If you’re of a certain age – and particularly if you’re of a certain age, and into games and gadgets and such – there’s probably a reasonable chance you’d have, at one point, had yourself a tamagotchi.

Me, I had one. It died. A lot. As in, a motherfucking shitload. No matter what I did, it died. If I fed it twice, it’d starve and die; if I fed it three times it got tamagotchi diabetes and it would die. I think it died once because I “petted” it too much, which (unless you’re Lennie from Of Mice and Men) I’m pretty sure isn’t even a thing. Long story short, no matter what I did to it, or for it, that fucker died; and my little “game” was nothing more than a bundle of Death I could conveniently carry around in my pocket to constantly remind me of what an absolute failure I was. Consequently, it came as something of a blessed relief when they were banned at my school, and the little key chain representing my inadequacy as a human being could just be discarded at the back of a drawer somewhere.

Admittedly, I’ve had a bit more luck with various ‘pet simulator’ type games over the years, but in a way, I don’t think I’ve ever quite gotten over the trauma of that tama-fucking-gotchi. For years that experience made me reluctant to have anything to do with the care of animals – either real or virtual – and it’s been hard to shake that sense of, like, being really great at getting stuff dead. Anyways, why do I mention this? Well, because after 20 years of working my way through those very issues, I finally found myself in a position to get a dog, and I did, Dear Reader. Now, as far as introductory paragraphs go, this one’s as likely to have you calling animal welfare as it is offering up congratulations, but wait… Hear me out.

This is rubbish! Where’s that thing with the buttons gone?

See, I’m mentioning this for two reasons. The first is fairly simple: basically, I’m giving you a heads-up and asking you not to abandon me if my output drops a little in the near future. I’m still here, it’s just my time might be a bit more pet-filled than game-filled for a few weeks, and shooting people in the face might have to take a back seat to, say, having my feet chewed off. I’ll still play and write when I can, but if early indications are anything to go by, this little puppy isn’t going to be overly accommodating to my desire to shoot stuff in the face unmolested. In fact, she seems to see anything that isn’t ‘paying her 100% attention’ as something of a personal challenge, and – when she’s not asleep – she’s already taken to distracting me with an admirable sense of gusto. She also seems to think my controller is infinitely more interesting and chewable than any of the actual chew toys we’ve bought for her, so there’s that too.

The second reason is slightly more game related. See, I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about dogs recently; caring for dogs, training dogs, communicating with dogs – you name it, I’ve read about it. And there’s loads of information out there, and – here’s the thing – the only techniques I could find that would allow me to process it all were the exact same ones I’ve used in Gaming for years. I appreciate that sounds glib, but consider training; there’s hundreds of methods, systems, whatever, and it was all just overwhelming me until I started to think about them in terms of quests and XP, and then putting them all together – in relation to each other – in terms I’m used to doing in games.

So, the cost/benefit analysis of various methods, how they fit in with, and impact upon, lifestyle, care, affection etc, only really made sense when I thought of how similar systems (and interactions between systems) are employed in games, and how – as a gamer – I’ve been evaluating, balancing, working within these kind of systems for years. Sure, my puppy isn’t actually going to level-up, but by thinking of her development in those terms, it allowed me to create a timeline of how and when to do certain things. In the same way that I know not to tackle a certain uberboss until I’m at a suitable level, I’ve been able to ascertain when and how to tackle certain things with my dog, and more importantly, how to ascertain from her “stats” (or “skill-tree” if you like) when she’s ready to do so.

Gratuitous Puppy Shot!

That’s possibly an indicator that I play games waaaay too much obviously, but my point is really that (even though one “game” about pets scarred me for a long time) games in general have helped me to process complex concepts and problems in a way that could very well prove to be a godsend with my actual pet. Some bona fide research has been done into this by actual boffins, and there have been some tentative conclusions drawn about how games can help people do these very kinds of things, but I’d never knowingly put it into practice. Clearly your usual caveats about ‘the plural of anecdote….’ and such apply, but I think it’s interesting that we can learn HOW to do stuff, how to approach real-world challenges, from the virtual worlds we inhabit.

Even though I’ve been banging on about how great games are for years, it’s genuinely quite impressive how I can take lessons I learned in a game (where I might’ve been running around in a unitard, whalloping dragons with a really big sword, for example) and immediately transpose them on top of a seemingly overwhelming set of problems and challenges IRL (that are considerably less dragon-ey). I’ve always enjoyed deeper, more complex games precisely because they’ve required me to develop a certain level of understanding – a particular way of thinking – to get the most out of them, and that that’s now paying dividends in my real life is actually pretty fucking cool.

Anyways, am I alone in this? Has anybody else consciously found themselves using lessons learned in games to help them in their day-to-day lives? Feel free to let me know in the comments. In a very real sense, you’ll be making me feel like less of a weirdo, so, you know, that’d be very much appreciated.