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Yakuza games, curiosity, and side quests

There's more to life than the main story

Wacky side quests > gritty main story

One of my favorite video games in recent years is the Yakuza series. In the game, you’re playing as a battle-hardened, badass Japanese gang member facing ginormous challenges where huge things are at stake. But what makes the game so popular is the hilariously bonkers side missions that are absolutely unrelated to the main plot.

The game is famous for its side stories with wacky premises: from helping a sushi restaurant owner fetch fresh fish, aiding an immigrant who can't speak Japanese order pizza, to assisting a mother to get her daughter leave a cult. Sometimes it's unbelievably absurd, but always full of heart and recognizably human.

The image above is from a Yakuza 0 side quest where protagonist Kiryu Kazuma (left) appointed a rooster (right) to be his new property manager.

Now back to reality: how often do we consciously choose to take side quests in our daily lives? To take a break from taking ourselves too seriously and to try out new things just because we can?

We rarely allow ourselves to get sidetracked by off-the-beaten-path options whenever the opportunity arises, because common wisdom tells us there's only one “main story” in this game of life, and we should focus on it 100% of the time.

What if we start following our curiosity, deviate from the linear path, and see what the world has to offer?

Curiosity is life (no, seriously)

How can you not listen to this guy?

In the series, you can finish each game relatively fast by focusing only on the main story. For example, in Yakuza 0, sticking to the main plot averages about 31.5 hours of playtime. However, if you dive into both the main story and side quests, it'll take you double that time: 64.5 hours. In other words, fucking around with side quests doesn't just add to the fun; it significantly extends your game time. Seems like real life isn't too different.

In her article “The Science of Curiosity”, Founder of Ness Labs Anne-Laure Le Cunff pointed to a study showing evidence that curiosity may actually be a fountain of youth:

Curiosity keeps you young: research shows that keeping a sense of wonder throughout life and as well as a novelty-seeking behaviour helps people to stay young. A study which followed aging individuals while tracking their curiosity levels found that those that showed high levels of curiosity were more likely to be alive five years later.

Put simply, your genuine curiosity might just be the thing that grants you extra time on God’s green earth. Following your inner curiosity and embracing deviance could very well be the forces that shape the world.

Consciously deviating from your routine is a power most people have yet to unlock. In the book 'Finite and Infinite Games,' author James Carse even makes the point that deviancy is essential for shaping new cultures:

Deviancy, however, is the very essence of culture. Whoever merely follows the script, merely repeating the past, is culturally impoverished.

It is our job to break out of routine to keep human culture vibrant. The concept of 'fucking around and finding out' might seem unnatural at first, especially when one of the most popular books in the world teaches us that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing

In the wise words of my favorite Twitter follow Julie Fredrickson:

Imagine the ugly-ass, monotone culture we'd be stuck with today if every human being in this world adhered to Stephen R. Covey’s advice 100% of the time, without any slack to fulfill our curiosity. Not to mention, all of us would probably have died sooner."

Miracles in the mundane

In the Yakuza series, there's a flavor of the 'slice of life' genre, popular in Japanese anime and manga. The atmosphere of daily life, mixed with random, absurd scenarios, conveys a sense of pleasant pointlessness that resonates with gamers because it mirrors real life.

This is likely why I love the everyday aspect of the side quests in the Yakuza series: they emulate the feeling of finding miracles in the mundane, revealing our desire to be surprised by the familiar.

This beautiful passage by Kasra explains how our lives consist of small, seemingly unimportant activities:

Real life is mundane by default, and it's only when we begin to try out activities beyond the ordinary that we can slowly shape it according to our will. We discover what energizes us and what drains us. Surprises turn into sources of delight rather than displeasure.

The only thing required for us to uncover the wonderment in our world is to embrace our role as the main character.

Are you the main character?

It’s never too late to be the hero

Make no mistake, only focusing on the main story is still possible, and it can be absolutely amazing. But, I'd argue that if you want to live a longer, more fulfilled, and richer life, you should try out more stuff and say “yes” to side quests.

Just like how the protagonists of the Yakuza series get stronger by continually saying yes to absurd requests and tasks, exploring your life’s side quests will only reward you with the equipment and experience to make your main story easier and more enjoyable.

If you find yourself constantly asking, 'Is there more to life than what I'm doing right now?' the good news is, there probably is. As long as you’re willing to give yourself a chance to experiment and explore, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

All it takes is the courage to be the main character, acknowledging that you have options to embark on side quests and giving yourself permission to have fun with life.

Bake that bread you've always wanted to try, enroll in those adult Kendo classes, mess around with Ableton and upload some original music to your SoundCloud.

You're the main character, baby.

Go nuts.

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