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Achievement Unlocked: You Have Reached Level 30

I am turning thirty. Hitting this milestone is supposed to be a wonderful time in a person’s life-- a time for reflection and contemplation of an existence lived thus far. Unfortunately, as a gamer, with such a youth-oriented hobby it feels like turning thirty is only putting a period at the end of my youth and an opening sentence on a long, slow march towards middle-age. When looking back to one of my oldest and fondest memories I always seem to remember a certain date. February 16th 1988 - my sixth birthday.  I can see myself staring at a large rectangular-shaped wrapped package. Like Brad Pitt in Se7en, I knew what was in the box. It was a Nintendo Entertainment System. I wasn’t as tall or as strong as most of the other kids my age, but it wasn’t any bully at recess that I detested. I had another, more personal hatred to concern myself with. My first and worst mortal enemy was a man named Cheetah, the fastest and final character in World-Class Track Meet. At the tender age of six I was strong enough and fast enough to beat his second-in-command, Bobcat. But no matter how hard I tried, how fast I went, how perfectly I executed the hurdle jumps, I was always, always a few seconds behind. One of the best things about being a child is that the word ‘defeat’ carries no real meaning. It doesn’t hinder your resolve or discourage you from attempting to try again and again until you accomplish your goal. You push on, changing your tactics with each misstep. You grow with each failure and continue to learn your opponent’s weaknesses. I honestly can’t tell you how long I tried to defeat this digital Usain Bolt. But the timing didn’t matter. The only thing that was in my head was the image of what that final trophy screen would look like when it was laid out in front of me. Lesson Learned: Keep trying until you accomplish your goal, and never, ever give up.   My mother worked at a video store so I was lucky enough to have an endless supply of games at my disposal. Each game taught me a little bit about myself and a lifetime of video gaming has provided me with more than one takeaway I can share with my own children someday. One of the major lessons I’ve captured is the importance of self-improvement. This comes from one of my all-time favorite classics, Super Off Road. In it, you spend your hard-earned winnings on upgrading your top speed, acceleration, shocks and tires. Eventually, you are so fast that the competition is nothing but a snail's pace against your beefed-up four wheeler blasting off nitro boosts just for show. The only problem with this is that in these games there is a limit to how good you can get. But in life there isn’t. As you get older it’s easy to find yourself in a position where you feel that you have hit the pinnacle of your possible accomplishments and you simply get comfortable with your life. They say everyone rises to their own level of incompetence, but if you never stop learning and always seek out new challenges, you’ll realize that this is a limit you never have to see. Consequently this game had also influenced my choice in women Lesson Learned: Continue to improve yourself throughout your entire life and always accept a challenge. When I was 11 I signed up for a local SNES competition that I hoped would take me to the 1994 Blockbuster World Game Championships. All of my friends said it was a pipe-dream, but somehow on a wing and a prayer I won with the highest score at my local store and was soon headed to compete in the regional tournament, which was a 1-on-1 contest in NBA Jam. My first opponent was 17, and absolutely destroyed me by half-time. I didn’t make it past the first round. A few months went by and when I was away at camp I received a message from my father. He said a package came from Blockbuster that said I was my state’s representative and I was headed to Ft. Lauderdale; the score I achieved at my local store was the highest in the state and I was not even supposed to have gone to the regional event. This was a crowning moment for me, and truly a dream come true. Going to the Blockbuster World Game Championships was incredible. They paid for room and board, contestants received a huge duffle bag full of awesome stuff, and we got to play games that hadn't even been released yet. I was experiencing an event that I had idolized ever since seeing the movie “The Wizard” with Fred Savage. The point is, if I had listened to all the people who said it couldn’t be done, I wouldn’t have made it anywhere. Lesson Learned: Haters gon’ hate, so avoid the naysayers and don’t ever let a single opportunity pass you by. I used to worry all the time that I wouldn’t have enough experience points to beat the final boss, but now my mind is occupied by all of the typical things: mortgage, having children, performance reviews, and the back tire that fell off my car when I was doing 65 on the highway. As my father would say, “Jason, the only thing you care about is getting to the next level.” I didn’t comprehend the dual meaning at the time. But as the clock ticks down towards my thirtieth birthday on February 16th, I finally understand. This is what people have done since the beginning of time; it’s what we are doing now and what we will continue to do forever and always, trying to get to that next level.


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