The Occasionally Obsessive Gamer

I’m not what you’d call a casual gamer, nor am I hardcore. I fall somewhere in a strange realm that’s hard to define, but I’m going to attempt to. Basically, I’ll play video games when I have time, or make the time as the case may be. But when decide to, they consume my life. I can easily go months without turning on a console or launching some “free”-to-play game on my iPhone, but if I do get sucked into something it becomes an obsession.

You see, I’m a perfectionist, and I’ll gladly be the first to admit that. Certainly there’s got to be some deep rooted psychological reason for it, but rather than try and fix it, I just accept it. It’s undoubtedly annoying to deal with most of the time, but it also makes me very good at certain things (like my actual job). When I’m set on accomplishing a task, I want to put my energy into it and do everything I can to make sure it’s finished properly and perfectly.

Essentially, I’m the living reason developers created the concept of “achievements”, those intangible personal rewards that no one but yourself really cares about. Sure, they’re a sort of digital street cred. You can brag to you friends about your 1 Million Gamerscore, but in the end it’s not going to skew how they view you as a person. At worst, they might wonder why you spend so much time playing games.

But I need to prove that I’m the best at something. That I can do the impossible, or incredibly menial, tasks that no one else can/wants to do. It matters to me. Not on the whole, mind you, but in the microcosm of a single game. I don’t give a crap about my total Gamerscore or how many Trophies I have. If I’m considered the master of single game, it’s just as satisfying.

Video games today are created with two things in mind: “how do we make more money”, and “how do we keep people playing?” The invention of DLC (and FarmVille coins) answers the first question, but the second is more subjective. When a company can ensure their game is the only one you’re playing, it not only provides a certain level of free publicity for them, but they can ultimately guarantee they’ll have you hook, line and sinker for any future releases.

So yeah, I play for achievements. I play for 100% completion. I grind, collect, and hunt. I get frustrated and throw my controller across the room. I play to win in a world where “winning” is a loosely defined term that no longer means beating the game.

do-not-keep-calm-and-rage-quit-3And then I burn out.

Now again, to be clear, I don’t play all day, every day. In fact, there may be many days in a week where I won’t play a game at all. I have a life, a wife, a dog and a job. But, when I’ve decisively become hooked on something, most of the free time I have not consumed with responsibilities is spent with a controller in my hands. And after devoting that time, and finally breaking free through either sheer willpower or the fact that there’s nothing else to do in a game, I crash. I return to reality and honestly forget about video games for a while. And it’s nice, because I can work on other projects, focus on exercising, or just be a better husband.

Eventually though, murmurs brew about a new game on the horizon that peaks my interest. I read about it, watch the trailer, get excited and buy the game on release day. I know full and well what I’m getting myself into, yet once more into the fray do I go. I lose sleep for a while, think all day about what I can accomplish when I play next, and the vicious cycle continues.

Ironically despite my drive, there’s only one game I’ve ever gotten 100% of the achievements in and that’s Mass Effect 3. It was actually a mostly enjoyable experience, despite many hours spent yelling into a pillow late at night. However, I’ve attempted the feat of completion on many, many other games, but reached a point where I got too mad to take it anymore (or they released DLC that required me to obtain more achievements).

One could argue that these marketing methods have taken the fun out of games, but it’s deeper than that. I think it’s severely damaged how people, like myself, approach video games to begin with. Odds are lately that when I stop playing something, I’m just fucking done with it. I’m resentful of the fact that I felt the need to jump through hoops constructed of extremely difficult or menial tasks. I look back and regret all the time I wasted working towards a goal I won’t even remember a few years from now. And, in some ways with certain games, I come to loathe the people who created it.

Oh, and don’t get me started on UbiSoft, Assassin’s Creed 3, and the game breaking glitch that prevented me from getting all the achievements after I’d gotten 99% of them. Those motherfucking–


Alright, so you’re probably thinking “just fix the way your brain works, dummy!” Sorry, it’s not that easy. I’ll always have that internal hunger, the obsessive voice inside myself that begs me to be the best, around (no one’s ever gonna keep me down). I have taken steps to correct my behavior, a large one being not touching a goddamn MMORPG ever, ever again. If achievements are bad for me, MMOs are like being addicted to heroin and giving blowjobs to random strangers on the street.

And despite an almost internal plea as I write this article, here I am thinking about when I’ll be able to play Titanfall again and obtain some ridiculously unobtainable, purely luck-based achievements.

