There are two video games I play through probably once a year: Borderlands 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2. They’re long and complex and rich with lots of experiences, much of it seemingly superfluous.

Always stop to pet the dogs.

When I play a game like that for the first time, I’m always full of anxiety over whether I’ll succeed, whether I’ll “win,” whatever that means. There’s a lot of desperation in my character’s actions, taking shortcuts and completing the required missions however I can with whatever I’ve got.

Now the second playthrough – that’s where things actually get enjoyable. Once I’ve lost that anxiety over whether it’s possible for me to succeed, I can dawdle and do all the side missions and optimize my character with all the best gear and explore all the easter eggs. I can pay attention to all the things I missed the first time, and usually succeed even better.

Also don’t forget to stop for the beautiful waterfalls.

You might see where I’m going with this.

I’ve had a stressful several months, scrabbling to finish the missions any way that I could. The ones coming up may or may not be better.

I hope I can remember to act (and more importantly feel) as though this is the second playthrough.

  • Act with the confidence that I’ve already won this game in many ways, and even the big setbacks end up being part of that story in the end.
  • Do all the side missions, gathering skills and experiences.
  • Optimize my character, fixing what’s not working and leaning into what does.
  • Explore the world a little more, looking for easter eggs and grace notes left for me by the designers.
  • Know when to pause, when to shut the game off and do something else before returning re-energized.

That all sounds surprisingly positive for me, I know. Sometimes I have to remind myself of things that are obvious to everyone else.

But really the advice holds for all of us: ALWAYS stop to pet the dogs and cats.