Can “Navpoints” Help Us Be the Characters We Want to Be?

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Commander Shepard Navpoints

Hey folks!  We’ve got an AWESOME guest post today, from my friend Lianna!  Check it out!


We should surround ourselves with the people we wish to be like, and what better way to do that than with video games? We spend so many hours with our character that they must rub off on us as we play, especially if we pay attention to the qualities we admire. With these qualities as a compass, we can create navpoints, or tiny tasks, that make our path clear even if we’re wandering in an unfamiliar level.

Mass Effect came out when I was a sad, lonely high school sophomore.I had a lot of family being diagnosed with fatal illnesses in quick succession. Some died in sterile hospitals, others stayed the last weeks at home with us; Mom refused to send anyone to a nursing home. Medical apparatus, and an endless flow of nurses trudged through my life. Miserable visitors acted like the funerals had already begun. Watching people I loved suffer made life unbearable. What was the point of going on? At the same time I had normal high school problems; boy/girlfriends, overwhelming expectations, PE class…

By late senior year before I finally got to play, I’d become abusive of my boyfriend as I tried to control what felt like the only good thing left in my life. I was flunking since I only wanted to get home to escape into a controller. To a place I could do things right… and if I failed  I only had to reload.  There was so much pressure to pick a career, apply to college… But I was suicidal and hanging on by a thread, needless to say I barely made it out alive.

Then I finally met fit, plucky Commander Shepard. Despite being fictional she became a beacon to me in my transition years. The backstory that I picked was parallel to my situation: Sole survivor,  colonist.

What can a figment of one’s imagination do to change your life? Well… I can’t explain the hope I felt when I saw that a group of people created their ideal hero this way. They chose to make her human, imperfect, emotional…. Qualities I condemned myself for. But they also believed this person was worthy and capable of saving the universe.  She showed me how seeking help, advice, and friendship should not be taboos, but goals to aspire to. I saw how a broken person like me could become a person like her with time.


Quest added.  Journal updated. Navpoint marked.

My quest began with identifying more qualities that made FemShep my role model:

  • Using tech skills and education to help people
  • Staying true to morals
  • Getting things done even across the galaxy
  • Being a leader who values, trusts, encourages people
  • Making time for the little things,
  • Remaining humble
  • Remembering to feed her fish

With this in mind I changed my life towards positivity, improving, and getting in shape. This is because I came up with easy, modular plans to work through tasks towards my aspirations, just like a game hero does automatically in their menu screens: I thought in terms of navpoints and quests through my day instead of worthless chores. I thought “Playing games all day, I can get pleasure from doing menial tasks towards an achievement, why not try that in real life?”

If it sounds too happy-go-lucky, keep this in mind: At first, I felt life was meaningless. Transferring navpoints from in-game to real-life would merely be a cute experiment. This helped me forget the paralyzing fear of failure. However, using navpoints toward achievements increased my quality of life so much that experiencing life became its own goal.

The Google store page from Jane McGonigal’s app SuperBetter , 2012, explains what I try to do with this way of thinking:

“Living gamefully means bringing the same psychological strengths you naturally display when you play games – such as optimism, creativity, courage, and determination – to your real life. It means having the courage and openness to try out different strategies to discover what works best. It means collaborating with allies, and building up the resilience to tackle tougher and tougher challenges with greater and greater success.”

(Dan’s note:  I love this, because Jane McGonigal’s TED talk was one of the things that made this blog exist in the first place =D)

I structure navpoints (or “questlog entries”) following FITT and SMART goal-setting. “Get in shape” and “Be a good leader” become modular quests:


Pass an Alliance Physical:

Daily yoga, 10 min



Treadmill 30 min


Leadership Training:

Give gratitude to one person

Note something that makes you proud of yourself.


This is even cheesier than “navpoints” but helps me get into a scifi badass mindset. Notice how easy and measureable they are. Goals like this helped me lose a ton of weight that’d dragged my body image down.

Intellectual characters like Mordin Solus, Gordon Freeman, and anyone in the Deus Ex franchise made me create navpoints to go to college in STEM industries. Maybe one day my education could get me into the sci-fi action I always dreamed of!


Become an Evil Genius:

A+ in German course

10 pages in textbook

34 flashcards

Homework done

Study biotechnology

Apply to University

Complete welding class


Working systematically like this helped me find work, compete in sports and get a driver’s license… I entered a positive relationship and got married to my own amazing “Kaiden”. All terrifying, but achieved despite my battle with depression. I was pushing myself… but surprisingly my navpoints made me forgive myself, too.

While I do have other role models, picking up the controller and being a Paragon again reminds me who I wish to be. Because Shepard had courage to go to the stars, I have the courage to live a fulfilling life.  Finding characters or games that invoke that feeling is a strong motivator! Can a video game character inspire you, too?

Any hero we idolize can show us something about ourselves and what we want for our futures. However, I believe it takes more than hoping to get ripped or filthy rich for us to realize true change.  So don’t just try to copy external things about a character… Navpoints will just fail you if they are superficial. Unless it’s something that truly helps envision your dream,, like wearing boots reminds me to kick ass. Copying a haircut and clothes might help you feel closer to the character, but please use navpoints to strive toward the internal qualities that you crave.

Here are my suggestions for you to start making your own:


Navpoint Machine:

  1. Pick up a notebook.  
  2. Scribble points during load screens about your hero. “Talks like a badass, athletic, doesn’t shave face, wears cool military clothes” Don’t be critical or overthink it… yet.
  3. After you have a few notes about characters, look at what you are telling yourself with your notes. Ask yourself why, why, why. : “Why do I like his military clothes?” “Because he looks professional” “ Why do I want to look professional” “Because it means I have discipline and reliability”  “Why do I want that?” “Because I respect and admire that. I want to be respected and admired.”
  4. When you get to a logical end, you can see what you should be striving for. It’s an ongoing process. Navpoints stem from the base values that you find. They are not always so obvious.

In the end, finding your hero and doing the brainwork on your navpoints will push you to reinvent yourself and grow into the person you always wanted to be. It’s still a daily battle, but I know that game characters saved me and put me on the path to be, years later, who I never thought I could be!

Lianna Mae Smith

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2 thoughts on “Can “Navpoints” Help Us Be the Characters We Want to Be?

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