So let me propose something. First off, game developers and console makers, you don’t have to get rid of achievements. As much as I want you to, that’s not what I’m asking. I understand that you consider them critical to game design as it exists today. You’re basically like digital drug lords who’s job it is to create a menial and tedious birthday cake with shiny, fun and innovative icing. It’s shitty of you, but a lot of people out there like achievements and don’t get hung up on the idea of catching them all like fucking Pokémon.

That being said, please give me the option to turn achievements off. Either for a single game, or for my entire account. If I don’t know that they exist, and constantly aren’t reminded of them, I won’t be compelled to strive for all of them. I won’t spend a shit ton of hours collecting feathers or becoming a dollcatcher. I’ll enjoy your game infinitely more, and take away a better experience that will most likely prompt me to buy your next game anyway. And, when I finish your game, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment from having completed the main storyline, as it should be. Please, think of me: the occasionally obsessive gamer.

And you know, I won’t fucking hate you, so there’s that.

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I was first introduced to the world of geekdom at a young age when my father painstakingly recorded the audio track from a television broadcast of A New Hope, the cassette of which wore down from daily use. This launched a lifelong affair with science fiction and fantasy. I’m a fan of many obscure and wonderful television shows, have an avid obsession with computers and technology, love immersing myself in the latest video game, and slowly learning the ropes of digital photography.

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  1. I just want to say thank you for writing this article. I feel like this best described the kind of gamer I am also. My wife doesn’t understand my need to play video games and hopefully I can get her to read your article.

    • Thank you man! Glad to know I’m not alone. Thankfully I have a wife who includes my obsessions, so I hope yours can cut you some slack ;)

  2. I find that achievements/trophies generally improve my gaming experience, but that’s because that’s only because they closely align to my existing play style. For me, trophies actually help limit and frame my sense of when a game is “completed” to a manageable state. Previous to trophies, without a set cap, I’d begin a game with the intention of maxing everything – every item, character stat, etc. This required an unreasonable grind mentality from the onset, which would typically lead to me getting bored about halfway through the game and not even finishing the main story. Since trophies were introduced, I have about 17 Platinums, and the majority required the time input just over what I would have naturally put into the game – the end result being i get to about 95%, finish off the last trophies, and didn’t spend hours in the first level trying to find, and save, every health potion.

    There are two primary problems I have with trophies as they relate to my own experience (obviously, in terms of the variety of ways they may affect others, my objections would be more numerous). The first is the more obvious one, in that sometimes trophies are just too hard. This can be rather deflating, and is especially frustrating if I managed to get close to completion before realizing that I’ll be forever stuck starting at a 90% figure. This frustration can be amplified, depending on the source of the difficulty. While some trophies simply require a feat beyond my skill level (this is actually rare, most trophies require time investment, but have a low skill bar), some become unachievable because they rely on unreasonably rare events, or because they attach to the online multiplayer part of the game, and the player base may be to small to actually find a session.

    The second, more subtle problem I encounter is the disincentivizing feeling I experience towards activities in the game, or even entire games, that don’t have associated achievements/trophies. I never played the Bard’s Guild line of quests in Skyrim, despite it being a major subquest series because there was no trophy associated with it. And I still haven’t played Final Fantasy 9, despite owning it, because when I consider starting I feel oddly dissuaded because I’m not “getting anything” for playing.

    I think the ability to turn off achievements/trophies would be a useful feature that is easy to implement. And it’s significantly more likely than a sweeping improvement in achievement/trophy design.

    • Excellent points all around. For a lot of the games I play, I try and take the same approach. I’ll obtain all the achievements I can that are within reason and correspond to my normal play through. If there’s some that I need to just reload a save for, or put a couple hours in for outside the main storyline, I’ll usually do it. But if it requires another play through entirely, that’s asking too much.

      Despite that, when I unlock the typical 75-80% of the given trophies in a game, it bugs me. It’s this glaring stupid indication to me that the developers think I didn’t do enough. That I almost made it, and could have if I tried harder.

      I know that lingering percentage is not important and should have no impact on my enjoyment of the game, but it still bothers me. That’s what it means to be a perfectionist. Looking at my profile and seeing a ton of games I’ve gotten “most” of the achievements in just hits a nerve. So, I try hard to get everything I can for a single game, but like I said I get fed up.

      Multiplayer trophies are probably the worst of them all, because of the entirely luck based or hardcore skill based requirements. You have to learn and get awesome at a different part of the game. I love single player, because if I get frustrated I can just turn down the difficulty or look up tips to beat a boss. When you’re playing against teenagers who spend 10 hours a day online, it’s a different story.


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