Everything I know I learned from shmups

You know what a shmup is — a shoot ’em up like Space Invaders or Galaga or R-Type. I like those kinds of games, especially the modern versions like Raiden or Ikaruga or Einhander. One tiny little ship versus hordes of enemies, armed only with a pea shooter. I like those odds.

One reason I like shmups is because they teach you valuable lessons. Here’s some of the things I learned from shmups.

Don’t panic

The Hitchhiker’s Guide was right. There’s plenty enough to worry about on the screen; the last thing you need to do is freak out. Almost everything you see is harmful, so don’t worry about it. Spend your time obsessing about more constructive things instead.

On dying

You will die, so just accept it. Try to learn from your mistake though. If it was a huge attack from a boss that got you, remember what led up to that attack so you can plan for it next time. Dying sucks, but that’s why there’s change machines — to give you more quarters so you can continue again…

Always watch your ship

Staying alive is your top priority, and the most common way of dying is running your ship into a bullet. Note I didn’t say that the bullet ran into you. You have a chance to avoid every bullet coming at you, but not if you’re looking at the enemies flying in from the top of the screen. Always watch your ship and the surrounding area. It’s the bullet you didn’t see that will kill you.

Plan your moves

Beginning pool players shoot for their current shot. Pro pool players make their current shot and set up their next shot. Likewise, beginner shmup players dodge bullets. Pro shmup players move to where the bullets aren’t going. A spot that’s clear right now may be filled with bullets by the time you get there. Pay attention to the action around your ship, and move to spots that will be unoccupied once you get there.

Do not go straight for the powerups

Beginners often make the mistake of grabbing a powerup right when it appears. Always plan your move to get the powerups. They often hover around the screen, so first wait to see if it comes closer to you on its own. Otherwise, slowly work your way over to it. There’s no worse feeling than dying when trying to grab an item.

Know your weapons

The second worse feeling, besides dying, is having a super powered up ship and then grabbing a crappy powerup that nerfs your weapon. Familiarize yourself with your weapons, and learn the one that suits your playing style best. If you know the boss is coming up, you might change your weapon to pick one better suited for that boss.

Bomb = extra life

Three lives per quarter is hard enough, but some games are kind enough to give you extra lives from the start. A screen-clearing bomb is just as good as an extra life. Don’t be shy about using them. Your instinct that you can dodge every bullet is dead wrong; drop a bomb and elate in the feeling that you just saved yourself a quarter.

Ok ok, for the learning impaired, here are the real takeaways:

  • Don’t panic. Use your energy on useful things instead
  • Bad things are ok. Learn your lesson and move on
  • You are your top priority. Don’t let the noise distract you
  • Plan ahead. What you didn’t expect will get you in the end
  • Be wary of quick wins. They may bite you in the ass
  • Know your strengths. Adapt when it’s not to your detriment
  • Use your bombs. Don’t let the machine steal your quarters

Got it? Now go give it a try for real — arrow keys move, Z shoots, X is bomb, delete takes you to the menu.

For the love of work

Why do you show up for work everyday? I don’t mean the naive, “because they pay me.” I want to know what gets you out of bed every morning. What is your motivation for going into the office every morning instead of sleeping in an extra hour, watching soap operas all day, and eating peanut butter straight from the jar.

Three senses

Motivation is more complicated than, “I do it for the money.” You may like what you do. Or you might not like what you do, but you put up with it. Or you may really hate what you do.

Some of you love your job. You talk about your work in the positive sense. You say acclaims like:

I love my job because…

Some of you aren’t that happy with your job, but you still find a glimmer of hope that draws you into the office every day. When you describe your job, you say something like:

I’d work somewhere else, but at my job I have…

Some of you have already accepted defeat. You fear going into the office every day, but work provides you with something so important that you have to go. You say things like:

I have a panic attack riding the elevator to the office for fear of what will happen when I walk in, but I still go because…

Five factors

Here’s a short list of the factors that motivate you to do your job along with an example quote to see what your perspective is on that factor. Take some time to think about how they apply to you. They are:

  • Compensation
  • Your tasks
  • The company mission
  • Empowerment
  • Culture


You go to work each day because of the money. This includes benefits and other kickbacks too. You measure your time worked in dollars. The best day at work is any day you get your paycheck.

Positive sense: I get paid a fuckton of money to do my job and I love it.

Negative sense: If I wasn’t getting paid a fuckton of money to do my work, I’d be gone.

Defeated sense: I can’t make rent unless I go to work.

Your Tasks

You go to work each day because of the work you do. Every day, you can do your thing in the office. It doesn’t matter where you work or what you get paid as long as you can keep doing this task or use these skills in your job.

Positive sense: I get to do what I love everyday at work. It doesn’t feel like work at all.

Negative sense: They’re screwed if I quit. I remind my boss about that daily.

Defeated sense: This is the only place where I can do this kind of work.

The Company Mission

You go to work each day because you’re part of something bigger than yourself. Together, you and your coworkers do things that none of you could do individually. It’s not about any one of you; it’s about what you do together.

Positive sense: We do great things everyday. I love being part of it.

Negative sense: It’s a crappy business, but someone has to do it.

Defeated sense: What we do is disgusting. I can’t believe that I work for a company like this.


You go to work each day because you can cause great changes at your office. Whether you have a high ranking title or you have lots of freedom to do your work, what you say goes. Nobody is breathing down your neck.

Positive sense: I don’t have to check with the management; they trust me to make the right decision.

Negative sense: Everyone does what I tell them. How could I ever leave?

Defeated sense: I have eight different bosses. That means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. My only real motivation is not to be hassled.


You go to work each day because of the people and environment in the office. Put aside the benefits, your work, your company’s goals, and the money, and you’re left with this set of intangibles that makes work tolerable, maybe even enjoyable.

Positive sense: I love the office. It’s like a second home to me.

Negative sense: If it wasn’t for my friends at work, I would have quit long ago.

Defeated sense: It’s quiet hours in the office from 9AM to 6PM. We’re forbidden to talk.

Your managers’ lesson

If you’re a manager and don’t get the point, maybe you’re not cut out to manage people. As a manager, you need to understand what motivates your employees. If you haven’t had a talk with your employees about how happy they are at work, then don’t get angry when they aren’t contributing their maximum effort to the company. Or when the quit unexpectedly. Or unleash a virus that rounds all the pennies down and sends them to a Swiss bank account.

Besides that talk, you need to:

  • properly compensate your employees
  • let employees do what they love
  • clearly define the company goals
  • empower your employees to create change
  • establish a positive company culture and office environment

Your lesson

The lessons for you, the working stiffs, are pretty straightforward. You should find a job where you’re always talking about these factors in a positive sense. If you’re talking about your job in a negative sense, put some feelers out for a new job. If you’re talking about your job in the defeated sense, quit. Now.

Find a job that:

  • properly compensates you for your contribution
  • lets you do what you love
  • has a mission in line with your ethics and interests
  • empowers you to use your skills to the fullest
  • you’re comfortable with the culture and your coworkers


Work should be fun. If you’re not having fun at work, give my Guide to Slacking a read. It’s full of advice on how to kill time in the office without really trying.

Seriously though, discover what you love to do. Then find a job that lets you do that. That will take you most of the way through this list. Then negotiate a big salary for yourself and the rest will take care of itself.