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Editor's Choice
The Tao of Leveling

Brett Staebell | 19 Jan 2010 09:39
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To Level, You Must First Realize There Is No Level

Finally, the good stuff: determining your level. As with the underpinnings of any RPG, I am required to define my own leveling conventions. To start, Level 99 is the max. Any higher, e.g. Level 100, suggests there should be another 899 levels to explore. Why bother with that third digit otherwise?

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We are all born at Level 1, and from there to high school is pretty much a straight shot to Level 10 or so. A disability or a natural aptitude does not alter this progression, but instead only changes your class. And just as game characters can have large gaps in skill points while sharing the same level, so, too, can people.

Levels begin to lose correlation with age as our options increase and our character classes change, however. Joining a sports team lends obvious increases to physical stats and quicker level progression. Likewise, college courses increase INT and open the door to more complex character classes down the line. Mastering skills - programming, elocution, interpretive dance - will help you level up, but your class plays an even more pivotal role in employment opportunities. After all, an accounting firm will be more keen to hire a Level 23 Economancer than they will a Level 45 Master Snorkelist.

I've completed college, done some traveling and had a few jobs; and yet while I've almost maxed out my navel-gazing skill, I still don't feel any closer to divining my current level. If I were to ballpark my two greatest skills, the title of Level 31 Pixelante Scribe would best suit me. But unlike a character, I continually have access to all my abilities and classes. Is it possible to determine a single number that encapsulates everything I am?

Maybe not, and I'm beginning to accept that. Perhaps Miso was not merely asking a question, but planting a seed of wisdom. I took the pragmatist's approach and labored under the hypothesis that levels are vital, discernable statistics, but the shortcomings of this thought experiment suggest that I should set aside my mathematician's calipers and reexamine Miso's riddle under a spiritual lens.

In an RPG, how many or what kind of monster you slay has no bearing on the quality or nature of your level - each +1 is just another step on a staircase built for easy ascent. But in the real world, while levels can be used to mark your progress, the journey itself is paramount. Even if I had been true to my word and battled the few woodland creatures left in Tokyo, I couldn't hope to gain more than a squirrel burger for my trouble. Miso's battles with his own inner monsters, however, let him out-pace me with ease.

If Monk Miso's Zen koan-like wisdom has taught me anything, it's that there is no single answer to that seemingly simple question. So, readers of The Escapist, I ask you: What is your level?

Brett Staebell's power level proved simpler to ascertain, and it is assuredly over 9000.

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