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What has gaming brought to Elon Musk?

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On September 13, the new version of Elon Musk’s biography “Elon Musk” was released globally, causing quite a stir in the technology media circle. The contemporary people’s enthusiasm for Elon Musk seems to never diminish. There have been many biographies about Musk on the market, spanning more than 10 years. What’s so special about this new version of the biography? Can it arouse heated discussion among people again? On the day the new book was released, we reviewed and interpreted the new book immediately.

This new version of the biography is written by Walter Isaacson, the author of “The Biography of Steve Jobs” and a well-known contemporary American biographer. The author spent two years conducting inseparable “personal” interviews with Musk: through company meetings, factory visits, and communication with Musk himself, relatives, friends, opponents, colleagues, etc., he revealed the growth experience and the background behind Musk’s growth. The driving force that drives him forward.

After reading through it, the biggest feeling is that this book spends a lot of words describing the impact of video games on Musk. The author shows Musk’s truest side through his love for video games : his nervousness and concentration. , His bloodiness, his tenacity, and his scheming are all poured into it. Spending hours in the game helps him vent his emotions (or build up energy) while also honing his tactical skills and business strategy thinking.

Therefore, we tried to isolate Musk’s experiences closely related to games and examine them over the course of his life, and found that video games played an important role in Musk’s different growth stages of life. From an external perspective, Musk has made great achievements in the field of technology and business today and is a veritable business leader; and if you look at Musk’s gaming experience, you will find that his dreams and dream-chasing journey have always been highly related to gaming. .

Musk’s “game space dream” as a boy

Isaacson conveyed a point of view to people through a series of stories and cases: video games played a crucial role in the growth of young Musk, helping him establish a strong and stable desire and obsession for technology and space. On the one hand, video games introduced Musk into the world of computer programming and inspired Musk’s interest in computer science. At the 2019 E3 exhibition, Musk publicly stated: “A large part of the reason why I became interested in technology is video games. If it were not for games, I might not start programming, nor would I be so interested in computer technology. “[1] In Musk’s view, games are a powerful traction for children to become interested in technology, and its ripple effect in promoting young people’s understanding of cutting-edge technology is much greater than people realize.

On the other hand, video games also provide a virtual holding space for the young Musk’s “space dream”. This dream inspired Musk to found the space exploration technology company SpaceX, which continues to this day. The book mentions that after Musk became interested in computers through games as a boy, he mastered computer programming through self-study at the age of 13 and developed a game called Blastar, which he later sold to The “PC and Office Technology” magazine at that time made the first pot of gold in life.

Young Musk’s “space dream” also started with the Blastar game. Blastar is a space combat game similar to “Space Invaders” (1978). The game rules and design are very simple. The player plays the role of a space pilot and alone performs “destroy alien cargo ships carrying deadly hydrogen bombs and status beam machines.” “The player only needs to use the direction keys and space bar to control the spaceship to move and shoot.” Although this game seems very simple and even boring today, we can already see that the dream of exploring space was planted in the mind of young Musk as early as 40 years ago. The game provides a virtual world where he can always place his original dreams.

It is conceivable that without video games, Musk may never have understood computer programming, and his space dream may not have continued. To a certain extent, it is the game that gives Musk the motivation to continue dreaming.

Musk’s “gamification” thinking in college

The first pot of gold gained through the game inspired Musk to have a stronger interest in games. On the one hand, Musk started interning at a game production company during college, making money through games and began to consider making his own games. On the other hand, by playing real-time strategy games, Musk also acquired preliminary skills such as resource management, supply chain management, and tactical thinking, laying the foundation for Musk’s subsequent successful entrepreneurial innovation.

The book writes that while studying at Queen’s University in Canada, Musk became obsessed with excellent strategy games such as “Civilization”, “Warcraft: Orcs and Humans”, and “Diplomacy”, and often played games with his friend Faruk without sleep or food. In this type of game, players often need to take turns taking actions in a competitive situation, which requires clever strategy, resource management and strategic thinking. In a class at Queen’s University at that time, the professor asked students to use a strategy game to simulate the development process of a company (players can determine variables such as product prices, advertising costs, and profits invested in research). Musk uses the tactical skills and strategic thinking trained in the game to conduct reverse analysis and research on the simulation process, allowing him to always achieve the final victory.

The above point of view may seem unrealistic, but we have found through research that many foreign researchers have shown that the traits people learn or display in games can indeed be applied in reality and help them in work and life. Get better results. [2] Now more and more people are beginning to study gamification thinking and are gradually applying it to fields such as education and learning.

