Levelling up! Six lessons about professional development from the world of role playing games…

It’s 9pm. I’m alone. This was a busy supermarket. Was. The air is filled with the smell of long rotten food and the sound of silence. A can falls loudly to the floor. A feral zombie like creature darts towards me. My heart quickens as I raise my AER9 laser rifle…

No, this is not Dr Puddle’s usual trip to the local Tesco Metro to pick up a ready meal after evening clinic. I’m playing a game. My old student penchant for computer role playing games, RPGs, has not entirely left me. I should probably be doing something more productive, like preparing for my appraisal next month. But then again, isn’t it important to unwind from time to time?

It would be nice to think that all those hours exploring dungeons and slaying orcs were not wasted. And, perhaps they weren’t.

RPG Sketch Pic

Continuing Professional Development, CPD, is an essential part of life as a modern professional. Here in the UK, demonstrating ongoing development is a compulsory part of all doctor’s revalidation process. Over 50 hours of development activity must be demonstrated every year in order for us to be allowed to continue to practice medicine. As I reflect on how I plan to improve myself as a professional, it strikes me that RPGs have some powerful lessons to teach us about personal and professional development.

That RPGs incorporate elements relevant to CPD is not surprising. A big appeal of the RPG genre is the experience of improving your character’s skills and abilities as you engage with increasingly difficult but rewarding stories and quests within the game world.

All RPGs incorporate a system to model the accumulation of experience, skills and abilities. For example, the Fallout series quantifies a player’s abilities using the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system. Player “stats” are rated 1 to 10 in the attributes of Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. Your character starts the game weak and ordinary, but experience points earned through playing the game are spent improving your basic stats, and training in special abilities. Currency can be earned and exchanged for equipment and clothing, which further enhance “stats” and abilities.  

So what can RPGs teach us about improving ourselves in the real world?

1. Seek lots of experience (points)…

To create a powerful character and access the most exciting areas of an RPG, the player needs to “level up” their attributes and skills. You need a lot of experience points and this can take tens, maybe hundreds of hours of gameplay.

Real life is no different. To grow and develop to a point where you can have true control over your life and a positive influence on the lives of others, you have to put in the time.


2. Focus on your strengths…

In games, there are a multitude of ways to spend your experience points. Many attributes to improve and skills to learn. Experience points are valuable, so it is important to be smart and invest them wisely.

Investing heavily in strength and sword play at the expense of your charisma and speechcraft may leave you lacking when there is an in game character who needs to be persuaded to give up information. Levelling up your strength whilst also levelling up your magic will be less effective than investing in a more complementary combination of wisdom along with your magic. I think you get the idea.

In the real world, it also makes sense to know your strengths and play to them. To focus on developing expertise in a selection of complementary skills. For examples, clustering learning around the management of musculoskeletal problems could open up the exciting opportunities of working in sports medicine. Less focuses learning might not get you as far.

It is also important to be aware of your weaknesses. This is where you need to be good enough to get by and keep out of trouble, but not where you will add the most value. Not interested in practice finances? Then you’ll probably never be the practice finance wiz, but it helps to have a good enough grasp to hold your own in the next accountants meeting.


3. Plan a successful “build”…

When starting a new RPG, the best players will search the internet for tips and guides about how to design a good character “build”. Certain combinations of skills and attributes will be much more powerful or fun to play than others. It takes knowledge and experience of the game and all its components to know how to make the best builds. This can be achieved through hundreds of hours of gameplay and experimentation. But most players will simply draw on the experience of those who have played the game before them. They will simply find a good guide about how to develop an effective character and have fun playing the game.

There are billions of people who have played the game of real life before us. Many are around us and will be happy to give advice and pointers. They may even agree to be a mentor if asked nicely.

Most, however, are less accessible due to distance or being long dead. Fortunately they have left behind their knowledge in the form of books, biographies, articles, and history. You can learn about the rules of the game and how others have led fulfilling, successful and fun lives through absorbing the knowledge and wisdom in their writings and art. Use this wisdom to plan out the route for success in your own journey through life.


4. Equip yourself well…

Selecting the the right equipment to take with you on your quest can make the difference between failure and success. Items of equipment and apparel are often imbued with the ability to enhance your basic “stats”. If you need to persuade guard to hand over the keys, then wear that Feathered Bonnet of Persuasion to add + 2 to charisma. If you are fighting that frost dragon, then the Fur Hood of Warmth with +50% to cold resist would be a better choice.

In my younger years, I used to believe that what you wear and what you look like had no connection to how well things went. Of course it was all about how good you actually were. People look past initial outside appearances and appreciate true inner qualities and potential. Don’t they?

This is partly true. As we spend time with people, we do come to appreciate their true value. But few people will get to know you that well. First impressions and how you project yourself matter. To other people yes, but also to how you feel about yourself. Dressing the part can increase self confidence and improve performance.

A few years ago I made a conscious decision to start wearing a jacket to work – plus points to self confidence and perceived professionalism. My old fashioned gladstone doctors bag often sparks comments from patients and helps build rapport – plus points to speech craft.

What piece of equipment or apparel could enhance your “stats”?


5. Keep seeking new adventures…

Eventually the village is saved, all the quests are completed, the treasure collected and all the monsters slain. In order to seek new excitement and develop further, you will need to move on to a new area of the game.

In life too it is sometimes time to move on. To seek new challenges and experiences. This might be within an existing role or perhaps mean taking on a new project. It might also be that it is time to leave a job, role or people behind in order to keep improving and continue the adventure.


6. Play the game…

Of course, spending too much time playing video games can limit your progress in real life. But as we mature and engage more with the adventures of reality, the opportunities for exploration and developing skills and influence in the real world can become much more rewarding than their in game simulated substitutes. It is important to get out there, explore and take on challenges.


Maybe it’s time for me to put down this laser rifle, stop procrastinating and get on with preparing for my appraisal.

Happy adventuring Heroes!


Dr Puddle


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