All manner of things and experiences, some more obvious than others, can shape how you view money. In this instance, I wanted to delve into the subject of video games and how they may have impacted the way I spend and save.
I’ve played video games for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Mega Drive with my brothers. They are a defining part of my childhood, and of my life in general, and have certainly helped to shape who I am as a person.
Video games often have a bad reputation, and indeed, I wouldn’t advocate that anyone spends all their time playing them. However, everyone needs to unwind at some point, and the variety that video games can offer is a strength; whether enjoying an indepth story or as a way to socialise and keep in contact with friends, they have something to offer most people. I also think they can be a valuable tool for learning. I wanted to share a few ways that video games have impacted the way that I view money:
Save for the future / Delayed gratification
For any non-gaming readers out there, RPGs, or role-playing games, are a genre of video games that have their origins in tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. You control a character (or several) and follow their story from beginning to end. Along the way you typically have to travel across the world, fighting enemies, buying or discovering new and more powerful equipment, all the while getting stronger and stronger until you come to the end of the story and fight the big bad boss. Think the Lord of the Rings trilogy, only you actually get to control Frodo or Aragorn rather than simply watching their journey unfold.
In most RPGs, the main way to make money is to wander the fields/caves near a given town, fighting monsters and picking up the money that they drop (no one said these games had to make sense). You can then use this to buy stronger weapons and armour, allowing you to move on to the next town which inevitably has even stronger gear and even more deadly local monsters. The process then repeats itself until you’ve saved the world.
I always approached these games as a chronic hoarder. I’d refuse to spend any money for as long as possible, making the most of the equipment I had. Then, when things finally got too difficult and the enemies had become impossible to defeat, I had more than enough money to buy the strongest weapons and start smashing everything in my path!
Strangely enough, this is how I’ve treated money from an early age (with the exception of buying oversized swords and attacking local wildlife – that’s reserved explicitly for virtual life!). Even when I was younger, I would hoard money, both in real life and in video games, saving for some unknown thing in the future, occasionally relinquishing some to buy a game that I would then savour for months.
Of course, now that I’m older things have changed. I have obligations to pay for (rent, bills, food), and a video game that at one point might have cost several months worth of pocket money now simply requires me to work for about 2 hours; as a result, hoarding every penny that comes my way is no longer realistic. However, I still make sure to set aside a portion of each income for the future.
This can also be used to highlight the importance of an emergency fund, and having some money set aside to cover yourself when things start to go wrong. The game would have been much less fun if I was being repeatedly killed by the latest boss monster and had no money to improve my gear. Likewise, life becomes a lot less fun if an unexpected expense comes your way and you find yourself struggling to find £500 without going into debt.
Work hard now, coast later
Staying on the topic of RPGs, the concept of working hard now to enjoy the easy life later is exemplified (somewhat) by this game, Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers. The game itself is a standard (albeit, very obscure) RPG, as described above.
After the first couple of hours, you come across a casino. This casino houses some of the most powerful weapons in the game. The problem is that they cost an obscene amount of money, especially at this early stage of the game.
However, with a little bit of persistence, and about 2-3 hours of grinding the casino and amassing more and more money, you can afford several of these weapons, which make the rest of the game a breeze.
This is true of most ‘passive income’ ideas, and I believe is a key message from Tim Ferriss’ ‘The 4-Hour Work Week‘ and other similar books. Put in the hard work up front, and reap the rewards later. Sadly the analogy falls apart somewhat when you realise that you can’t save and reload life, like you can in a video game. It’s much easier to place all your money on red when you can just reload to 5 minutes ago if you’re wrong!
There’s fun in the grind / cheating isn’t fun
I remember playing Gran Turismo 2 on the original PlayStation and pouring hours into it. You start off with maybe $10,000. With this, you need to buy a car and start competing in races. You slowly earn more money as you win, allowing you to upgrade your car and start to buy new ones, allowing you to the compete in even harder, more lucrative races. By the time I had moved on from the game, I was practically a millionaire, earning several hundred thousand dollars per win and owned all manner of ridiculous cars, like a Toyota GT-ONE or a Ford GT40.
A few years later, I bought Gran Turismo 3 for the PlayStation 2, expecting it to last me another six months. However, I had found some cheat codes online and couldn’t resist using one to give myself the maximum amount of money allowed in the game. I immediately bought the most expensive car, competed in a handful of races and then… stopped playing. I was already a billionaire, so the motivation to play the game had disappeared, compared to Gran Turismo 2 where I was motivated to keep on improving and always had something else to work towards.
There are a few life lessons here. Firstly, cheating isn’t (usually) fun. Secondly, there’s fun and satisfaction to be had in working your way up from the bottom to the top. The best real life analogy I have for this at the moment is probably my PhD. It took four very long, very difficult, years of hard work, sometimes taking one step forward and then two steps back. I often felt like I was bashing my head against a brick wall. It is probably the most difficult thing I’ve done (and made moving to Asia for two years afterwards pretty easy), and the sense of satisfaction I had when I successfully finished and graduated is still unparalleled.
Make the most of your time
Persona 4 is a game that only the Japanese could produce. Set in a high school, you spend half your time navigating school life: making friends, studying for tests, taking part in extracurricular activities, etc. The other half is spent trying to solve a murder mystery that soon evolves to you having to stop demons and their plan for a world-ending apocalypse.
Despite this craziness, the best part of the game is probably planning the protagonist’s schedule. You only have a year of in-game time to solve the mystery, and in this time you also have to form ‘social-links’ (i.e. become friends) with a variety of people, as this ultimately leads to your demon allies (stay with me here) becoming even stronger, allowing you to more easily fight off the opposing monsters.
Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about such things in real life! However, the game did highlight to me the importance of making the most of your time, setting aside specific blocks of time to achieve a particular goal. It also encouraged me to attend more sporting and social clubs at university, which lead to a much more active, social, confident Dr FIRE by the time I finished. The friends that I made during that time also helped me get through my PhD which, as I mentioned above, was not easy!