Monday, January 25, 2016

Diablo UI as a Metaphor for Life

It can be funny where one finds inspiration sometimes. I have been trying to clear out my podcast backlog for some time now, dropping a couple and spending more time listening to the episodes of those that remain so that I will eventually be caught up. One of the things I do while listening is play Diablo 3. I'm rather ashamed to admit it, but as simple a Skinner box as the Diablo series is, I have probably put in more total time playing those games than any other series. Or maybe it's because they are such simple things.

Lately, I have been fighting a very strong malaise. Part of it is the relentless frustration that a computer programming job brings. Part of it is working what for me were atypically long hours over a much longer sustained period than I had ever done before (and the resulting uptick in back pain). Part of it is being in a new place where I know almost nobody. And I'll admit, part of it is turning 40 as the guy that never got married. Now none of this is to say "oh woe is me"; I well know that my life is downright cushy on the grand scale of things. Instead it's a simple striving for self-awareness. Knowing where I am now, and knowing that it isn't where I want to be, is the first step toward changing directions. But the how... the how is always hard. And maybe that's where a little Diablo metaphor comes in.

The primary visual element of the Diablo series' user interface are the health and mana globes. One keeps you alive, and the other lets you do magic stuff. You want to keep track of those at all times, but sometimes in the heat of the moment it's hard to remember to do. Without keeping your health up, you aren't going to last long against the terrors of the world. (It's also worth remembering that different characters can have wildly varying base health.) But health alone won't win the day. It takes the skills you have trained up through experience, and the mana/spirit/will to employ them. Constantly running against the big monsters will get you a bunch of experience, but it will also deplete your reserves and make the fights last longer than they need to. Or you might just fail outright when a better-paced tack might have lead to success. Maybe knock off some easier critters for a while and take the slow and steady path in between the big struggles.

The secondary UI elements are the active abilities on hand. In the most recent incarnation, Diablo 3, with enough experience you can learn all the skills the game has to offer, but you can't use them all at the same time. You have to choose what is most effective for the goal you are facing in the moment. Focus on wielding a few things well. And you have to know how they interact with one another, when spamming one will leave you too depleted.

And sometimes you just have to portal out and find somewhere quiet to recharge.

Maybe not the deepest life philosophy out there, but maybe you can find some interesting reflections of a greater truth. I mean, as metaphors for life go it could be worse, I could have picked Dark Souls...

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