March 15, 2023

Chasing thieves when you should be slaying monsters


In the gaming world, there’s something called a side quest.

Often performed as a break from the main plot, a side quest is a mission that has no direct bearing on your character’s campaign.

Activities like frog catching, stone collecting, treasure hunting, telekinesis training, dungeon renovations and sword sharpening can reward you with ability points, cool outfits, unlocked characters and new weapons to your inventory.

But most players know they’re not necessary for game completion. Most of the time, side quests are just a chance for you to explore the world. Developers might add them to the game design to provide additional content or amusement, making play more rich and expansive, but that’s about it.

Now, in the gaming community, there’s much discussion around the value of side quests. Some players say they’re the most fun and rewarding part of playing the game, offering bits of humor and intrigue that keep levels engaging.

After all, it gets boring seeing the same slimes, fairies, goblins, birds, wolves and runaway spirits on every screen.

Meanwhile, other players claim that side quests are pointless, laborious and egregious offenses of poor game design. They’re filler.

One gamer in an online forum summarized it perfectly.

I’m puzzled why I just spent an hour chasing a thief when I should be slaying monsters.

As usual, there are clear parallels between the gaming world and our analog lives.

Because on any given day, we will be confronted with an infinite menu of side quests. Missions that are as intriguing as they are challenging. And it can be very tricky to resist the gravitational pull of distraction’s orbit. It’s difficult to discern which tasks actually enrich our lives, and which ones will eat up an entire afternoon.

Not that there isn’t value in going on side quests in pursuit of joy and pleasure. Avoidance can be a powerful coping mechanism, when used judiciously.

But at a certain point, we have to ask if these little missions we’ve undertaking have any direct bearing on our main campaign. If they’re truly necessary for game completion, or if they’re just swallowing up every atom of our time.

Debono had a great line on this balance in his recent book.

Distraction is like a train that is always moving and never has to get anywhere. There are times when action is a way to escape from having to think about yourself. Instead of reflection and introspection, you busy yourself with endless action.

What side quest has you stuck right now? Where in your life are you chasing thieves when you should be slaying monsters?

Be very careful. Watch your six, as secret agents love to say.

Because while expending infinite effort only to arrive nowhere is enjoyable in a video game, in real life, we’re the ones being played.

We live in a world where every day, more and more weapons of mass distraction are being deployed to keep our eyes off what is really going on.

And if we don’t stay focused on our main campaign, the monsters are going to come for us.

How will you resist the gravitational pull of distraction’s orbit?