The Journey is Boring: video games and validation
The most excellent Syl wrote a great post today about why she thinks achievements are one of the worst things to happen to MMOs. And with the standard caveat of “there’s no wrong way to play games and it’s good there is a wide marketplace so everyone can find a game that suits them”, I feel I have to stick up for achievements.
Warning: this post will probably totally out me as a Neanderthal who does not appreciate art and beauty
Achievements absolutely break a game’s immersion.
I think immersion in games is wonderful.. in the right game. If you’re playing The Stanley Parable, immersion seems almost critical to the experience. (No, I won’t say why. Go play it!) I loved slapping on my headphones and getting lost in the world of Mass Effect, wandering my ship wondering if Garrus was finished with his calibrations.
In general, though, the MMO genre doesn’t seem well suited to being an immersive experience. First, and most obviously, however lovely the fantasy world is it’s also filled with other people, many of whom are doing things like shouting “lol butts” and dancing on tree stumps in their underwear.
And although MMOs have done quite a bit of innovating in the last couple of years, they still haven’t really solved the problem where you kill a terrible monster to save a village and it respawns a little while later. (Perhaps EQ Next? We’ll see.) Plus most MMOs seem stuck on the idea of having in-game events that mimic real life, something that absolutely pulls the player out of a fantasy environment.
In general the MMO genre by its very nature seems like a poor place to look for a truly immersive game experience.
Getting Some Satisfaction
People play games for all kinds of reasons, but one popular reason I think — or at least it is for me — is that real life is hard, you guys. It’s hard for different people in different ways, but for me finding “satisfaction within” is not always an easy task (particularly as someone with depression and anxiety issues), and it takes effort and practice.
For example, I will spend roughly four months of my life doing housework. I will never finish tidying my house, but instead will do it on a regular basis for the rest of my life because it needs doing. We do these things often with no real reward or acknowledgement. I do not get an achievement for getting to work on time all week, or for remembering to get cat litter on the way home, nor should I expect one.
In a game with achievements, after I catch 50 fish I get a happy noise and some digital confetti. You did it, player! Check that off your list, you accomplished a thing! Obviously not all achievements are the same (catch 50 fish vs What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been) but frankly I enjoy a little validation in my life, even if I know it’s virtual and very silly.
I find sandbox MMOs (and sandbox games in general) just mimic some of the very things I am playing games to forget. I don’t want to be lost in a strange and unfamiliar world! As I said in my post on Skyrim a long time ago, my idea of escapist fantasy is not being a helpless half-elf with no shoes and no direction in life, hiding in a cave. My escape is being validated in silly game ways for developing my character.
Casual Bartle Achiever
There are a number of valid holes in the Barle Test character theory, but I still find myself drawn to the basic definition of the achiever: “[Achievers] will go to great lengths to achieve rewards that confer them little or no gameplay benefit simply for the prestige of having it.”
I like to Get Things Done. I like checklists and forms. (Yes, I am that person who will do my family’s taxes because I find it kind of fun.) I add my own “twist” by trying to do these things as optimally as possible, which often requires a little research and planning ahead. Achievements provide a framework for these things.
Additionally, as someone who no longer raids, achievements are great for limited playtime. I can log on and spend 20 minutes working towards an actual tracked goal.
I find total sandbox games to be overwhelming. It feels like graduating high school — you can do anything you want, so what do you want to make of yourself, huh? Huh? Oh no, you said you wanted to be a bow and arrow rogue but that isn’t optimal and now you’re an unemployed middle aged elf who still lives with their parents.
While I respect that people are Explorer-types, I don’t get it myself. What happens when you make it to the top of that hill and see… the next hill? At what point do you get a sense of satisfaction? Serious question.
Syl said in her post that “The journey is the reward” in games, or at least should be that way, but for me that’s opposite from the truth. Life, real life, is all about the journey. I do that every day. It’s quite rewarding, but also often boring, scary, and difficult in equal measures.
I like games in large part because they are not my real life, and mostly “the journey” is just a period of time when my character is not as powerful and awesome as she could be. I realize this makes me something of a philistine who eschews art and mystery in favor of research, goal-setting, and sweet, sweet victory hats, but hey, whatever makes us happy.