Episode 124: Leveling Up

The concept of leveling up has always been an interesting one. To have a significant change occur at a noticeable point is quite interesting. Life provides experiences which will inevitably change a person’s outlooks on life and learning various skills. But the differences are subtle almost unnoticeable. When you go up in level in a game there is a distinct minor evolution. It not only becomes a player’s growth through understanding of the game and better use of strategy but that the avatar that you control becomes better. For a lot of games, it’s hard to distinguish between getting better items and just being better at what you do. The Megaman series makes for an interesting example, especially once the X subdivision comes out because you start out with little health but along the way you get power ups like the armor and dash boots alongside heart containers that really emphasizes that your character is stronger, regardless of having the right weapon from a previous boss.

Now with Role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons on tabletop or any Final Fantasy game, leveling up means that your stats go up. The very characteristics that represent who you are go up, to the point that a high level white mage could have a higher strength stat than a rookie fighter, at least in FF1.  D&D works on a different mechanic in that your base stats only rarely get boosted while hit points, base attack bonuses, skill points, and saving throw bonuses keep increasing very steadily based on your class/job. In this way the beefed up first level fighter will be stronger but as combat experienced as say an old epic level wizard and if for some reason they got in a fist fight for some reason with no spells, I’m thinking the mage can win just from BAB. However, since most of your experience points come from succeeding in combat then it’s better to loot a nearby dungeon than to go to the library when it comes to studying for a test. Wish I could take credit for that joke but that’s all Rich Burlew in one of the prequel books to OOTS.

With real life people, the concept of leveling up becomes more complex. From a chronological perspective, you are always gaining new experiences but we ascribe a meaningful change to someone on the anniversary of their birth. This is why instead of wishing you a happy birthday I say congratulate you on leveling up. And outside of a few select years where you can now legally do something age is a number. In terms of skills it tends to become a bit more straightforward but you only get recognized upon crossing a certain threshold. You can study medicine for years but you only officially become a doctor once you graduate and get licensed. The amount of knowledge you had previous to a graduation and afterwards is not altered drastically upon switching the tassel from one side to another of your cap and yet this symbolic moment represents a change in who you are. I once had a discussion with some friends a while back as to what makes a person be of a certain level (kkep in mind we were thinking in terms of D&D 3.5) and we came up with the following:

Graduate from college- level 1 expert with full ranks and skill focus on knowledge/Profession (Your major)

Get a masters or advanced degree- become level 2 expert, add a skill trick that makes you way better at your job.

Get a PhD or super specialty- level 3 expert with another feat that gives you a bonus to your field.

Complete basic training in armed forces or police academy- level 1 fighter/soldier. Few skill points, ton of proficiencies though.

Go through special training/get to a high rank: Level 2

Get to be a general: Level 3 and get minor leadership.

Be a second degree black belt or something ridiculous like that: Level 1 monk

And from there on out it keeps going. The key thing to remember was that levels didn’t stack like they did in D&D. Being a kung fu lawyer lieutenant wouldn’t give you access to ridiculous feats and very rarely do the other jobs count toward the new one when it came to skills. It’s a very simplistic view and obviously there are a lot of problems with the formula but it shows something interesting. You don’t really become someone until after achieving a life step. Until then you are basically a commoner (the NPC class not the aristocratic put down). Obviously you a full important person throughout your entire life and there a ton of high school students out there that can beat at a bunch of stuff so don’t start declaring that I’m hating on people under a certain prescriptive educational model.

Speaking of growing up and changing, allow me to delve into some stalker friendly territory of my own backstory. About ten years ago I went through two pretty significant experiences. First off, the tenth anniversary of my high school graduation is coming up and a reunion of my class is coming up soon. Hard to believe that I get to chance to meet up with the 50+ students that survived high school with me and how far we’ve come since the days where a five page paper was the hardest thing ever. There are those that I have stayed close too in this temporal gap but there are others I have barely kept up with via social media. There are people that I did a silly group project with that are now doctors, lawyers, parents, and all these other adult capacities of identity. In terms of my previous description, from bland no name NPCs we are two or three levels higher. If I shave and get my hair right then I look almost identical to my teenage self so I’m pretty sure I’ll be easily recognizable, much to the chagrin of my ninja instincts.

The other landmark event from a decade ago was a trip I took with my dad. I had recently declared that I wanted to be an English major and my parents were ultra supportive. So you can imagine my surprise that even as they were backing me, my father says that as a senior trip he is taking me with him to a conference he was heading. But first we had a layover in England where we would spend a week between Stratford upon Avon, the birthplace of level 5 bard William Shakespeare, and London. It was a literary pilgrimage to which many of my current PhD cohorts and colleagues are jealous. It was an amazing experience that even with my decision to not go into Shakesperean studies still inspired me.

Oh and the conference was in South Africa, the most geographically appropriately named country in the world. We were there for over two weeks and it is one of the most mind boggling experiences I’ve ever had. If you’ve seen the movie Blended then you get a glimpse of what I got to witness first hand. The places, the people, the food (if you get the chance, eat an ostrich steak medium well with a hint of bbq sauce. You’re welcome.) But beyond that, the highlight of the trip was bonding with my dad. Before that I always felt that we weren’t really close. Sure we hung out sometimes we never really clicked until then. The first half of the trip it was just the two of us exploring a strange new world and learning about the cradles of modern literature and humanity in England and Africa respectively. The second half had an interesting turn since my dad was one of the head honchos of the conference. Everyone looked to his guidance as the final word of sorts for many dimensions. It was a new perspective on the man I had looked up to my entire life but had never truly seen outside of the paternal role. Just goes to show that familiarity (especially within one’s own family) can be a blinder that never really lets you see the entirety of a person.

For that part of my journey I wasn’t just some kid, I was my father’s son and everyone knew me as such. At one point during the festivities, the organizers had gotten the band that was performing to take a moment from their set to wish me a happy birthday/leveling up day and they even sang in Swahili. It was insane and really opened my eyes to a world I never knew and one that had been and still is part of who I am. So in a sense this serves as a belated happy father’s day too.

The one thing about that trip that we didn’t like was that at some point afterwards we lost the pictures. This was pre digital camera availability so the rolls of film might appear one day and we can have some hard evidence of our awesome adventures. Then again, not having the pictures makes the trip even more special because those memories are just between us. So no matter how much you level up or change, take the time to look back and show your appreciation to those people and moments that helped shape who you are today.

For what has been and all that is left,



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