7 Life Lessons from Arcade Games

Pac-Man wallpaper.

Although I missed the heyday of arcade establishments, I grew up playing and loving arcade games. My family had a CD-ROM of Atari games for our clunky desktop computer, and my oldest brother had a Pac-Man game pack for his original Game Boy. At the time, I was only aware of the fun I had competing for Atari high scores with my family or steering Pac-Man around the Game Boy screen. But looking back, I realize those old games taught me some important life lessons.

1. Don’t call it quits, even if you’re on your last “life.” – Centipede

When you’re down to your last life in an arcade game, it’s tempting to throw it away so that you can start a new game with a fresh set of lives (especially when you’re playing the game on your computer and not putting coins in an arcade machine). As a kid, I would often get impatient and do this, especially in Centipede. But the times when I stuck it out, I sometimes got my best high scores from that last life (and the extra lives I earned). Those successes taught me that it’s better to work with what you’ve got than throw in the towel just because the odds aren’t good.

2. Keep trying until you figure it out. – Tempest

This isn’t great advice in every area of life, but in many situations, perseverance enables  you to eventually “learn the ropes.” Because Tempest was included on our Atari CD-ROM, I played it and enjoyed it. But to this day, I couldn’t tell you what the point is, except that you move this thing around and shoot weird shapes—oh, and avoid the spikes. But that was all I needed to figure out to enjoy the game.

3. Give yourself time to grow into the harder levels. – Missile Command

Like most arcade games, the goal of Missile Command is simple: intercept the falling missiles before they can hit your cities. At first, the missiles creep across the screen and it’s easy to catch them all. The only notable change from level to level is the speed and quantity of the missiles. Before long, it’s too much to handle and the missiles slip past your defences. When I was a kid, I was terrible at this game, and while I can’t exactly brag about my skills today, I’m much better at handling the firestorm of careening missiles in the later levels—just like I’ve gotten better at juggling the responsibilities in my life. As we grow, we gain a greater capacity for handling life, one level at a time. It’s okay if some levels are beyond us right now, but the point is to keep growing and practicing until we get there.

4. Eat right and exercise. – Pac-Man

Clearly Pac-Man takes this to the extreme, spending all his time munching and zooming around a maze, but eating well and exercising are two things I tend to neglect. I’m the type of person who gets so absorbed in my work that I don’t want to stop until I’m finished—even if that means procrastinating on meals or sitting in a chair all day. I’ve learned that it’s not good for my physical or mental health when I refuse to prioritize my body’s needs, so it’s better to set the work aside and not let Pac-Man have all the fun.

5. Teamwork can accomplish what you can’t do alone. – Asteroids

My dad is the king of Asteroids. My brothers and I could never touch the high scores he racked up on our computer. To this day, I can’t get the hang of the controls in Asteroids and I definitely didn’t when I was a little kid. But my dad knew I wanted to play the game, so he would control the ship’s steering for me while I hit the one button for the blaster. I don’t remember if our teamwork got us any high scores, but I felt accomplished knowing we’d done something I couldn’t manage by myself.

6. Patience and precision pay off. – Super Breakout

Super Breakout is not the most exciting game—you bounce a little ball toward a wall of bricks, gradually breaking it down, and have to avoid dropping the ball. Power and aggression won’t help you much in this game, but patience and precision will. Super Breakout was never my favorite game, but it did provide a satisfaction of its own when I saw my work pay off and the wall gradually disappear. Maybe that’s the best way to break down walls elsewhere in life, too.

7. You don’t have to like the “new thing.” – Pong

As Atari’s first game and one of the very first video games, Pong was an important milestone. It’s also quite boring to play and a real game of ping-pong is, no doubt, highly preferable. I rarely played Pong as a kid because I had the more engaging arcade games at my disposal. And it’s okay to not like something, even if it’s popular or “important” in someone else’s opinion. The world long ago moved beyond Pong, but nowadays there’s plenty of popular opinion surrounding the latest app, movie, or cultural phenomenon. Just do you, even if that means missing out or not sharing other’s opinions on the “new thing”—chances are, there will be another “new thing” tomorrow.

What arcade games did you love growing up?

Caitlin Eha

Caitlin Eha

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect magazine
A published writer and aspiring novelist, Caitlin can usually be found with her head in the clouds and her heart in a faraway land. When she isn’t devouring a new favourite book or feverishly writing one of her own, she enjoys archery, cosplaying, jewelry making, and time with her Lord.
Caitlin Eha

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