Achievement Unlocked

There are probably plenty of people that wouldn’t consider me a gamer.

My gamertag profile is Recreational, not Underground. I’ve never played through all the Halo games, the Call of Duty has gone unanswered on my consoles, and the Gears of War stopped turning after about 45 minutes. I rarely play online multiplayer, and when I do, I don’t scream slanderous imprecations.

Not pictured: Me

I’ve never played Madden (or any of the 2K sports games), the only RPG I ever finished had Mario in it, and in case you skipped the first section, I’m not a big fan of shooters (BioShock excepted).

Now would you kindly release BioShock Infinite already?

These reasons would be held against me in a court of gaming.

I still feel like a gamer, though. I grew up playing video games like Metroid, Zelda, Tetris, Mega Man, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, and of course, the Mario suite (We only ever had Nintendo consoles until I bought a PS2 in college). For the first time in my life, I have all the current-generation consoles. I have an Xbox Live Gold account (hamm0ndeggs; yes, that’s a zero), a PlayStation Plus account, (hamm0ndeggs610; again, zero), and a GameFly membership. I play whenever I get a chance, and I find myself wishing I had more time to play, since I have a stack of games that have barely been touched, if they’ve been touched at all.

But I find myself enjoying it less and less. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m getting old and curmudgeonly, and these new games <old man voice> AREN’T LIKE THE ONES WE HAD WHEN I WAS A KID, </old man voice> or if I’m seeing it as less of a worthy expenditure of my time.

I’m leaning toward the latter.

“Blasphemy…”

Now, I never thought I would have even entertained the idea that I would ever outgrow video games. That would be ridiculous. Even now, I’m not entirely sure that I have, or I ever will. My wife will attest to my regular rendezvous with my consoles. I’m still active. But I’ve felt a definite shift in the attitude I have toward my games. It’s almost like I view them as a chore now, instead of the diversion they’re supposed to be. The conclusion I’ve come to is this:

Achievements are ruining my game experience.

Call them achievements, call them trophies, call it gamerscore… it’s all the same thing. Collection trophies, completion achievements, these are all arbitrary numbers attached to arbitrary actions, and those numbers add up to a poor paycheck for jobs that are designed to be tedious.

But it’s a paycheck I line up for like a lab rat hitting a feeder bar. Like a junkie chasing the high. And that’s exactly what it is. Don’t believe me? Cracked published an article about 5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted. You should read it, especially if you’re a gamer.

The idea of achievements is an effort/reward system, and it makes you want more. And more. And more.

When I was a kid, we didn’t give a crap about achievements. We had points, which you could say were similar, but it at least changed with every new game you played.  With gamerscore and whatever the trophy quotient formula Sony uses is, it becomes part of you. It’s your gamer CV. And it’s killing my inner child.

Who do you think you are? Michael Bay?

I don’t play games that don’t have trophies on my Ps3. Because I don’t see the point. Because I think of it as time spent without compensation. Do I expect some kind of compensation when I go to the movies? When I read a book? No, but I’m sure I would if I was using an app like Glue or trying to become the mayor of some place on FourSquare. And that’s in real life.

The chase for achievements has robbed me of games I’m sure I would have enjoyed. Metal Gear Solid 4, for example. I didn’t play it despite the amazing things I’ve heard about it solely because there weren’t trophies for it.

Games are not the only thing I believe achievements are snatching from my life. I think that I’m not only becoming addicted to them, but I’m also finding a sense of accomplishment through something that has no value in the real world.

That’s right: I’m letting video game achievements stop me from achieving things that will improve my life.

That has to stop.

Maybe that means I’ll play less video games. Maybe I’ll just care less about harvesting achievements and trophies, and play games I enjoy. One of my recent goals is to start writing more. And I’m doing that now. Talking about something that’s fighting for my attention seemed only natural.

So if you made it this far, thanks for reading.

Achievement Unlocked.

Want more? I did a guest post on my wife’s blog. Check it out.

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2 responses to “Achievement Unlocked

  1. I hear ya on the achievements, man. I go for a lot of achievements, but some of them are just ridiculous and I don’t even try. I only rarely 100% a game, and even then all of those have been $10 downloads from XBL.

    I used to care that my gamerscore has a wacky value that ends in a 5n+1 value, but I don’t care anymore.

    As for *what* I play, most of the usual culprits are there. I skipped the Mass Effect Trilogy and haven’t touched Gears of War 3, but I sunk 300+ hours in to Modern Warfare 2. Then I skipped Black Ops because I got bored with it. I really enjoyed Halo 3, and Reach was pretty okay, but OTSD felt like a chore. I got through it to get through the story (and to hear the cast of Firefly through to the end), but that’s it.

    Somewhat surprisingly, most of my gaming these days leans toward NHL ’12 (until NHL ’13 is out in September, of course) and I split the remainder between dozen different games. I started and got lost in (then got bored with) Skyrim. I found (but have not yet completely) Skyward Sword. I regularly kick Andross’ ass in Starfox 64 3D, and I’m currently waging war against Medusa’s army in Kid Icarus: Uprising.

    I haven’t finished Super Mario Galaxy 2, I never touched Metroid Prime 3 (though it’s been on my shelf for about two years), I have but have not opened Fallout 3 and New Vegas (though I’ve been advised to skip New Vegas), and I was pretty disappointed with the new A Boy and His Blob.

    Needless to say, sometimes I feel the burnout and I feel the rut and I wonder what the hell I’m doing with my time.

    But then I play something like Journey, which is amazing. Or I play through some of the gems in my Virtual Boy library. (Hello, Wario Land and Jack Bros.; Suck it, Water World.) Or I sucker a few friends into some hate-filled rounds of Bomberman.

    And it rekindles my love for games and gaming.

    I think that, ultimately, gaming for me is and has always been two things: First, it’s a way for me to refocus and re-energize and recover. Gaming was a safe haven for me in a time when my world was being turned completely on its head in every possible way. I could ignore that my mother was downright wretched for a few hours because I had to set forth from the North Castle to prevent evil forces from resurrecting Ganon. Or I could escape the tragic reality of losing my father at a very young age just to revel in the fact that the princess is in another castle.

    Secondly, and I think most importantly, gaming is social. I may not spend a lot of time gaming with people that I know, but people that I know tend to really enjoy gaming. Some prefer analog games (Catan, anyone?), but most of them enjoy the pixel-pushing variety. And we tend to appreciate the same things in our games. We tend to eschew things like Grand Theft Auto for richer, deeper experiences such as Journey and Ico or perhaps opt for something a little more fundamental, like Sly Cooper or Ratchet and Clank.

    All of this is a long-winded ramble designed to say this: Don’t give up gaming, because it’s something that you love. Instead, figure out what has strained that relationship (Achievements) and diminish your focus on that. Play a game because you love it or because you *want* to save the princess; not because you can get 1000 gamer points or a platinum trophy.

  2. Oh, two more things:

    1. My gamertag is also set to recreational, though I tend to beat the crap out of some hardcore guys in NHL 12.

    2. I’m thinking very, very seriously about either building a Mega Man collection or just buying the two GameCube/PS2 collection discs and play through Mega Man 1-8 and Mega Man X 1-6. I also have a strong urge to pick up a copy of Final Fantasy Tactics (via the PSN Store) and playing the hell out of that.

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