It was 2016 and I was at a wedding.
Outdoor. Catered. Beautiful.
The food was spread out across the reception area so you’d have to wander around the grounds to get the entire buffet experience. Soup was opposite end of the yard from the salad. Seafood was hundreds of feet from the charcuterie table. That might sounds like an annoying set up but the experience was delightful. It was a culinary choose your own adventure and I was absolutely there for it.
The majority of the guests were slamming the oyster area. It was a clear signal that I needed to adventure my way there and get my plus 10 bivalve/bounty of the ocean bonus. I stared at the crowd, rowdy, drunk, and getting impatient. No amount of Justin Timberlake reception music would calm them.
Suddenly, I was pulled back into virtually every open world video game I’ve ever played.
Modern open world games have very particular guidance systems. If you’re out there wandering you’ll almost always have (depending on the game) a trail guiding to you to your objective. Sometimes it’s a compass heading, other times it’s a literal path on the ground practically telling you “go this way idiot” but it’s almost always something.
Over the years of trekking the digital forests and exploring the generated abandoned space stations I’ve learned something profound. Ignoring the guidance almost always leads to rewards.
Is the mission path taking you down the left hallway? Then I can almost promise there’s something amazing down the right hallway. Is the game guidance telling you to head to the top floor of the castle? You better gear up and get to the basement as soon as possible because there’s gonna be something insane down there.
This is often where the real adventure lies. Following the mission path will inevitably take you to what you already know. That’s where the mission thing will happen. Going against the path is what will bring you real true discovery. And that’s why I play.
I stood there gazing at the impatient oyster crowd, and realized that the mission guidance was pointing every arrow possible at that table. The HUD was absolutely screaming at me to get to the oysters if I wanted to complete the mission of hunger.
So I checked myself and did a 360 scan. Something I do all the time in video games. Essentially asking myself, “Can I ignore this mission and find something more interesting?”
Then I saw him.
Across the lawn was a charcuteire table where a chef was building these little mini sandwiches. He had all the bells and whistles, and he was absolutely bored. The kind of guy who’s working an event and trying to remain professional but probably two minutes away from slowly pulling his cell phone out of his pocket and getting his scroll thumb going.
This is the gaming equivalent of a very interesting NPC that you can easily ignore but will probably offer up something amazing if you divert off the mission path to interact with him.
The exact kind of character I look for in every game I play.
Veering off of the mission path I walked across the lawn to this chef. There might as well have been a giant explanation mark over his head.
He gifted me with one of the best wedding reception meals I’ve ever had in my existence.
In the gaming world, going too far off path can result in bad things too. I do need to be fair. It’s not all plus 10 power swords and little mini wedding sandwiches that refill your stamina and grant you full health. There’s a dark side to full on exploration, in gaming and in the real world.
But I think that’s why I crave it.
This methodology might not be for everyone and I understand that. My personality is best described as “What’s over that hill?” and I realize that lines up very closely with twelve year old boys and I’m fine with that. Gaming this way has led to many more positive surprises than negative ones.
So while you’re out there living your life (your real actual life) be open to going off path. Yes, there could be a monster or a trap. Calculated risk is involved. There could be something you’re unprepared for. There could be disaster.
But, there could also be one of the best meals you’ve ever had in your life.
Nathan is a Co-Host on The Splash Damage Podcast. @splashdamagebro and @thenatejc on Twitter.