Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Imagine If You Were Like This

The first achievement points I got on my XBox 360 were on Half-Life 2, when I threw a soda can at a cop. I had heard of achievment points and gamerscores of course, before I got the system, but at that exact moment I realized what an utterly pointless system of points it was.

In my 38+ years of videogaming, I've never needed any reason to play videogames other than the games themselves. Game designers and programmers create them, and I play them - with a particular personal drive to explore the worlds they create. I've never needed a little sound effect, an on-screen pop-up, and a total number to accompany me on my journeys.

Nor have I needed any methodology to gauge myself against other people playing the same game, which seems to be one of the driving priorities of the "achievment point idolatry generation" (referred to from here on out as APIG ). I play what I want, when I want, how I want, and on my own schedule.

I shudder to think of those gamers for whom achievement points actually matter more than the joy of gaming itself. I know they're out there. Their priorities have centered on their personal comparisons to other gamers' achievements rather than having a good time fully exploring a game world, or trying out different items, classes, or playstyles.

Instead of just gaming and having fun, they have attached their fragile self-image to their hobby to such a degree that their gaming habits are constantly determined by what other people are playing and what they are "achieving".

Let's have fun with an example. We'll use two gamers, called Gamer 1 and 2, who for this example we'll say have some real life contact like school or work where they have time to talk about their gaming. Gamer 1, one of our APIGs, constantly claims to be on a tight budget and has thus made plans to buy only Big Holiday Game B and C this year. Gamer 2, a more casual gamer with an actual life outside of gaming, has been watching reviews for Big Holiday Game A, and decides to get it when it comes out.

Gamer 1 of course, deathly afraid of Gamer 2 getting achievment points he doesn't have, or just playing one of the Big Holiday Games before him and thus putting a chink in his pathetically fragile gamer ego, rushes out and gets Big Holiday Game A as well, and then scrambles to finish it as fast as possible before Gamer 2, who could care less about achievement points or where Gamer 1 is at in the game, because he's having a blast with it.

And so it goes through the holiday releases, with Gamer 1 getting every one of them and beating them in a week, while Gamer 2 plods along with a few games he got, having a good time with complete indifference to Gamer 1's ego. Gamer 1 constantly quizzes Gamer 2 about what he's getting next, so that he too can be there, following him from game to game like the little kid back in elementary school a few grades behind who follows the elder kid around, emulating everything the elder does because he's the coolest person that he knows.

Imagine if you were like Gamer 1. Your entire self-worth defined by competing with and comparing yourself against the other gamers you know in such a manner as described in the example above. None of them offer you any serious competition, because they just don't care (they just play games for the sake of playing games). But you go on from one new release to the next, and you even play really bad games, just to jack up those achievement points and be the first in the circle of people you know to beat them.

It reminds me of the people you sometimes see at a summer blockbuster movie. You're there to watch a movie that you are interested in, and you sit quietly and pay attention to the characters and the story. They talk, fidget, check their cell phones for text messages, and generally don't pay attention to the screen at all. Why are they even there? Because so many of their friends are going, and so that they can say simply that they went, too. Just being able to say you went to the movie has become more important that taking it all in.

And so it goes with the Achievement Point Idolatry Generation (again, the APIGs). Just playing through a game as fast as possible, and culling achievement points, has replaced truly enjoying a game, and watching it unfold as the designers intended. Bragging rights and adolescent egos tied to pointless numbers have replaced the spirit of discovery and the thrill of besting an actual in-game challenge.

I don't think most gamers are like that - yet. Imagine if you were, though, how shallow your enjoyment of your hobby would become. How the other gamers you talk to would dread your presence, and yet - at the same time - gain a greater appreciation of how they just play videogames to - yep - just play them.

No comments: