What War Games Taught Me About Myself

Whether I’m playing Age of Empires, Risk, or a game former friends of mine invented called Nations, I’ve noticed a common thread in my strategies in these games. I think these patterns very much reflect who I am in real life. I’ve noticed a few things:

1: I’m A Diplomat

This is not the same as a politician. A diplomat is someone who attempts to forge truces and alliances by means of discussion and negotiation. I prefer to make deals. In games and in life, I encourage business, trade, sharing, and distribution. Even if playing a game where only conquering the enemy is the only way to win, though usually when there’s more than 2 players, I take the approach of, “Let’s not fight until the very end, when we have to.”

Even when playing games, but of course also in real life, I’m someone who strongly, strongly believes in the power of just talking things out. Really, any conflict can be resolved if all parties simply choose to cooperate. I strongly believe that all conflicts, minor and major, throughout all human history, are all because at least one person or entity did not want to compromise. It only takes one. That attitude is very, very rarely needed.

Seriously, who thinks to themselves, “Good thing Hitler invaded Poland.”?

Who thinks to themselves, “Good thing Mom kept pushing Dad to argue with her when he just wanted to talk.”?

2: I Build Things Slowly, Which Puts Me On Top in the Long Run

It’s like starting out with a penny, doubling that, then doubling it every day for a month, while everyone else starts with $10,000 and then gain $10,000 every day for a month. I may start out slow and lesser, but in the end, I’ll have substantially more.

Or, think of the story of Amazon.com. Started out solely as an online bookstore. For many years, investors were frustrated with the company for failing to turn a profit for so long. Amazon was expanding before it even had the resources to do so. It invested in cloud infrastructure, which wasn’t even a thought in anyone’s head until years later. It always kept its prices low, even if it meant customers would pay less for the product than Amazon itself had. For a long time, Amazon was a bit of a laughing stock of the business world.

And look where they are now? Is there anything they don’t sell now? They’re one of the biggest corporations in the world. They’re an empire. Long-term thinkers are always seen as slow and/or stupid, until the long-term comes to pass, and then the joke’s on the scoffers.

I’ve learned that I’m an investor, so-to-speak. I put my resources and energy into a number of things I know I’m going to need for my end goal. I plant seeds for the biggest trees, instead of planting seeds to trees that will grow the quickest. This usually requires me to stay obscure, hidden, minding my own business, and only gradually stepping onto the scene.

3: When I Have More Money Than I Need, I Give a Lot of it Away

This is something I particularly noticed both when I’ve played Age of Empires … and during my childhood.

I’ll start with childhood. When I was kid, obviously, I didn’t need to work to survive. I also didn’t work, which meant having money was rare. However, even though kids don’t have jobs, that doesn’t mean they never have money. I did chores, I sometimes had an allowance, I made bets with friends, etc. Having money, though, was almost never something I needed, even for kids stuff like video games, or even a computer. All my video games were birthday and Christmas presents (and since I’ve never been much of a gamer, I was content waiting most of the year to get new games). The one or two computers I owned before adulthood were old things friends or their parents were already getting rid of.

Point is, everything I wanted, I kind of stumbled upon, meaning I didn’t ever really need money. And whenever I got money somehow, I gave it away.

I remember having this weird habit of giving people change. One particular memory: I was at an annual youth group retreat (church), and I think a few people were wrestling or something in the worship building thing, and while watching this roughhousing, I noticed I had several quarters in my pocket. At that very moment, I pulled the quarters out and said, “Anybody want a quarter?” I only remember this, still, because it’s hard to forget how hard it made everybody laugh. Yeah, it was really random, but I meant it. I had some quarters I didn’t need for anything.

Now, in Age of Empires, after a long game of accumulating wealth, as I do, and I look at my gold, lumber, and food, I start giving away most of it. One of the last times I played, I had 1 ally and over 500,000 gold. My ally didn’t need any assistance, but I said to hell with it. What else was I going to do with so much? So, I gave my ally 100,000 gold (in a game where tributing just 500 of any resource is standard). I’m pretty sure that funded his entire military for the rest of the game. And even before that, I had given him 50,000 on three different occasions. He didn’t need it, but neither did I. Also, I think as a general rule of life, it’s wise to share your wealth with friends/allies. If you have their back, they’ll (likely) have yours.

