Monthly Archives: January 2014

How goals changed the way I game

There’s many a reason people play video games, with fun actually being one of many reasons. For instance, some people play for the thrill of besting others and becoming the very best. Others play for the deep and compelling stories that great games provide. Then there’s another reason – the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing a gaming goal, from beating every task that is thrown at you and reveling in many a filled progress bar. The issue with this last reason, however, is that it’s the reason that is destroying my life.

Taking on the tasks

Attaining goals in video games is not exactly a new thing – it’s just that in the past the goal generally only trundled down a single track, that being “complete the game”. Yet as gaming grew both in its processing power and the amount of players out there, so did the challenges on offer, RPGs and their endless lists of quests being the first thing that springs to mind. Yet I believe (and so does Wikipedia) that goal based gaming exploded into the mainstream with the introduction of the gamerscore system on the Xbox 360. It was a means of obtaining meaningless points in exchange for completing random tasks – yet its popularity exploded almost instantly. Hundreds upon thousands of people sat in front of their screens trying to bleed out every last point from their games, in the hope that their gamerscore would be the highest in the land – therefore providing bragging rights, and that all-important chance to wave your e-penis around for all to see.

When I finally got a 360 myself, I found myself swept up in the craze, but for different reasons. I had no desire to compete, nor did I really want to be the best in the land. There was just something alluring to me about seeing the achievement notification pop up accompanied with that distinctive noise, something that made me feel like I was doing well whilst also stroking the need of the perfectionist inside of me to do everything, and do it right. It was Crackdown and its agility orbs where achievements really sucked me in, changing a fun madcap game into a desperate hunt for one last bundle of green pixels. I spent about two hours straight looking for that last orb, which to many would just seem a strange waste of time… Especially considering the fact even I would not say it was actually fun. Yet when I finally found that elusive trinket, that achievement was like a badge of honour to me – something I could look at with pride and say to myself; “Yes. I did that. Me!” No-one else cared, but I did, and it made me happy – and that’s all that mattered.

Agility orrbs

The most devious scavenger hunt ever. (Source: siliconsasquatch.com)

And so it continued with many a game, me rushing home with a new purchase in hand wondering what new challenges awaited me. But something had warped now – it wasn’t just about seeing the game’s story through to the end. It was about beating the final boss with just your fists, or something equally as nonsensical and difficult – all for a few more gamerscore points. It even carried over to non-gamerscore goals – the advent of the challenge system in Call of Duty added a whole meta-game all about achieving simple tasks, one which made it so I actually stopped prestiging in the second Modern Warfare game simply because I didn’t want to lose my progress in working through them. It was a metamorphosis from the simple act of playing a game for fun into something more abstract – everything possible had to be seized, and like hell I would give up before I got it.

It sounds like a negative thing, and some of the mind-numbingly dull or boring achievements probably made it this way sometimes, but actually accomplishing the task at the end and having something to show for it (No matter how trivial or small) generally made up for it. I still this style of play led to some of the most fun I’ve ever had with video games… Like finally ticking off the last Fallout 3 achievement, downloadable content included, and knowing I had smashed every bit of content in that game to bits. Or perhaps completing the endless setlist on Rock Band 2 on expert difficulty, with those 50 points standing as a testament to my skill. It’s all stuff I enjoy and look back on fondly. The thing is… Well… It’s also made me a little bit crazy.

Achievement unlocked: Go insane

Need for Speed: Rivals is the zenith of goal based gaming; You’re given a checklist of things to do, and once you’ve done that checklist you drive back to the garage in order to receive a car and another checklist. That’s it. There’s no real plot, no deep or compelling story, or anything else to do besides desperately try to rally up players to start an online race. You take that checklist, you complete it, you move on. That’s it.

I. Went. Mental.

Seriously. Suddenly I was gripped to the game, wanting to play it at every possible moment just in the hope of completing another checklist before I collapsed due to lack of sleep. At one point I was given the task of blowing up car tyres with spike strips – after a futile few attempts at taking out opponents using these rather rubbish pieces of kit, I came to realise it didn’t actually specify whose tyres you had to pop. And so there I was for five minutes, at the side of the road, lying down spike strips and then intentionally driving over them. At one point I even realised – what am I doing with my life? I had essentially exploited the game mechanics in the home of filling in a virtual checkbox and soothing the completionist inside of me. Yet when I thought about it, it had always been this way – right back to when I was hunting down that last agility orb many years before. I would take on the trials even the insane would flee from, and keep on attacking them until they finally bent to my will. And if it took several shards of my mental well being to do it? So be it.

So, yeah. Goals in games have had a pretty big impact on me… Some of it negative, most of it positive, and all with a mild dose of making me into a crazy person who will hunt down the last Playstation 4 trophy in a game in the same way a starving animal would attack his first meal in weeks. I’m now currently sailing the seas on Assassin’s Creed IV, another game filled with a labyrinth of side quests and secrets, and once again I am seeing many an hour of my life drain away in my desire to beat it all. And if that day even comes that I do finally obtain that elusive 100% on my progress screen… Well, then it’s just off to the next challenge…

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“Can I stop you a moment?” – the annoyance that is charity volunteers

In a world filled with cynicism and many a problem, the act of charity is a wonderful thing. It helps those most in need, while also providing just a little bit of hope in the places it is often needed most. There are darker shades to it, of course – scammers and organisations simply taking the money and running, to name the most obvious. It’s easily possible to disregard that, however, leaving charity is not something you can truly protest against. However, it’s also true that charity can get a bit… Well, irritating.

