Over the past few months I have taken some time off from playing World of Warcraft to try a new MMO called Rift. Rift takes place in a different world from WoW, the world of Telara. It has a different storyline and although the user interface is pretty much a duplicate of WoW’s, there are many many other differences as well. I have been playing WoW for several years, and had progressed my character to level 85, the highest you can get as of now. In those several years I have been a member of three guilds, leveled 6 professions, and spent countless hours researching the internet on strategies, spell rotations, and boss strategies. I’ve traveled the length and breadth of Azeroth and Outland, and completed hundreds of quests and achievements.
And now I’m a noob again.
In Telara I’m just out of the training zone, and level 13. I have no idea where I am, and most of the map is still an undiscovered blank screen. I don’t have more then 20 points in any profession and I’m not in a guild. I’m reading new material and trying to figure out what sort of place Telara is, why the sky is constantly ripping apart as rifts from some other dimension open up and rain down monsters on me and any other players in the area at the time. I keep running the wrong way into mobs of villains many levels higher than me and dying. Lots and lots of dying. And lots and lots of running back from graveyards as a ghost trying to find my body.
For those of you who don’t know this, being a “noob” is a term for being a newbie, a newcomer unfamiliar with game mechanics and the lay of the land. It can be a very frustrating experience. The first time I was a noob, in WoW, I had no idea how much I was learning as I was learning it. There was such a steady progression that I didn’t realize how much experience and skill I had amassed with the game until I switched over to a new game. Now it is like I have lost all of that experience and skill, and I can feel overwhelmed. I am nowhere near Rift’s “endgame,” and everything is new and weird. So why not just go back to playing WoW?
First off, I have a little faith. As I stumble through being a noob in Rift, I can remember feeling similarly clueless at the beginning of my time playing WoW. I know that I am learning a great deal, more than I can even tell, and that this sense of being overwhelmed will pass. Also, I am enjoying the heightened sense of discovery, stumbling into the city of Meridian for the first time, having chats with other noobs as we form public groups and down elites.
The last time I was on, my mage was teamed with a warlock and a warrior, and we took on an elite without a healer. We gave it all we got, and then the warrior was down and the warlock was getting attacked. As the warlock fell, and the boss approached me with only 5% of its health left I kept spamming shadow bolts at it until it got to me. Just as it killed me I set off one more bolt that killed it. We closed the Rift, resurrected ourselves, collected the loot, and I felt the same level of thrill and achievement as when I first started playing WoW.
Every gamer was once a noob. Every gamer you see in your therapy practice was once thrown into a strange unfamiliar world knowing no one, with only the clothes on her or his back and a few silver in their satchel. Those men and women in your office who have been deemed failures at school or work by parents or coworkers has tried and failed and tried again hundreds of times. They have wandered around lost in a dangerous world knowing no one, and struck up conversations with other wanderers. They’ve banded together with others to defeat powerful adversaries, worked diligently to perfect professions and skills, and you’ve known nothing about it, because you didn’t ask. Instead therapists often focus on how many hours a person plays, pathologizes gaming as an addiction, or dismisses it as a silly hobby with no clinical or real-life value.
(How many of us approach our patients’ dreams that way? How many of us ask, “how many hours a night do you dream?” or consider them to have a dreaming addiction? When was the last time you dismissed dreaming as a valueless, silly hobby.)
Being a noob takes courage, and stamina. We therapists know this deep down. Most of us gravitated to our profession because we wanted to help the vulnerable, the bewildered and the confused grow into the strong, wise and whole people our patients become. We help them map out their inner world, strengthen their coping skills through trial and error and retrial. We encourage them as they level their professions at work or school, build guilds of peers and loved ones to raid life with, and face whatever monsters they have to to heal from trauma. Let’s recognize the game mechanics in what we do, and learn from the game mechanics in what they do.
Last but not least, let’s talk business.
In the 21st century, many therapists are seeing a game change in our profession. The way we practice therapy and help our patients is changing in many ways. We can use Google to help them find the closest AA meeting, Skype with them when they are away on business in Hong Kong, email them DBT worksheets or set up mindfulness reminders for our groups on Twitter. Even if we avoid using these technologies with our patients, they are trying to talk to us about bullying via Facebook, sexting on their iPhones, or falling in love in Second Life or World of Warcraft. In the 21st century, technology is no longer negotiable, it is embedded in virtually all treatment issues one way or another. And so therapists are noobs once more. This doesn’t mean that we can’t still practice psychotherapy the way we always have. But do you think that that should be our prime goal, to do things the way we always have?
When I first advertised on Google, I paid .10 a click. Nowadays colleagues in my area are paying upwards of 6$ a click to be visible. Having a Google ad or website is now pretty common. Between changes in social media and healthcare, many of my colleagues and the therapists I consult with are finding that the game has changed again, and they feel frustrated and bewildered like they haven’t in years. They’ve become noobs again.
Being a noob isn’t bad, although it can be uncomfortable. But what I’ve learned from fellow gamers is that being a noob can be fun as well. The key is to keep your sense of humor, and not take having to learn new things as an insult. I sometimes hear colleagues express outrage at having to do things differently to grow their business, and heaven forbid they spend money on coaching or business planning or consulting with someone who has more expertise than they do! The subtext is “How dare I be treated this way?!”
Change isn’t meant to single out and insult you, lighten up. Of course you should be learning new things, and leveling up. Have a little faith that you are learning even though it feels clumsy. We keep trying to get to this “secure” place where we’ll never need to stretch or do something different, and it just doesn’t exist. We need to cultivate what my colleague Chris Willard refers to in his book of the same title as our “Child’s Mind.”
In other words, we need to embrace being a noob.