I feel video games can teach us a lot about real life.

1. You cannot ‘respawn’ in real life

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Life is like Diablo in Hell Mode— which means, you need to beat the entire game, without dying even once. You can use health potions, level up, get armor, weapons, and allies— but if you die once, you have to start all over again.

Life is like hell mode. It is really fucking hard.

People die all the time. Our friends, our loved ones, partners, children, parents, aunts, uncles, and acquaintances die. They die from car accidents, tumors, cancers, heart disease, complications from surgery, or AIDS.

2. The Grim Reaper is cruel

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One of my good friends was Eddy Kim. We grew up together— he went to the same church as me as a kid. My mom knew his parents (and vice-versa).

Eddy was always the best gamer out of all of us. He was the master in Counter Strike, and always carried a beautiful flair to him. He was good with the ladies, cool with all the homies, and great in school. He had it all.

He died recently from brain cancer— a rare tumor in his head. He didn’t tell anybody about it. One day, he just passed in the hospital.

It made me realize— how fleeting and cruel life can be. The grim reaper can snatch your friends and loved ones away— without any warning. And real life is like a video game in hell mode— you cannot restart.

3. You cannot prevent getting attacked

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In real life, you cannot change the fact that people are going to attack you. You cannot change the fact that you are going to lose ‘hit points’. People will attack you, and you will feel pain.

But— what you can do is to upgrade your armor. To build new weapons to defend yourself. To upgrade your strength, dexterity, and health. You cannot change the world around you— but you can certainly strengthen yourself.

4. You need to grind to level up

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Life is a grind, just like a video game. Any good gamer knows that in order to level up, you need to spend countless hours mindlessly killing monsters, in order to get a few experience points, to level up.

Real life is the same. We grind at our jobs, doing shit we don’t like doing, just to pay the bills and support the family.

Some of us cannot change the fact we need to work for a living. But, we can change our attitude.

Like Sisyphus, who was condemned by Zeus to rolling the stone uphill (and just having it fall down again) for eternity — we need to grind for our entire lives. The secret is (as Albert Camus says in his essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’) is to imagine that Sisyphus is happy. Even though Sisyphus is living in a literal hell — he still happily continues to roll the stone uphill, even though he knows when he gets to the top, it will roll back down again. And he has to do this for eternity— on loop.

5. Grinding is noble.

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We need to work until we die. Regardless whether we like our jobs or not— we can change our attitudes about our work and life. Even though our job might be shitty, isn’t having a shitty job preferable to being homeless? Or perhaps, being stuck in a concentration camp? Or perhaps, getting killed in a genocide just because of your skin color, religion, or nationality?

The most humbling thing about living in Vietnam is how hard people have it here. You can grind 14-18 hour days, only earning $5 a day. And you’re working 7 days a week, never see your kids, or your partner. You essentially do this for your entire life.

The same goes in America— when I worked as a busboy at age 15, I complained that my job was too hard— working 10 hours straight, picking up heavy dishes. But I saw how hard the Mexicans in the back were working— they were (same as Vietnamese) grinding 14-18 hour days, 7 days a week. Yet they didn’t complain. And they took pride in their work— because they knew they were grinding for something greater than themselves— helping support their families.

6. On privilege

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In life, some of us are born privileged, and some of us are born under-privileged, or poor.

Some of us are born at level 50, with some rare armor and weapons, and some mercenaries to support us.

Some of us are born at level 0, with no armor, no weapons, and no money.

It doesn’t matter what kind of equipment we are born in life. We can still ‘level up’ just the same— by putting in hard work, grinding, and being smart. To know that you can level up, and change your situation in life.

7. You can make change and choices in your life

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No matter how shitty your life or job is— know that you have freedom. You do actually indeed have the freedom to quit your job, and get a new job. Sure it might cause you to get a pay cut and your family will suffer, but they will survive.

I grew up poor — I never went hungry, but my family was always living paycheck to paycheck. I remember when my mom would always borrow money from her friends and family to pay the bills (it didn’t help that my dad was a compulsive gambler). Yet regardless of how hard shit got, she was always hustling. She picked up some side work on the side to get extra cash. She stayed faithful to God— being active in her local church community.

And most of all— my umma instilled in me strong work ethics, moral ethics, and love — and now I can help support her, while she travels, goes hiking, and is active in her local community. My mom, through her hard work, help from the community, and her determination was able to lift herself out of poverty, and was able to create a better life for her children— and eventually herself.

8. Life is boring with cheat codes

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I remember the first time I used a cheat code or went into ‘God mode’ in a video game— and just how boring it was.

Video games are only fun when there is risk of death, or losing lives.

The best was playing arcade games— it cost real money to play, and dying in the game meant you lost real money. I still remember how feverishly I would play Time Crisis — (4 quarters for only 3 lives!!!) because I wanted to see how far I can stretch my $1 (I would not eat lunch, and play arcade games instead). But once I was able to play with unlimited lives, the game lost all the fun and zest.

9. Life is a beautiful struggle

I feel life is the same. If you lived a life with no difficulty, no risk, and no reward— life would not be worth living. Life that is too easy is worse than death — boredom or ‘ennui’ or the feeling of existential dread is worse than a life full of noble struggle.

Talib Kweli once said, ‘Life is a beautiful struggle.’ Rather than complaining about the struggle of life— we should revel and bask in it. Bask in the glory of the struggle of life.

Muscles wouldn’t be worth it if we didn’t painstakingly put in the hours at the gym. Relationships wouldn’t be worth it without sacrifice, time, and investment. Our creative work wouldn’t be meaningful or worth it, if we didn’t have to work hard at it. And we can never fully appreciate riches, money, or wealth— unless we have lived with some sort of poverty, or sense of lack.

10. Level up

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So friend, I just want to encourage you — life is really hard. Really fucking hard.

But know, you have a lot of allies in this RPG of life. You got the opportunity to level up, to add extra hit points, extra mana, to gain experience points. To gain new forms of quicker transportation. To strengthen your weapons and armor. To become more efficient at slaying monsters and bosses.

Anyone who fights bosses knows— the higher the risk, the higher the reward. You will never get rare items from low-level monsters. Only high-level bosses.

The ‘bosses’ in life are difficulty, death, and struggle. You need to fight these bosses head-on, and reap the rewards.

Always believe in yourself, never stop hustling and grinding— and level up.

Be strong,

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