Everything I Know, I Learned from My Nintendo

Lessons learned from a generation raised with one finger on the reset button.

If you’re like me (read: grew up in the 80s, kind of nerdy, liked technology, found friends exhausting), then odds are you had one or more of a Nintendo, Sega, Atari, ColecoVision, or PC around the house as a kid. For many of us, these systems provided a foundation for our childhood and opened the door to vast electronic worlds to explore, hack, experiment, and fail within. They taught us how to learn, compete, strategize, think critically, and, through multiplayer games, even socialize. They also taught us another, far more dangerous lesson that these systems taught us through the form of an innocuous little button: reset.

From a functional perspective, this little button was key to these systems. It provided a way to blank the memory and forcibly reboot the system and all relevant peripherals, ensuring that any software glitches or issues could be cleared and allowing the system to start fresh.

Yet the implications of this technological feature on our young, impressionable minds were unintentionally sinister in their outcome. That little button taught us how easy it was to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. If we screwed up, missed something, made a poor choice, or killed our character, instead of dealing with the consequences, we had—and often took—the option to destroy all record of our errors and reset back to an earlier, known place. Sometimes it meant that we lost progress, but at least we didn’t have to deal with our failure. We could go back and try again with the new knowledge of what we’d done wrong the first time in hopes of having better fortune with our new, divergent path. Like parallel universes, each time we pushed the reset button, we branched off another possibility of what could have been and rolled the dice on our ongoing struggle for perfection.

Seems innocent enough when talking about Mario and Sonic, however, our generation took this lesson to heart, embraced newness, and coveted the concept of starting over. Fast forward from our childhood and we start to see larger cracks in our mental armor that, while not wholly attributable to reset culture, undoubtedly have been affected by it. We romanticize the idea of escaping our own lives and being an unknown traveler in a foreign place. We find it easier to replace our worn down things instead of repairing them or trying to turn them into something new and beautiful. We are perfectionists, choosing to optimize every last irrelevant detail instead of simply making what we have work. We are wasteful, fickle, impatient, and in many cases, unprepared to deal with the implications of our own actions since a little button taught us that when the going gets tough, the weak start over.

Prior generations may have stayed in jobs for decades, however, ours would be lucky to get a golden thumbtack, let alone a watch. Job-hopping has become the new normal for Millennials, with many justifying 1-2 year stints in their roles. Cleanses have become all the rage for restarting your body and mind, whether through juicing, yoga retreats, fad diets, or extreme exercise programs like P90X. Even our vacations can no longer simply be relaxing breaks; they must be life altering personal journeys where we confront the deepest parts of our minds with the intent of deconstructing and rebuilding ourselves completely before returning to the real world. It seems as though members of our generation are ticking time bombs that may explode unless every few years we change our job, move cities, start a new relationship, or embark on a self-discovery journey.

However, at the heart of the problem and standing in the way of our futile attempts to start over lies the reality that life has no reset button. People don’t reset. We evolve, we grow, and we change, but short of suffering major head trauma and waking up in a foreign country with amnesia, the concept of resetting makes little sense in the context of the human mind. Even if you isolate yourself from the rest of the world and change every aspect of your external environment, you are still beholden to your own memories, experiences, and personality. Believing that we can operate outside of this reality when we want to kick start our existence is simply delusional.

But why should we let reality get in the way of a bit of good, clean, revolutionary self-denial? Many of us could cite a revisionist history of our lives—Mary 2.0, Amir V5, Next-Generation George—it’s almost as though we consider ourselves buggy software in constant need of updates and fixes. Every time we encounter major adversity, we withdraw from the normalcy of our lives in an attempt to recreate ourselves in a vacuum as a better version and then reintroduce to the world. We do everything in our power to blow up the outside world and begin anew with a fresh perspective on life.

So why is our penchant for starting over so dangerous? As someone who’s up to version 8.0, I can confidently tell you that hitting the reset button on life is missing the point. It’s taking the easy way out by creating novel surroundings that distract us from the underlying problem: ourselves. There will always be external factors that impact our lives and make things difficult, but at the core, it is how we react to and engage with these external factors that determines the outcome of our lives. If our reaction is to walk away each time life gets hard, then we turn our existence into a series of connected vignettes where we are continually struggling for happiness but never quite attaining it. If instead, we choose to stand our ground and face our challenges, we are forced to look inside and push the reset button on aspects of ourselves that we are unhappy with, ultimately evolving us into better, happier people.

On second thought, let me start over…