Why College is Like a Videogame, and How to Win It

By Staff Writer Published on July 25, 2017

Video games are hard. If you don’t believe video games can be work, you’ve neither heard of professional gamers nor played Dark Souls.

We play video games for some of the same reasons we go to college—we hope to be rewarded for our hard work and eventual success. Those rewards may come in different ways, but the sense of accomplishment is analogous. So, in an effort to prove you can have fun while doing something difficult, and that you’ll be rewarded at the end of the game, let’s take a look at just how similar the college experience is to playing a video game.

There's a Lot More Grinding Than You'd Prefer

Let’s face it: the first thing that college and RPGs (role-playing games)1 have in common is the arduous amount of grinding involved (in this case, grinding2 refers to working to complete repetitive tasks to gain experience or improve a skill).  In the video game, it’s “Go kill 20 wolves. Okay, now kill 40 Owlbears. Okay, now hunt 70 Orcs. Now collect the Neverbloom flower from the peak of Frostkill Mountain, and bring it to me before sundown. And now you’re halfway to the next level.”

College isn’t much different. You spend around 85 percent of the mod grinding on low-level assignments, working to collect enough experience to be able to succeed on the test. There’s a terrible loot drop rate, and the grinding usually doesn’t add much to your grade. Worst of all, a lot of the assignments basically amount to academic fetch quests. Don’t they know you’re a Player Character, and you could be out slaying dragons? Talk about a tedious main quest.

There are “Classes”

Okay, we admit we’re cheating a little bit with this one for the wordplay, as an RPG class correlates more closely to majors than it does to individual classes, but whatever. You get to pick a specialty in college, 6 and you focus primarily on leveling up stats and skills related to that “class.”

Your chosen class has a significant impact on what kind of roles you fill once you start “adventuring.” Will you work as a tank in customer service, taking aggro for the rest of the team? Will you be casting spells from the back end as a software developer? 7 Or will you be caring for the needs of the party as a mage or healer? 8 A lot of it is determined by your class.

There are Clans to Join

If you’re lucky enough to attend a college with a smaller campus, you’re more likely to benefit from the tight-knit atmosphere as part of the clan. You’re also likely to come across a few organizations or clubs where you can interact with like-minded people with similar interests.

And while you’re not likely to be wearing a tabard over your armor anytime soon, there are often other ways to show your allegiance, even if all you do is like the Facebook page or follow the college on Instagram and Twitter.

There’s a Skill Tree

There is a progression path you have to travel on as you progress through your degree program. Just as skill trees9 in video games require you to learn low-level skills to reach more powerful abilities, you have to study basic concepts—like math, history and writing—before you can begin to tackle more complex subjects. Meeting prerequisites is a necessary battle of college. Keep in mind, while degrees are what help land you the job, it’s these skills that actually help you do the job, so don’t be shirking too much of your studies to play real video games.

It Increases in Difficulty as You Level Up

The bar is raised as you go from introductory courses to advanced ones. It only gets more challenging from there in the event you make a move for “epic levels” and prepare for graduation and externships. Things only get harder the higher up you go, so be warned. But don’t worry; thanks to the aforementioned skill tree and those introductory courses, you’ll be prepared.

There Are Boss Battles and Minibosses

There’s no doubt about it: midterms and finals are definitely boss battles, though some are only quick-time events (multiple choice tests, anyone?). You can’t beat that level and progress to the next one without beating the boss, and some of us don’t make it out of the fight unscathed. For most of us, these boss battles are the primary challenge to be found at college. So much of the experience revolves around it that you’d expect that the exams were dropping legendary items.

There’s an Ending Cinematic

At the end of the game, there’s a final cinematic, where everyone gathers to honor the achievements of you and your batch of adventurers. The biggest downside to this cinematic is that no one bothered to include a skip function, even though a lot of it can be pretty boring (just like it was on the game High School).

That said, getting to parade your character in front of a large crowd of NPCs is pretty cool. Oh, and the degree is nice, too.

There Is a “Game Over,” But There’s Also a “Continue”

Like every good game, college has a couple of “fail conditions,” i.e., ways to leave college without a degree. Most commonly, you arrive at one of them through the word “fail,” if you catch our meaning, and it can be hard to recoup from. The good news is, there are ways to get a “continue,” and finally unlock the achievement at the end of the game. So whether you have yet to start or are hoping to finish what you started in the past, know that you can win the game. For more information about how, contact CollegeAmerica today.