Innovative Entrepreneur Musk’s “Game Life”

After graduating from college in 1995, Musk originally planned to enter Stanford University and pursue a Ph.D., but after only two days of classes, he dropped out and founded the Zip2 company with his brother, starting his entrepreneurial career. From the beginning, Musk was a demanding manager. At Zip2 and every company since, he drove himself relentlessly most of the day, never taking a day off. His only hobby is taking a break and playing intense video games.

The book conveys to us such a clear point of view: games are no longer just an entertainment pastime to pass the time in leisure, but have been deeply integrated into Musk’s life. Musk can always get inspiration from different types of outstanding game works and apply them to the innovative development of enterprises. Some examples mentioned in the book of Musk getting inspiration from games:

Design inspiration from science fiction games. When initially designing the Tesla Cybertruck, Musk didn’t want the upcoming design to be too conservative. “Let’s be bold,” he said. “Let’s surprise people.” Therefore, whenever the design team presented a more traditional design drawing, Musk would point to the game “Halo” and the trailer of the then-upcoming game “Cyberpunk 2077” or the car in Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner, and told its design team “I want the future to look like the future,” encouraging its design team to learn from the state-of-the-art.

Ways of life from strategy games. When Musk visited Tesla’s Berlin factory in 2021, he was completely immersed in a strategy game called “The Battle of Polytopia” [3], and therefore postponed the visit and interactions with locals. Manager’s meeting. When asked by the author Isaacson, “What does the enthusiasm for this game mean?” Musk replied: “It can be said that I was born for war.” And in the eyes of Musk’s younger brother Kimbal (Kimbal James Musk) Come, Musk keeps himself fresh and strategic thinking through Polytopia games, such as:

Break the fear of failure.  “In games you fail,” Musk said. “It hurts fifty times at first. But when you get used to losing, you play every game with less emotion. You become more fearless and take more risks.”

Optimize every decision. “Just like in the game Polytopia, you can only take a certain number of turns in your life,” Musk said. “If we make more bad decisions at work, we’ll never get to Mars.”

Always stay in fighting shape. In strategy games, players must always remain in a state of combat before reaching the final goal. This may explain why Musk is always able to continuously innovate and tirelessly launch sprints toward the future.

In the book, Musk explains to the author why he believes Tesla is on track to become the world’s most valuable company and earn $1 trillion in annual profits, but there’s no sense of celebration or satisfaction in his voice. When asked why he was still not satisfied with the status quo, Musk replied, “I think I always want to push my chips back to the poker table, or play higher-level games. I will not be satisfied with the status quo.” He Say, “I’m not good at sitting down.”

We believe that Musk may not be able to stop moving forward until the “Mars immigration” plan is truly realized.

Management innovation from game mechanics. When developing Tesla’s autonomous driving system, Musk regarded “the number of miles that a car equipped with Tesla’s fully autonomous driving can travel without human intervention” as a key indicator of the system. He encouraged the R&D team to use gamification to present the training results of the autonomous driving system. The goal is to increase the mileage of the AI ​​system driving the car as much as possible and reduce human intervention. Musk explained, “Just like a game without a reward mechanism would be boring, developers also need a certain incentive mechanism. If the progress of each autonomous driving training is displayed in a gamified way, then the R&D team will see it every day.” Gaining huge momentum.”

From Musk’s gaming experience from his youth to the present, it is not difficult to find that gaming has become an inseparable part of Musk’s life. If we can look at Musk as a “player” again, we may be able to better understand why Musk is always at the forefront of innovation, full of curiosity and enthusiasm for the future, and possesses keen vision and judgment. Never stop moving forward until you reach your goal…

From the space dream of gaming in his boyhood, to the gamification thinking in college, to today’s innovations based on game inspiration and experience, games have played an important role in Musk’s life and growth at different stages. From a more macro level, the huge influence of games is not limited to Musk himself, but covers the entire Internet industry’s technological talent group. Leaders in the Internet industry have repeatedly emerged in the field of games. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Apple founder Steve Jobs were both game developers. Meta founder Zuckerberg once said that he learned programming after being inspired by games. .

Today, Elon Musk manages six companies – Tesla, SpaceX and its Starlink division, Twitter, The Boring Company, Neuralink and X.AI, and we are also happy to see that Musk is in The “space dream” planted in my youth is becoming more and more clear.

Reference sources:

[1] CNBC. Elon Musk says playing video games is how he and ‘many of the best software engineers’ got into programming.


[2] Lu, L., Shen, C., & Williams, D. (2014). Friending your way up the ladder: Connecting massive multiplayer online game behaviors with offline leadership. Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 54-60.

[3] “The Battle of Polytopia” (The Battle of Polytopia) is a pixel-style turn-based strategy adventure game created by Swedish game developer Midjiwan AB.


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