Twenty Years a Gamer—I'm Still Hooked, and Better for It.

I’ve always been a huge gamer. When I was 3 or so, my neighbors got an original Nintendo system and I was immediately hooked. Something about the bright colors and the ability to fall into an abyss and be immediately resurrected appealed to my imaginative side.

I remember, at an early age, begging my parents for a Gameboy. My parents, being hippies at the time, vehemently refused, wanting me to spend my time outdoors with friends. They finally caved when my brother was born; I remember the day they took me to K-Mart, and I was handed that shiny box Gameboy box with all the different Nintendo characters on it — I was in Seventh Heaven.

For months after, I would stay up well past my bedtime grinding out games. Equipped with a flashlight, I would fantasize being part of the world I was playing under my blanket. Whether it be Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, or Mario Brothers, I quickly beat all the games that I played. My parents only got me a few games at a time, so I would replay all the games, using different strategies to navigate through the levels, trying to find any and all secrets in each level. My hunger for trying to squeeze out as much from each game was insatiable.

Fast forward twenty years later, and I’m still hooked. It may be genetic, considering my grandma loved crosswords and card games, and my father loves all things word game-related. This gaming bug had bitten my two younger brothers as well. Gaming is a staple in my household, and one of the primary ways that my brothers and I connect.

Weekends were often spent playing all day. Our mom had to remind us to take a break because we’d forget to eat, sleep, or go outside.

I recently discovered a new favorite game called Hearthstone. Hearthstone is a digital card game developed by Blizzard, the same company responsible for Diablo, Starcraft and the notoriously addictive, World of Warcaft. Hearthstone is different than any of the above games, which are all about visceral reactive role-playing game and real time strategy.

Hearthstone immediately captured me like no other game has before. The game is essentially a spin-off of one of my favorite childhood games, Magic: The Gathering. For those of you who aren’t familiar with either of these games—they are essentially a turn-based card game in which each player is dealt 30 cards and is granted 30 points. The goal of the game is to bring the opposing player to 0 points. Whoever has more points by the end of the game wins. It’s essentially a tactical and strategic game.

I play this game now religiously. I play it with my girlfriend, my brother and my friends. I started to think about how much this game is analogous to the relationships I share with people in my life. Since I live in New York and most of my friends and family are back in my home state of California, I started to see how many aspects of this game run parallel to my own personal life.

So you are probably asking yourself, why and how does this card game pertain to your life? Well, I didn't think it had much to do with my life either until I started to think about these card "battles" in the context of relationships. Bear with me for a moment, and it may make more sense.

First of all, I’ve come to realize in my adult life that relationships are always a battle, no matter if they are easy and smooth, or hard and dynamic. Maintaining a give and take relationship takes a lot of work, and if a relationship is worth it, a fight must ensue to keep it going.

While playing Hearthstone I had the epiphany that a healthy relationship requires a good balance of "cards". These metaphorical relationship "cards" are comprised of many different components. They can include but are not limited to: listening, giving, understanding, reciprocating, owning, and showing genuine trust. Some cards that could destroy this balance would be: apathy, judgment, lack of listening and being rigid.

The key to winning in Hearthstone (and alternately in a relationship) is directly correlated to how exactly you stack your cards. Certain cards have specific abilities, like defending, giving life, enhancing and reviving other cards. This can also be attributed to a given relationship. Coming to a friend’s defense, or giving them an emotional boost by sitting on the phone for hours mulling over whether they should quit their job or not is a lot like stacking cards. Stacking emotional cards can be extremely beneficial in a relationship, and if stacked just right, can create a balanced and emotionally sustainable interaction. 

The worst thing you can do in Hearthstone is try to disperse your cards too quick. The first few rounds, I usually like to sit back and see what my partner is going to do so that I can plan out how to stack my cards in the most effective way. The same can be said for a relationship that is new. Being too quick and trying to move a relationship along too quickly could potentially break a relationship before it ever begins.

There are several different underlying themes to both Hearthstone and Relationships that need to be taken into account to fully understand how the two are similar:

Attacking another card means that both cards have equal amount of points, canceling each other out. This can be compared to reciprocating in a relationship. Someone gives love. The other person receives and returns the love in their own unique way.

In a relationship an attack could be considered anything that is targeting the other person. For example, when coming forward to a good friend to see if they would like to hang out. There are plenty of times when I will call a friend up and they won't immediately respond to me. To me, that's them losing out on an interaction. They just lost a few points -- in Hearthstone, this literally happens when an attack isn’t met with a counterattack-- in the overall scheme of our friendship, they are in a deficit. 

