What game are you playing?

In anticipation of the start of my PhD program, I’ve been devouring everything I can find that claims to give advice to grad students or shares an anecdote from someone who’s already done what I’m about to start. One post that I love is called “Playing the Wrong Game,” in which the author challenges the  metaphor that the path to professorship in science is like a traditional video game with obstacles, occasional cheat codes, level-up bonuses, and an end goal, at which point, you win. Instead of thinking of her time as a video game, she compares it to a pinball game – “where a player is thrust into the field with great energy and must navigate a field of obstacles trying along the way to rack up points.” The most important part of this metaphor, to me, is that there’s no “winning.” There’s just a constant effort to keep the ball from falling into the abyss and a persistent desire to get more points than you did last time.

Stemming from the pinball metaphor, “Dr. Johnna” advises:

Don’t take formulaic advice based on the video game metaphor, which insinuates that all players must follow a common path to a singularly defined ‘success’.

At the end of the post, she asks: “What’s your game?” There are so many games in existence, each with nuances that separate it from the rest. And we all have different paths (an interesting metaphor in itself), goals, and perceptions of the world around us, regardless of whether we’re aiming for a professorship, a political position, or just to be the best parent/friend/sibling/child/significant other we can be. Maybe we’re all playing multiple games at once… Monopoly? Darts? Bananagrams?

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