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How Video Games Made Me a Better Man and a Better Father

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Fourteen years ago, in a basement in St. Louis, I had a personal epiphany while playing Gran Turismo 2. 

Gran Turismo 2 was a racing game, in which you would race cars around various tracks, from tiny, sluggish vintage Fiats to rally racers and super cars. 

Absolutely the most frustrating part of the game was acquiring these racing "licenses" to allow you to race in higher brackets against tougher competition for more money. This was blood-boiling, controller throwing, rage-quitting frustration of the highest order. If you had to complete a section of track with a Peugeot in 30.000 seconds, and you completed it in 30.001 seconds after trying several hundred times in a row, you had to do it again until you hit the magic number. There wasn't the first shred of forgiveness, and until you completed the license tests, you were stuck. And the tests were nearly impossible. As many times as I cussed Sony for making that game, the lesson it taught me has paid me back many times over again.

So, I was racing some 1970's Alpine Berlinette with god-awful tires through a winding course, over and over again, for hours. I would get frustrated, my friend would get frustrated. I would get frustrated again, and pass it off to my friend.

And then the epiphany hit.

Watching the results, the actual times we got on the track after each failed attempt, it seemed like we were most likely to succeed when we were least frustrated. When our shoulders were relaxed, and our movements smooth and calm, we turned in our best times. Success often came in moments of clarity, while failure and frustration didn't necessarily come in that order. Frustration itself was causing us to fail.

At that moment, I realized that if I wanted to beat these driving tests as quickly as possible I needed to control my frustration and instead, as I came to call it, "Gran Turismo." Instead of viewing a long string of failures as pointless torture, I made the conscious choice to analyze and learn from each failure and develop a concrete strategy to avoid each previous pitfall. Acting out and verbalizing frustrations only interrupted the learning process and distracted from the goal. To Gran Turismo properly, I had to void all of my preconceptions of instant gratification, and understand that the task was going to require a certain amount of time: time that I was willing to dedicate, and understood plainly was going to be consumed by the task. To Gran Turismo was to make peace with myself, understanding that I would calmly sit there and fail, and fail, and fail, and finally succeed.

And so, in the fourteen years since, I have Gran Turismo'ed car repair, home improvement, patting new babies to sleep past midnight, dealing with stubborn situations at work, and anything else that threatens to drive me to spitting and swearing. 

Whenever I feel frustration overcoming me, as my efforts rack up and my results stay at zero, I start thinking "Gran Turismo," and I do everything I can to separate my emotional response from each successive failure, knowing that the tension and anger will only ensure further failures. If I can analyze the failure, I steer my efforts accordingly. If I can't, I just try something, anything, different from the previous attempt.

And, eventually, I succeed, all the sooner because of Gran Turismo 2. 

Richard is an engineer by day, and a political activist by night, fighting would-be totalitarians and government busybodies everywhere.