Anyone who grew up with videogames has had their world shaped by the experience of playing. This is mostly a good thing. We appreciate CoD 4, Grand Theft Auto IV or Braid trying to say something about the human condition. BUT it’s also a good thing those games are fun, because the message is often completely impractical. What exactly are the messages these games are conveying? “War is Hell (but also awesome fun)”? “Urban America sucks”? “Don't build a nuclear bomb”? No argument here, but that knowledge doesn’t really integrate easily into the average gamer’s everyday life.

No, if you want simple, universally-applicable life lessons from videogaming, you need to go to an older, wiser, chirpier-music-having source... or better yet, 18 of them. Drag out the cartridge-loaded boxes and two-button joypads: It's time for some words of wisdom from your elders.


The game: Three not-turtles named after adolescent skin maladies vanquish evil stone pigs led by a sexy dominatrix, in an adventure that made perfect sense at the time. Best known for featuring a level commonly regarded as the single most difficult thing ever devised by people, until the level after it.

The lesson: You really can do anything you set your mind to. But it'll take hours, break your brain, and mean absolutely nothing as soon as you hit reset and have to do it all over again.

Marble Madness

The game: Sentient balls of glass roll downhill in their quest to reach the next slope. The “madness” comes from your lack of control: you can suggest to the marble that it might not want to fall off that precipice, but if that sumbitch is already rolling, there's little you can do to stop it.

The lesson: If you're expressly told, “Everything You Know Is Wrong,” believe it. That's the message that flashes onscreen at the beginning of MM's penultimate (as in, second to last) level, and it's the last time the game will make a damn lick of sense.


The games: We in the Queen's lands [ed note – Tom’s from New Zealand.] spent the 80s watching Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and renting copies of Commando that were about three minutes long after the censors' cuts. So we were never at risk of being traumatized by the Contra titles. Until the PlayStation version, our versions of the Gryzor brothers were the less-contentious Probotector robots, for which the games were named.

The lesson: In a future in which we could invent robots with all the powers of ludicrously muscular men, why would we go so far as to program them to feel our pain – even emitting human' screams? Because – as we learn from the Contra/Probotector switch – humans are infinitely cruel creatures.

Double Dragon

The game: Billy and Jimmy Lee beat up every single person standing between – and I mean that literally – them and Billy's girlfriend. Once everyone else in town has been brutally pummeled, each man simultaneously realizes that the only thing standing between him and the girl is the other guy. Further fisticuffs ensue!

The lesson: Teamwork is just a fancy-pants way of postponing a fight. Also, “bros before hos” is only a valid philosophy if the ho in question happens to look like a gorilla in a chastity belt.   

P.O.W.:Prisoners of War/Operation Wolf/Rush'n Attack

The games: 8-bit wargames didn't need your Normandy landing and your M1 Garand. There were more pressing issues at stake. For instance, the raging conflict between America and her hazily-defined enemies, who could be most easily identified by the Chairman Mao hats perched atop their swarthy faces.

The lesson: It was hard to be sure why our parents' generation busted a gut over the Noriega siege or Iranian hostage crisis. Any NES owner could tell you the complex geopolitics of the Cold War's twilight years would be solved in a day with the intervention of a lone warrior like P.O.W.'s blue jeans-clad Bart. Did nobody above 30 play videogames back then?

Ghosts 'n' Goblins/Ghouls 'n' Ghosts

Above: Level 2 of Ghosts 'n' Goblins, beloved by both of the players who reached it

The game: A knight in armor and underwear bravely faces off against every generic ghoul you’ve ever seen in a haunted house. If the legendarily difficult progression of stages in any G&G game doesn't chip away at your sanity, the revelation that recovering the princess from the adversary's clutches entails starting all over again surely will.

Above: Yep, that’s a butt. The are-games-art debate finally rests

The lesson: Besides the notion that “if a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing twice for ridiculously arbitrary reasons,” the chief lesson of Ghouls 'n' Ghosts is a sartorial one. We are all naked underneath our clothes; but the guy who wears flesh-colored smalls (or heart-patterned boxers) and climbs ladders in the rain is a whole different kind of naked.


  • TE5LA - December 28, 2013 9:18 a.m.

    What I've learned is, if I'm in a team-based game and our side wins, it's because of my mad skills. If we lose, it's because of my sucky teammates :)
  • VocalizedBoar - December 3, 2010 5:05 a.m.

    Don't forget the most important lesson. Whatever you do, you will always die of dysentery.
  • Baron164 - December 2, 2010 3:39 p.m.

    This article brings back memories. Especially the bastard game developers are bastards part :-)
  • philipshaw - December 2, 2010 3:11 p.m.

    Great article, I have definitely learned some lessons,only lesson I have learned from old school games is from streets of rage and that is eating turkey off the ground is always a good thing
  • NeelEvil - December 2, 2010 10:58 a.m.

    For years now I've said that if games have taught me anything, it's that all of lifes problems can be solved by shooting them or re-arranging blocks.
  • gmknoble - December 2, 2010 7:16 a.m.

    Excellent article!
  • Darkhawk - December 2, 2010 3:25 a.m.

    Contra (lesson from fighting bosses): Location is everything.
  • NightCrawler_358 - December 2, 2010 2:58 a.m.

    And thats how i became the person i am today. Naw, but i love Double Dragon 2: the Revenge for NES.
  • n00b - December 2, 2010 1:39 a.m.

    i learned in tetris that no matter how well you plan, life is gona throw you a piece than you can use and messes up your whole game. also from final fantasy 4 i got to a part where the enemies were too hard and kept running away. eventually i was so week that every monster killed me and had to spend hours grinding to get to a lvl i needed to be. the lesson: if you runaway from the hard stuff its only gonna get harder. damn calculus
  • Sy87 - December 2, 2010 1:29 a.m.

    Ah life lessons that I keep to heart. Of course when in danger of any crazy monster or situation of great peril man up and kick some. Also those games are just hard and requires lots of skill unlike today's game that have to add cheap overpowered AI that break game rules to beat you.
  • Yeager1122 - December 2, 2010 12:47 a.m.

    You guys should do one about lessons learned from games now.
  • Cyberninja - December 2, 2010 12:16 a.m.

    wisdom learned from anything on xboxlive, people online are aholes and want to teabag you.
  • drewbian - December 1, 2010 11:47 p.m.

    awesome article, i feel i have a new outlook on life that was not made clear by these games, but now it is and i will excercise these things in the tough world of rl
  • moh82sy - December 1, 2010 11:47 p.m.

    anther lesson from Double Dragon:don't play Double Dragon (nes version) with a friend because he will ignore the bad guys and just keep hitting you.
  • Nap1400 - December 1, 2010 11:40 p.m.

    Kirby's DL3 and Kirby 64 Just because something is cute and pink doesn't mean it's not hiding something deeply disturbing.
  • Clovin64 - December 1, 2010 11:36 p.m.

    "Bastard game designers are bastards". Thank you GR, I shall never forget this priceless slice of wisdom for as long as I live.
  • skyguy343 - December 1, 2010 11:25 p.m.

    I am enjoying this gentleman's contributions to this site
  • HarryBalls - December 1, 2010 11:23 p.m.

    Cool article Tom!

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