Posts Tagged 'addictions'

Salivating at the Sound of a Digital Bell

In many areas of my life, I tend to be a creature of habit. However, I am not a compulsive personality. The closest I come are a few behavioral traits I have hardwired to overcome absent mindedness and misfiring short-term memory. This pretty much boils down to: do I have my keys/wallet, did I lock that door, is my cell phone off, and which way did I face the claymore?

Much of my professional life has been spent in an arena geared towards feeding people with compulsive addictions: video and computer games. Every once in a while I have to step back and think how devious it gets. It just isn’t fair.

Since the dawn of time, well, electronic gaming time anyway, there has been the Mountain of the High Score. Beating your last game, beating your highest score, beating THE high score. These are all tantalizing carrots drifting forever out of reach for many. Also a very simple mechanism: a single number.

As the years moved on, games became more complicated and more sophisticated. For many genres, the concept of a single scoring number didn’t make any sense, and for the most part it passed out of common usage.

This didn’t prevent informal compulsive benchmarks from evolving, however. People would try to say, beat DOOM on Nightmare only using the base weapon, for example. As the YouTube age dawned, filming oneself making ‘speed runs’ would be another prime example of this phenomenon.

Then Microsoft had to go and take it to the next level.

One of the advantages of owning a major console gaming platform is the ability to enforce standards. When Microsoft released the Xbox 360, they used this power to mandate that all games needed to support their new Achievements system. A system of pure, concentrated compulsive evil.

With the first Xbox, Microsoft released their Xbox Live gaming service, which allowed gamers to create a profile that was consistent across all the internet multiplayer capable games released on the Xbox. With their Achievements system and the “Gamerscore”, they enhanced gaming profiles with a new addictive quality.

When you buy an Xbox 360 game, it has a set of ‘achievements’ waiting to be unlocked. Different games put a different amount of zest and creativity into the list, but Microsoft mandates that there must be a list. And when you do something in-game that accomplishes an achievement, you get credit for it on your gamer profile and points are added to your gamerscore.

Also, when you get an achievement, you hear a sound and a little banner appears at the bottom of your screen. Did the good rat push a pellet and get a treat? Yes he did, good rat! Here’s your treat!

The predictable result: people buying or renting mediocre games just for the achievement points, eBaying of Xbox 360/gamer profiles with a high gamerscore, people playing games more than they might otherwise might have just to be completist and get every last achievement, cats and dogs living together, madness!

The concept was a hit, and now it is becoming a new standard feature: Sony has added “Trophies” to the PlayStation Network, their equivalent of the Xbox Live service. EA Mythic launched their Warhammer Online massively multiplayer role playing game with an achievement system.

And, what brought the subject to mind for me, Blizzard unleashed their own achievement system in the last major patch to World of Warcraft before they release the new expansion pack in mid-November. I thought this was brilliant timing on Blizzard’s part as it gave much of their existing user base, already somewhat inclined towards the compulsive (they’re playing a MMO in the first place) something else to do while waiting for the expansion to hit. Besides playing Warhammer Online.

Since I still play WoW, it made me very glad I’m not terribly susceptible to such addictions. But, I still had to finish getting the achievement of exploring all the world areas. I mean, c’mon it was almost done….