Life is an Adventure Game
This is a transcript of a speech given at The Woodstock Day School on 5/30/18 for their senior presentation week:
Life is an Adventure Game, albeit on a much bigger scale. An Adventure Game is what we at Wayfinder call the Live Action Role-Play part of our camp. Live Action Role-Playing or LARPing is activity in which a group of people get together to play pretend, kinda like we all did naturally as small children, but on a bigger scale. In our Adventure Games we like to go big! We have set pieces, props and costumes, much like in a play you’d see on stage, only no one watches. Rather, we perform for ourselves and each other. We pretend to be characters that either we’ve made up or someone else made up for us. There is often a loose flow, a series of actions that must happen, that certain players know they must act out at certain times in the Adventure Game to make the story unfold. However these place markers in the story are usually there to give the players (who don’t know what’s going on) choices about what they can or should or might do next. Our Adventure Games end in a cohesive resolution; in most high fantasy games, this is a final battle. A battle like you would see at the end of a Lord of the Rings Movie.
Before we start an Adventure Game as players we need to know some background on the world we’re going to be playing in (you know, history classes). We also need to learn about the current state of affairs in the world (Yeah, that’s just social studies and politics). We talk with other people in our group to make a character and to make connections to other players’ characters (also known as building friendships) and then we pick our abilities (good at writing? performing? science maybe?). We spend time practicing and learning skills that will help us in the Adventure Game such as improvisational theater and sword fighting (conversations and athletics). Just like in real life not all of the aforementioned parts are for everyone, but we have everyone do them to the best of their ability. Some players only care about the history while others only the athletics. But an Adventure Game is a simulation of a small world, right? So we need all types of people to populate it. Some unspoken things occur through this process and are a treasured byproduct of this kind of gaming: players gain empathy and build a community.
Once you’ve done all this work you are ready to play, to go out in the world of the Adventure Game and do something. Just like in life your first few journeys out you might not know what is going on. You might follow your team leader (i.e., teachers and parents, right?). Let them choose what to do because they know what’s going on. But the more you play, the more you realize, in order to have fun, in order to accomplish something on your own, in order to be challenged, you must make it happen for yourself. Most often the Adventure Games we love the most (or the experience in life that we treasure most) are the ones we choose for ourselves. These moments are born from following your passion. And by following your passion and being curious you make your own happiness and success in life and the same is true in Adventure Games. The best thing an Adventure Game provides its players with is giving them chances to take risks and fail in a safe environment. To fight the big bad single-handedly or to tell someone you love them for the first time, or to just try something outlandish breeds both confidence and trust in yourself.
So, if I had to boil everything I’ve said down so far, the most helpful attributes that helped me become the person you see before you today are: Community, Passion and Confidence.
And each of those things aren’t just handed to you and they don’t just stay perfect forever. Each one takes maintenance, requires time and needs patience to be able to stay healthy and strong. I beseech you, when you find these things, take care of them and let them grow! If you have found a passion in life, see where it takes you. And keep following it. If you have a great friend group let them catch you! And catch them in return. Face the world head on, ready to make mistakes and then learn from them. After all mistakes are only bad if we don’t use them as a chance to grow.
Take me for example. When I was 15 I went to my first camp. During the Adventure Game I followed along and never left my team leader’s side. I had fun, but nothing spectacular happened and I didn’t feel like I did anything. It wasn’t until my 4th Adventure Game when my whole team died around me and I was forced to do something, to choose something for myself, that I finally realized how many possibilities there were open for me to take. That was a real game changer. As I took risks and played more I felt connections deepen with all the people I was playing with, sharing experience with them (not the characters but the actual people playing them) in our new community. This community and its belief in the nature of play become a huge part of my life and my personal pedagogy basically overnight.
