomplishment, and I still have the finisher’s medal from that race.
Last weekend Rachelle and I joined a new local fitness studio, as I wrote about in the recent post on making exercise more fun and social. This morning we finished our 7th day in a row of group workouts. This has been a really nice change.
I love going to the new studio and taking different classes. This past week we did a yoga intro class, yin yoga (twice), hot yoga, vinyasa yoga, hot yin yoga, and indoor cycling. Tomorrow we’ll probably do a TRX class or a boxing class for the first time.
This has been a terrific change in my style of play for this area of life. Instead of doing maintenance exercise, I feel like I’m training up my character in meaningful ways, such as by doing some yin yoga to balance aspects of my life that tend to be more yang in nature.
The social aspect makes this feel like a multiplayer game instead of a solo game, which increases the feeling of engagement. Every class has an instructor, so it feels like I’m working with a trainer every day too.
Now physical exercise feels more like a subquest that aligns much better with other priorities, such as improving my social life, improving my energy, and improving my overall life balance. This part of life feels more purposeful and engaging than it did the previous month. It feels like a better fit for my current character.
How is your current style of play working for you? Does it feel fun, stimulating, and balanced? Has it grown stale? Do you feel inclined to mix it up?
Changing your style of play isn’t easy. It takes some effort, it involves some risk, and you may need to experiment to get it right. It may feel a bit uncomfortable too, like trying to do familiar moves with the opposite hand. But what’s the point in playing when your mind and heart aren’t fully engaged anymore? When you’ve sunken to that point, it’s time to freshen up your style of play or to switch to a different game.
If you’ve outgrown your current game or your current style of play, move on.