Though my personal interest in video games disappeared long ago, my son considers the time he spends playing them amongst his favorite. As a means of connecting with him and experiencing this aspect of his world, my wife and I were recently watching him play. Admittedly, my wife does this far more often than I do and I need to do better. After giving us yet another tutorial of the game he was playing (this particular time it was Skyrim), he began to dive into the finer details, the strategies at play, and his plans of attack. As he shared more, his passion and excitement grew, the tone and pitch of his voice changed, and the animation of his face was a joy to watch. He was in the zone and enjoying not only his personal experience but also the fact that he was sharing it with us. I may not love video games, but I certainly love my son and whether it is his swimming, music, friends, studies, or video games, each represents an opportunity to strengthen our connection, provided I allow myself to see them through his eyes and not only mine.

He was navigating through the game with ease and explaining to me how many times he had overcome this phase of the game, handled that situation, or interacted with a specific character. As his character moved from the familiar and into uncharted territory in his game, he found himself considering conditions he had never before experienced. Because I was watching him as much as I was the screen, I could see him biding for time. He began to swiftly and deliberately consider his options. Then he announced, “I hope this works!” Fortunately for him and his character, it did.

I thought about that moment and what I was seeing. Part of my subconscious started mumbling the famous quote that has been attributed to many, “Hope is not a strategy.” I quickly tuned that out and considered what I had witnessed a little deeper. I soon realized that I had witnessed a human being transition from his comfort zone, where through personal experience he knew the answers and had a clear understanding of what would and would not work, into the unknown. Faced with the unknown, he did not freeze or revert back to the familiar. He was bold enough to hope, to experiment, and risk failure. Yes, I know that this is a video game and the risk that accompanies falling short is minimal, so don’t think that I have lost my mind.

Since that moment, my son and I have spoken about the merits of doing more things in life that are deserving of the “I hope this works” proclamation. Today’s hopes (or unknowns) becomes tomorrow’s knowns. Today’s uncomfortable experiences may become the situations in which we are most comfortable tomorrow. Today’s missteps may become tomorrow’s track record of success. As I drove him home from swim practice just this evening, he told me that he plans on spending more time doing things that he hopes will work (the unfamiliar) than he believes better work (the tried and true). He may very well be telling me things I want to hear, but at least he is listening.

Say what we will about video games, but on this day I witnessed critical thinking, problem-solving, and risk management. The only difference between this day and most others that include video game time is that I witnessed it. The means of developing these very skills are far less important than ensuring they are developed. Now for applying them with greater regularity in the physical world…I hope this works!

  • How much time do you spend charting the tried and true course?
  • How much time do you spend exploring new territory?
  • How are you expanding your track record of success?