Less than 3 months after my first camp my father passed away and I relied on the community to help me through. I needed a place to go where I could be a grieving teenager as well as a place where I could pretend to be someone else for a few hours. Being a teenager is weird enough without having your family and friends tiptoe around you, trying not to ask every few minutes if you’re ok? It was something I needed break from. To instead be an elven warrior rescuing someone or a princess betrothed to her enemy planning a coup, was just what I needed. And in the moments I needed to grieve, I felt safe to let them catch me. So I stayed and played and learned and always strove to be better. A better person, a better player, a better community member.
I went on to work for the camp, for Wayfinder, because I wanted to help teens, who, like me, needed a place to be free, a place to play, and a place to be sad if needed.
I went from staff in training, to staff member, to camp director, to hiring manager and finally to owner and operator. I had to take the initiative each step of the way. I had to state what I wanted in the community. The reason I got what I asked and applied for was because each step of the way I was passionate, confident and cared openly for the community. I was also on time, prepared and a good team member: I took the feedback that was given and I kept practicing. I didn’t just teach for Wayfinder, the other 8 months of the year I was teaching,honing my skills to come back better each year, building my confidence in my own abilities. And like that cliche says, when you follow your passion it doesn’t feel like work! At least not until the last phase, owning the business.
Owning a business is hard. It can and will take you for all you’ve got. For 6 years now I have been learning new skills that I did not go to school for, that were not the things I had practiced. Things like managing a large budget, doing the bookkeeping and planning the advertising. Then there are the special social challenges that come from working with a group of friends. I suddenly had to become comfortable with the fact that I might have to fire some of them at any moment. I had to sit at a desk year round and fill out SO MUCH paperwork. I had to debate with my best friend/business partner about policy changes, which we didn’t always agree on. And I was barely at camp anymore because there was too much to do. It was all very different from sitting in the grass for three weeks asking campers to share their names, favorite magical creatures and what super powers they wanted. About two years in I felt wrecked. I felt like I wanted to call it a day, pack it up and go home for good.
But there was this voice in my head that said “what about the kids and teens I wanted to help? How could I give up?” Plus, I hated giving up! I learned that about myself from playing in Adventure Games. No matter how dire the situation, no matter how far I have to run, no matter how hard I have to fight, I will stick it out to the end. At least when I am fighting monsters in the woods, but it felt pretty similar.
So the question I had to find the answer to so I could keep going was “how can I still have fun in this business and keep passionate about the work?” When this happens to you in life, which it will, don’t give up, or at least not for long! Make a change to better the situation and always remember you are in control of your own Adventure.
One thing I did was to follow my other passions to bring me joy outside of the office. I got a part time job doing theater with kids. The next was to make sure I still went to camp, even if I felt like there was too much to do. It could wait so that I could play. And the third thing I did was to give myself a break (literally and figuratively). I set clear times when I do not work. For example, I don’t answer texts or emails no matter what after 6 or on Sundays. And when something doesn’t happen on time I forgive myself.
Whenever I get bogged down in the stress of life I just remind myself (the same way I do when playing in an Adventure Game) that in this moment I have the choice and power to change my situation. To change what I am doing or plan to do. And I have all the tools I need to ride into battle.
Speaking about battles, life is full of final battles. And just because it’s called a battle doesn’t mean you run in swords out. A battle can be a big or small moment in life: graduating, remembering to take out the trash, arguing with a friend or experiencing a death in a family. When you face these battles remember, just like in Adventure Games, there is always a choice. Can you find a compromise with your adversaries whether they be Quickbooks Pro or a dragon? Do you run from something to live another day whether it’s running from a deadline at school or an angry mob of goblins with pitchforks? Or do you charge in and fight to change the world whether it’s with protest signs or swords? As long as you are following your passion, thinking about your community and acting with confidence you will make a good choice.
The last thing we do at camp, after the games are done, before we go home, is a closing circle where we remind everyone to “take it with you.” All the things you learn along the way, all the tools, all the passion and confidence, the ability to make choices and the people surrounding you- take it all with you out into the world. Be the change you want to see. Be able to take risks in the world. To play hard. To celebrate your joys in life. And to let your passions drive you!
I will leave you with this final question: This is your Adventure Game, what will you choose to do next?