“Life doesn’t have a reset button.”
My dad used to say this whenever he caught me leaning in to press this:
He’s right of course. In life, you can’t just start over from the beginning and erase the mistakes that you’ve made. The world doesn’t let you just “try again,” free of consequences.
But then again, neither does the reset button.
It isn’t a time machine. You, the player, still have to deal with some consequences. If nothing else, you lose the time you spent playing the game up to that point. And hopefully you come away from that experience having learned lessons that you can apply next time you play.
In that sense, life has plenty of reset buttons. Going to college? Reset button. Changing your workout plan? Reset button. New job? New town? New marriage? All reset buttons in their own way.
In gaming and in life, I’ve pressed the reset button more times than I care to admit.
Sometimes I press it because I’m trapped. I’ve reached an impasse, and to continue would be a waste of time. So I hit the reset button, telling myself that next time I’ll avoid the pitfall.
Other times I’m just frustrated. I hit the reset button as sort of a knee-jerk reaction. This usually happens when I feel like I’ve caught a bad break; the game was wrong, I was cheated. I didn’t touch that fire stick, that bad guy wasn’t supposed to be there, and I definitely shot that duck:
Sometimes I hit the reset button because I’m scared. Maybe I’ve screwed up and my confidence is shaken. I tell myself that I need more practice, that I’m not ready for the next level, and that after a few more hours of practicing the earlier levels I’ll be better prepared to take that next step.
These are all valid reasons, but I think we can agree that the reset button isn’t always the answer. So… when should you press it?
Having a mindful approach to the reset button can save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run. To do that, you need to keep three things in mind.
1. You Need To Have Clear Goals.
What do you actually want? A clear goal might be, “I want to beat this game tonight.” Let’s use Contra as an example:
If you get hit in Contra, the consequences are pretty serious. Not only do you lose a valuable life, but you lose your progress in the level and you lose whatever weapon upgrades you’ve acquired up to that point. So that Spread Gun you worked so hard to carry this far? Gone.
Say the game takes about an hour to beat, it’s 7:45 p.m. and you have a 9:00 bedtime. you’re moving along and you get hit in the first level – way earlier than you’re accustomed to. Well, you could make the case that hitting the reset button gives you a better shot at accomplishing your goal.
If, instead, you were halfway through the game and it was already 8:30, well then the reset button is off-limits. This is your last shot; hitting the reset button would literally make it impossible to accomplish your goal (unless you want to try to renegotiate bedtime, or leave the NES on for an entire day so you can pick it back up tomorrow evening. I’ve had limited success with these two strategies).
But what if you don’t have a goal? Or put differently, what if the “goal” is just to have fun? I mean, isn’t that what this series on Playing More is all about?
If you genuinely don’t care about beating the game and your goal is really just to “have fun,” great – press the reset button to your heart’s desire. But be careful with that goal – it can be tempting to say that you don’t care about something and use it as an excuse to get sloppy. It comes down to being honest with yourself, which brings me to point two.
2. Be Honest About Your Intention.
The reset button is easy to use, and this can lead to in an unfortunate phenomenon: tilting.
Tilting is when you’ve made a mistake, you’re frustrated, and you make more mistakes as a result of your negative mental state. I’ve been there – I’ve totally been the guy to run into a bad guy, mash the reset button, then immediately run into the same bad guy.
Try to detach. Ask yourself, “why am I pressing the reset button? Is it because I genuinely learned from my mistake, and it will save me time in the long-run if I go back and redo it? Or, am I just hitting it out of frustration and trying to erase the consequences of my mistakes?”
3. When In Doubt, Keep Going.
As I sat down to write this post, I wanted to present an even-handed view of the reset button. Because I do think that life presents plenty of situations where hitting the reset button is the right thing to do. However, when it comes to gaming, I’m honestly having trouble coming up with good reasons to do it. I dunno, maybe they’re not so different.
You can spend your whole life playing Level 1. You can tell yourself that it’s fun to swim in the shallows, and you can spend your days “preparing” for a battle that you’re never actually going to fight. Because if you spend all your time on Level 1, guess what? You’re never going to get to Level 2. And you can forget about Level 6, which is on so high a pedestal by now you can never hope to reach it.
When in doubt, keep going. It’s not always comfortable, but that’s how you get better (and have more fun, too).