Questing for Experience in the MMORPG of Life

Two adults and a child on a forest path

Adventuring together. Alberto Casetta | Unsplash

We started the summer with a simple plan—give our daughter the chance to try new things, while still giving me the chance to keep my various balls up in the air. In theory, it seemed simple. With the exception of a couple weeks, the kiddo would be occupied in various day camps, giving me the vast majority of the day to focus on various freelance opportunities. In reality, though, that theory could be best summed up with maniacal laughter and a familiar phrase about “the best laid plans . . .”

Before too long, the unrealized time cost of shuttling my small explorer to various enrichment opportunities kicked in, and I was a little bummed. It wasn’t that I was going to be dropping balls, it would be that I would only be able to toss one or two of them in the air in the first place. But then I realized it wasn’t about me. In the grand MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) of life (making it the massively multiplayer offline role-playing game), I needed to work on leveling the party.

For many people, there’s a social aspect for MMORPGs, either because they play with people they already knew or because they made social connections through the platform, and they prefer to play the game as a group with their friends and/or guildmates. However, the amount of time each person can devote to the game can vary, and sometimes there can be significant difference between character levels. When that happens, you can drag the lower-leveled person along and hope for the best, or you can take the time and help them with their quests so that they can level faster (and have more fun doing so).

Keeping along this metaphor, my character creation date was significantly before my daughter’s character creation date, meaning I’ve had more time to level and develop skills. And, since I have a vested interest in making sure she gets a full experience in the game, I should be focused more on the parenting quests, since they, along with her childhood quests, are event quests—and thus only valid for a limited time.

And, you know what? All the time spent in the car; all the time spent debating the merits of 55 versus 394, 100 versus 169 versus 494, and 94 versus 62 when it came to rush hour traffic, planned construction, the time of day, and whether the butterfly in the backyard had flapped its wings once or twice; all the times I didn’t make it to the studio or wasn’t able to write an article idea down before it left my brain; all of that stuff was worth it.

By the first week of August, when we entered the “purposely unscheduled” period of the summer, I had pretty much embraced the “helping the kiddo level up” concept. This was the first time in my daughter’s life that we’d had an expanse of free time to spend together doing whatever we wanted. When a freelance gig dropped in my lap during my daughter’s week at gymnastics camp, I was thrilled, but also a little surprised that I felt relief that it had happened then and not during our then upcoming free time.

Rae and her daughter pose for a selfie on a roller coaster.

A day at Valleyfair during the “purposely unscheduled” week. Rae Black

Sure, I would have liked to have done more on leveling up my various pottery skills, or completing the timed quest for promoting my stuff in the CONvergence art show. The quest for networking to increase freelance gigs didn’t even get started. But if pursuing any of that had impacted my daughters progress in her quests, my own gains wouldn’t have been worth it. Because letting her discover her inner circus performer, figure skater, gymnast, fencer, programmer, thespian, artist, and dancer provided more than enough experience for us both to level up.

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