4: If Nothing Works, I Blitz

In war games like AOE or Risk… Sometimes, while I’m building up my civilization and/or armies, another player will choose to keep picking on me, even though I am not hostile toward them. I try to negotiate, I try to be diplomatic, but nope, that other player is just too bloodthirsty. So, in the words of Saruman, they “have chosen death.” I divert all my operations and resources simply to building the most powerful army I can build, as quickly as possible. Not a strong army … the strongest army I can possibly build. And then I send them all, in a blitz, with only one goal in mind: destruction. No concern for my troops’ survival, no concern for my other enemies. Like when Thanos shouted, “Rain fire!” I won’t even care if my other enemies see me vulnerable and choose to attack me afterward and I can’t defend myself. Don’t care. At least I took out that one player who just wouldn’t leave me be. I used to own hundreds of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. I played the game all the time. Same thing, especially when we had duels involving more than 2 people. When I’d try to use my best strategy, but the other player was just too good (no fault of theirs if I’m a worse player than they), I’d still flip the switch. Except, in Yu-Gi-Oh, you can’t really do blitzes, you can only really do scorched earth. I’d spam cards that have effects that just destroy the entire field, or inflict damage to both players’ LP. (“If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me!”)

I can only think of one example in real-life when I was pushed to do something blitz-like. It wasn’t a violence situation but still a dangerous one. I’ve always been against violence itself except when there is already violence being done, which is why for the most part with point #4 here, I don’t mean violence. (Unless one day, it has to mean that.) No, regarding real life, I mean something like this:

Time for a dark true story, and sorry for the sudden tone shift…

Nearly 8 years ago, a friend of mine at the time fell victim to drug addiction. She was the girlfriend of a friend who died. I promised my deceased friend I’d take care of her as best I could. This friend got kicked out of her mother’s house, and then got kicked out of the place she moved to next because there were children there and she left needles out in the open. Finally, this friend moved into a house with somewhere between 5-10 men, where she was the only female. And her addiction worsened.

Despite my patience with her for months, and despite my many attempts to reason with her, I finally gave her an ultimatum, before her behavior destroyed her. (By the way, her mother actually requested I do whatever it takes to help her, because she no longer had the stomach to.) I told my friend she’s either leaving that house and coming to live with me in 3 days, or I’m calling the police on her. (She was wanted for prostitution and drug offenses.) When 3 days passed, and she was still living with all these guys she barely knew, and pretended not to be there, I “flipped the blitz switch.” By this point, she actually looked dead, like a zombie (her eyes were black, she could barely stand up straight, etc.), and I refused to allow her to get worse.

I went to the apartment she got kicked out of (for leaving needles everywhere). Several people she knew either lived in that apartment, or were frequently there. I went to this apartment, ordered everybody to meet me in the hallway away from the little ones, and I told them what I was going to do. I assigned a few people with tasks necessary to get this friend arrested. Remember, this was the only way to get her somewhere safe. The plan was to only get her arrested, even though the cops would probably have had cause to arrest everyone else in the house. No, my friend was the priority; not these other guys I didn’t know or care about. Someone went into that house to confirm she was there, then someone else managed to convince my friend to leave the house just long enough for my best friend and I to call the police on her.

This is what I do when there is something important presented to me and no other options work. It really is like a switch getting flipped. Sure, the switch is located in the basement, in the farthest back room, but the switch is there nonetheless. I do believe everyone has a switch just like it. Impulsive people flip it all the time. I only flip mine after I’ve made a lengthy, exerted effort to do anything else. But when I have to, suddenly nothing else in the world matters except getting the task at hand done. Always, though, before the switch gets flipped, I ask myself, “Is it worth my last resort?” If the answer is yes, I flip the switch.

I told my friend I wasn’t going to let her continue to destroy herself. My apartment would have been a perfectly safe place for her to escape her own junkie friends. Her mother didn’t want her back in her house… My best friend certainly couldn’t take her in. That’s why, basically, I told her I’m getting her out of this situation one way or another. I keep my promises.

Walking away wasn’t an option. I couldn’t let a friend destroy herself, I was asked by her own mother to keep trying, and I made a promise.

So, that’s really the only time I’ve ever ‘blitzed’ in real life. I did whatever it took to get her out of that dangerous situation. I was willing to call the police on all the house’s inhabitants if I needed to.