I am convinced that if more people played video games, in particular massively-multiplayer online games, the human race would become kinder and self-confident. Here’s one reason why:
In MMOs like Warcraft, you have a social chat text window that is in the lower corner of your screen, constantly streaming messages. These messages are color coated so you can identify those you want to be reading, and screen out or hide those you don’t. For example, I usually have my guild chat “on” so I can talk and listen to guildies, but I rarely have the world “Trade” chat on, because I’m not a big shopper.
As you progress through the game, you level up. And when you level up, that’s an accomplishment. So you type into guild chat: “Ding!”
Ding, reminscent of the bell on a game show, is a way of calling attention to the fact that you have accomplished something. It’s tooting your own horn. But in gaming, dinging is socially acceptable! So when you announce over chat, “Ding!” You usually get a stream of “Grats!”
Grats, you may have guessed, is short for “Congratulations!” It is the public acknowledgement in gamer culture of your achievements. And if you are in a big guild and there are a lot of people online, you will sometimes get a stream of 50 or more “Grats.” This also means that if you are logging on or only half-paying attention you will catch on that somebody just achieved something.
Since everyone goes through the same levels, everyone recalls what a sense of accomplishment they often had when they dinged, and they pay it back or forward because they know how great it felt to get those grats. What emerges is a culture where achievements are announced and mirrored, which makes for a heightened sense of community and self-esteem.
When gamer patients announce they’ve hit level 85, or downed a major boss, or rolled and won on a piece of Epic loot, I am often quick to Grats them. I also encourage some coaching clients to get better at dinging when they have hit an achievement. “I finally rented my own office, Ding!” “I have 10 new patients, Ding!” Each of these is worthy of a quick energetic announcement of accomplishment.
By now some of the naysayers are probably thinking, “How corny.” And who has time to congratulate someone for every little achievement? We’ll just end up raising a generation of narcisists who overstate every accomplishment.
Obviously I disagree. First off, you don’t have to Ding on world chat, so to speak. Who is your guild? What group of people form your supportive circle that want to know when you’ve accomplished something. Second, there is always some self-regulation when Dinging. I don’t ding every time I mine some ore or pick an herb in WoW, but when I hit level 85 you bet I Dinged.
Third, when did we get so miserly with compliments? Is it some sort of holdover from the Pilgrims and the dour work ethic? It takes a second to Ding and the same to Grats. What is lost in that second pales in comparison to the affective shift in our psyche and the change in our neurochemistry. Think about any day you went into a job you hated, and the number of decision moves you made to do it even though you didn’t want to. If that didn’t deserve a Ding as you passed a co-worker’s cubicle, I don’t know what does.
Lately I have been trying to increase my Grats as well. Whenever a colleague posts on Twitter that they published a book, or finished a course, or got their license, I try to retweet with a big “Grats!” I try to amplify their achievement, not ignore it or dismiss it. One of the great powers of social media is how it can amplify things. And one thing many of us need practice with is unlearning a depressive stance, where we only see the negative. Now I am not a positive thinker, in fact positive thinkers make me feel uncomfortable, because I think they’re a bit deluded. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t get better at noticing and acknowledging the achievements and positive contributions others make.
I’m sure you can begin to see how this is applicable to therapy. Help your couples patients practice dinging and gratsing. Work with school staff to set up a Ding and Grats system in their classroom. Can you imagine how amazing it would have felt in middle school to finish your presentation with a “Ding!” instead of “The End,” and hearing 25 voices say “Grats!”
Dinging and Gratsing are expressions of enthusiasm, and sometimes it seems to me that there is some silent war being waged on enthusiasm. We’re supposed to play it cool, be “laid back,” and never indicate we care that strongly about anything. Is that really the apathetic and guarded culture we want to pass on? Let’s get off Plymouth Rock for goodness sake, and start calling out with some enthusiasm!