Defending another card could be seen as analogous to hiding behind feelings and emotions, not reciprocating. Also can be analogous to setting boundaries in a relationship. Without proper boundaries, the relationship runs the risk of being insecure and untrustworthy.

Defending is a key component of being successful in Hearthstone. In order to create a successful composition, one must defend themselves through “taunt” cards. These cards function as a barrier between the opposition and the hero. However, throw too much defense out, and most likely you'll let the other person build up their perfect attack, often times boring them to death. The same can be said of being too defensive in a relationship. I often catch myself being defensive if someone tries to dig too much into my personal life. It's kind of an instinct I've built up over the years. "Why are your parents divorced?" "Where is your name from? Israeli Oh so you're Jewish?" Anything that digs at me I may jump to a defensive stance, and as soon as that happens, there isn't a whole lot that the other person can do but wait for me to put them down before we can have an actual interesting dialogue. Furthermore, being properly bounded within a relationship and no letting your counterpart step on your toes is instrumental in building trust and security.

Enhancing another card with a spell, giving that card more damage or defense is like doing emotional work within a relationship. Enhancing the way that one looks at a relationship through creating inner change.

Enhancing a relationship can be difficult if you're not constantly putting in the time and effort to do so. The same applies to Hearthstone, it can waste a turn sometimes throwing down a card that will do damage in the future. It's an investment. This investment can come in several different forms in a relationship. The first type that comes to mind is adding value to yourself. Staying in shape, getting good sleep, and watching your substance intake would be a few key aspects of enhancing yourself. The main tenant of self-enhancement in my opinion is emotional work. Staying on top of the way you feel, and being able to communicate your feelings in a relationship is in my personal opinion the most enhancing experience I've been able to create to date. With that being said, the more you can stay on top of those feelings that arise, the more you'll be able to give, and in turn, take from a given relationship.

Using a hero power, giving or taking damage directly to your or the other hero, is like opening up to emotional vulnerability and tapping into ones own natural talents.

Hero powers in hearthstone are unique abilities granted to each character. These abilities are the cornerstone to building a successful deck of cards. If one is not aware of their unique ability, and does not build around the ability, then the ability is wasted and the opponent most times will have the upper hand if they are catering to their own ability. This unique ability in my opinion is the most interesting part of the game. If played correctly and actualized, using the hero's unique power is extremely gratifying. My favorite one has to be the druid's ability to shield and attack simultaneously. It allows there to be a lot of different possibilities.

In a relationship, this “unique ability” can be portrayed in an individual’s capacity to get in touch with their unique potential and manifest it within an interaction. For me, it's my ability to relate emotionally with others-- most importantly, to empathize. Building a relationship around strengths is key to any successful relationship, and in my experience, only when given the time and permission to build around strength can a relationship flourish. 

A good game is when the score is close— so close in fact that either individual could have won. Regardless of the outcome, both players enjoyed the interaction and immediately seek another one, due to the amount of give and take.

Good games-- and relationships-- are naturally dynamic. There is always a lot of room for error, change and improvement. The beauty of Hearthstone, is that no matter how good you think you are, and no matter how many times you've won (or in my case, lost) each game is always going to be unique.

There is, and always will be room to change strategies, and to further improve the way that you deal with challenges, methods of attack and defense, and of course enhancing the way you build around your character. The name of the game is flexibility. I've come to learn through Hearthstone that when I win, I typically don't change my strategy, but when I lose, I tend to look at what I could have done better.

The same can be said in past and current relationships that I’ve had. In the past, I created situations where I was stuck, by simply not changing my strategy within the relationship. I still look at current relationships and I constantly have to see how I can change my strategy of attacking, defending, enhancing and using my unique hero powers.

The main thing I’ve learned from Hearthstone in the context of relationships is that I don't think I'll ever get bored in a relationship if I keep changing my strategy. By making mistakes I constantly am able to move forward to the next strategy, and try to fine-tune it so that I am flexible enough to create change for the next time I make a mistake.

Nitai Vinitzky is a well-traveled native Northern Californian. He lived in the Ukraine for two years while with the Peace Corps, and currently resides in New York. Nitai enjoys good hummus, fantasy novels, and of course, playing Hearthstone with his girlfriend and family.

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