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Infinite Lives – Learning How To Survive Social Situations

Infinite Lives – Learning How To Survive Social Situations

Today, we’re exploring social situations with Daniel Wendler, a social skill contributor for Take This and author of Visit Take This Org to find out more about the organization and how you can get involved.


In most classic games, you had a limited number of lives. Run out of lives, and it was game over – start back at the beginning. This design feature was inspired by arcade gaming, because it was in an arcade owner’s best interest to force you to pony up more quarters for more lives.

But as arcades became less relevant for gaming, game developers started to reconsider the idea of limited lives. Why force a player to start over just because they used up their last life? So developers started phasing out the life system, and nowadays it’s very rare to find a game that will show you a “Game Over” screen. In most modern games, dying just drops you back at your latest checkpoint, with no further consequence.

Of course, there are benefits to more high-stakes gameplay. In recent years roguelike games (where you get a single life and dying means starting from scratch) have become increasingly popular. When every decision counts, the game becomes much more engrossing.

But roguelikes can be exhausting to play. When a single mistake could mean that all of my progress is lost, I tend to anxiously ponder every decision. And when I do make a mistake, it can be deeply frustrating. I’ve yelled at my poor computer more than once when playing Don’t Starve (and I still have unresolved anger towards those darn swamp tentacles.)

Social Survival

In social settings, most people act like they’re playing a roguelike. They assume that a single mistake will DOOM THEM FOREVER, so social interaction becomes about avoiding mistakes instead of having fun and connecting with others.

But here’s the reality. In most social interactions, it’s totally fine to make mistakes. In fact, everyone makes mistakes pretty much all the time in social interaction.

Don’t believe me? Just listen in to everyone else next time you’re in a group conversation. You’ll hear the other people in the group interrupt each other, tell jokes that fall flat, share boring stories – all sorts of mistakes. And for the most part, everyone moves along with skipping a beat when those mistakes happen. Sure, maybe there’s a moment of awkwardness, but then someone changes topics and the conversation moves along.


Respawn Ready

In other words, social interaction is more like a game with infinite lives than a roguelike game. Of course, it’s better to avoid social mistakes if possible, and if you hurt or offended someone, you should definitely apologize and make amends.

But if you make a mistake, you get to try again. Even in a worst case scenario where you mess up a conversation so badly that the person doesn’t want to talk to you anymore, you can always talk to someone else. There’s always another social respawn waiting.

And that means you don’t have to be afraid. You can let yourself relax, and maybe even be a little playful. If you make a mistake, it’s okay – just apologize, and do your best to not repeat that mistake in the future.

Not convinced? I have a little challenge that will change your mind:

Step One: Make ten deliberate social mistakes

Step Two: See if the world ends

If you’re like many people, your fear of social failure is much bigger than it needs to be. When you spend so much time avoiding failure, you never get the chance to really enjoy social interaction. Who is going to have more fun – someone trying to make it through a game without losing a single life, or someone trying to explore all of the cool features the game designers programmed?

The cool thing about fear is that if you deliberately confront it, it tends to back down. The first time you ride a roller coaster, it’s terrifying. The tenth time you ride it, it’s probably not scary at all. That’s what this quest is all about.

Of course, you should only do harmless mistakes. The goal is to choose social mistakes that feel scary, but that won’t actually cause any harm to you or anyone else.


Here are some ideas:

  • Deliberately tell a joke that isn’t very funny. (Aka, Google for “dad jokes”)
  • Make plans with a friend. After making the plans, call back in an hour or so and ask to change some minor detail of the plans (for instance, ask to meet at 4 PM instead of 3 PM.)
  • Leave your wallet in the car before entering a grocery store. Pick out something to buy, bring it to the register, then “realize” that you forgot your wallet when it’s time to pay. Apologize, get the wallet, and pay as normal.

You probably noticed that these ideas range from small mistakes (unfunny joke) to bigger mistakes (lost wallet.) When you try this yourself, I recommend starting with small mistakes, and working your way up to bigger and bigger mistakes. Just remember to never risk mistakes that could cause anyone real harm.

Also, if social interaction in general is very scary for you, I strongly encourage you to talk to a therapist. Therapists are great at helping you overcome social anxiety, and a good therapist will help you significantly reduce your anxiety.

Image Credits: Don’t Starve/Klei Entertainment


Daniel Wendler, M.A. is a social skill contributor for Take This and author of and the books Improve Your Social Skills and Level Up Your Social Life. He writes about social skills because he used to be the kid sitting alone in the cafeteria and he wants to help everyone find a place to belong. He is pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology from George Fox University and he wrote a poem about his bed. He fervently believes that Bulbasaur will always be the best starter.

Take This is an informational organization. The resources we provide are for informational purposes only, and should not be used to replace the specialized training and professional judgment of a health care or mental health care professional. For more information about these resources, please visit our website.

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