As a game player, I’ve been most influenced by the triangle of chess, Minecraft, and fantasy football, whose unique required skill sets morphed me into someone who found new passions and interests.
The first time I played chess, I quickly emerged victorious against my younger sister, who, I should probably add, did not know how to use her knights. After my mom signed me up for an after-school chess program, I played very frequently, taking on a wide variety of elementary school opponents. Being an elementary school chess player, it often came down to creativity to win games: the person who could think outside the box found unique ways to hold onto advantageous positions and capture the ever-so-elusive king. In my most memorable play of chess (from fifth grade!) I mated using a bishop and a rook, as the opposing king, trapped behind his pawn, marked my victory. I’m still proud of it to this day.
Still learning about the game and its infinite niches and possibilities, I try to play often. I’ve learned that chess teaches skills that are in many ways directly applicable to the real world: mistakes can bear heavy consequences, foresight and patience are virtues, and cockiness often leads to failure, just to name a few. But the most important aspects of chess that I learned were analysis and creativity. Not only were they important for winning games, but also for just ‘seeing’ the board, understanding what was going on, and making a decision. Later on in life, I’d find that having the means to look at problems differently contributed to more efficient solutions.
In fifth grade entered Minecraft, a game that’s almost the polar opposite of chess. Minecraft allowed you to simulate the reality you wanted: an underwater house at the bottom of the ocean, a monster-hunting base, and a labyrinth of underground tunnels were all possibilities in Minecraft that real-world architects couldn’t fathom. Exploration and finding your joy is the name of the game. My most fond memory of Minecraft is playing Survival with two of my friends – we built a treehouse base with an attached hut specifically for chicken breeding to have ‘chicken fingers every night.’ Minecraft taught me the value of exploration and visualization, which would come in handy for STEM courses where trying new things leads to more efficient techniques to solve problems. My game-built skill toolbox, now consisting of creativity, analysis, and exploration, greatly changed the way I played both chess and Minecraft, as I found myself employing trial-and-failure tactics in chess games to see what worked, while also analyzing my position in Minecraft to decide what I should do next.
Finally, Fantasy Football entered my life at the start of high school. Fantasy Football, at its core, made me a much better decision-maker. My head throbbing from decisions about who to start and who to sit on any given week, I learned the value of research, fundamental data analysis, and the careful observation of patterns. Being in a particularly competitive league, many of these things came the hard way and had real implications. No one would bail your team out if you made a silly trade, and the inability to make correct decisions on the waiver wire – where you could add and drop players – left you in the dust. Fantasy Football is very different from chess or Minecraft; creativity is swapped with analysis and luck plays a much bigger role, just to name two, but I still found myself using similar skills. My Minecraft exploration sense led me to explore different strategies and employ a trial-and-failure approach to developing my team, while my chess analytical muscle worked overtime, pushing me to give myself every possible advantage through trades and roster changes.
There’s a belief that problems are bad because they provide work and prevent the peaceful utopia society craves, but these games showed me that the idea isn’t for one to rid themselves of problems, it’s to find the right ones, the ones that give meaning and joy. Seeing the way I enjoyed Minecraft, chess, and Fantasy Football, I came to odds with the skills I most enjoyed using: creativity, exploration, and analysis. Using any combination of these skills to tackle a problem – whether in a game or not – instilled a sense of passion within me, and ultimately, it became clear that the problems characterized by these skills are the problems that I should spend my life trying to solve.