Naturally, no-one is truly annoyed by charity, least of all me. That doesn’t stop it from having one major irritant, though – that being the charity street worker, ready to pounce on you at a moment’s notice and drain you of your cash. There’s a reason they have obtained the nickname of “chuggers”, the term basically highlighting the fact they almost “mug” you for your money. Every experience with them is an exercise in guilt and sadness, whether that actually get your money or not, and all it heaps up is your potential act of charity leaving a bitter taste in your mouth instead of a small feeling of joy.

To explain this, let’s take the whole process of an encounter with a charity volunteer step by step, starting from phase one – the approach. So you’re strolling down the street, minding your own business, when out of the corner of your eye you see them; heading towards them with a clipboard in their hand and a smile on their face, occasionally shouting a cheery hello, and their true intent already shamelessly obvious. Cue the first moment of awkwardness, as you choose your course of action… Do you just ignore or rebut them straight away, for instance? It’s reasonable to do so (and cuts the problem off at the pass in the process), but as you walk away you are left with a lingering sense that you’re a massive altruistic jerk, and that can prove hard to shake off. There’s only way to avoid that – talk to them, and fall right into the trap they have designed. But doing that doesn’t let you get away feeling good, oh no – it only leads you on to step two…

Charity worker

Well, now you’re trapped. (Source; Telegraph.co.uk)

So, step two is the pitch. Now that you’ve opened the door to them, the charity worker will go into hyperdrive to explain their dastardly plan to you. It’ll be filled with poor jokes, simple questions that try and stop the whole thing being a dull monologue (Why, yes, shockingly I have heard of cancer research), and the slow build up to the inevitable point where they either ask for your details, or skip any sort of nuance and go for your cash. Now, most of these people are just genuinely friendly, and I respect that! It’s pretty awesome that they can be that open, after all. Yet in reality, all you can think about as they drone on is what on earth they will actually be asking you for when they finish, along with making a mental note to yourself to not be a fool and just keep on walking next time. In short, it’s like having a polite conversation with a casual acquaintance you don’t really like – filled with facade and folly, and all while your brain craves the sweet release of freedom.

Make it through all that without crying and you’re on to the sting in the tail, that moment where they actually ask you to do something that normally results in you becoming ever so slightly poorer. And this is the really nasty bit, because you’re in a complete no-win situation. The obvious losing scenario is saying no to their request, while quickly coming up with an excuse why – you can’t spare the money, you’re simply not interested, whatever. As they thank you for your time (And hopefully do not inwardly curse you for wasting theirs), you walk away all down and horrible with yourself. You could easily have afforded that money. It’s a worthwhile cause, helping save the children. You could have bought them a water well, but nooo, you’re off to buy a bargain bucket at KFC with that money you apparently couldn’t afford to spend a minute ago. Even if you really couldn’t afford to spend it, you’re still left with that slight feeling on sadness that you couldn’t help those who need it most, because even your slightest donation could have changed a life! It’s all a bit nasty, but there would appear to be one obvious solution, right?

That solution is to give them money! Help the cause! Buy a water well and help those kids, and feel happy about your contribution! But even doing this comes with a downside – that lingering sense you could have helped more. I recently donated some money to a foundation that helps disabled kids get into sport, yet the aftermath of this is the perfect example of what I’m getting at here. Firstly, I was burdened with the fact I could have donated more money than I actually had – quite easily, as a matter of fact. So why hadn’t I? Did I really not care enough to truly help out, and instead come across as a scrooge who only gives the minimal amount to ease my conscience? Secondly, I thought of the many other charities I could have donated to – what about cancer research, for instance? Surely helping get rid of one of the world’s greatest killers would have been a more worthwhile cause? But then that train of thought makes it sound like what you’ve actually contributed to isn’t worthy… Either way, it leaves you feeling a bit conflicted even though you’ve actually helped, and that pretty much sucks.

Of course, the whole process is designed this way in the first place – the friendly demeanour, the casual approach, the reminders that it’s so easy to help… Sending you on a guilt trip is merely part of the process, where those charity workers hope the final result will benefit them in some way. Due to this, part of the blame should fall on them, because it’s not nice to play on people’s emotions like that. But while saying that accusation out loud is probably destined to get some nods of agreement, there are always some others who will chastise you for simply being a charity hater – cue more time feeling slightly rubbish with yourself. There’s literally no escape.

So thanks but no thanks, you charity volunteers. Thanks for playing on our social awkwardness and desire to help in order to get our money. Yet, because it’s for charity, I suppose you can keep on chugging…

The many poor actions of the multiplayer gamer

When you stop and take a moment to think about online multiplayer gaming, you’ll realise there’s always been one universal response that comes from it – and it’s not the cheers of joy from your team’s hard-earned victory, nor is it the action of throwing your joypad across the room upon defeat. It’s blame – the ability to shift your mistakes on to an external factor that you had no control over. Whether it be the game itself being poorly designed, a sudden bout of lag coming in from nowhere, or the abysmal performance of your buddies, there’s always something out there to stop you being the biggest failure in gaming ever. You may not admit to it (I resignedly will, knowing how much of a sore loser I can be), but I consider us all to have done it at least once in our lifetimes.

Yet my experiences with Battlefield 4, although intermingled with these blame games and the occasional mumbled obscenity, have recently taught me something quite humbling – that being the fact on the vast majority of occasions, it’s purely me who is being the fool. Furthermore, the reasons for me being this fool are once again reasons I think everyone can relate to, even if you have to look deep inside of your own soul to admit it. What exactly are these reasons? Well…

Poor aiming

If there’s anything I consider myself proficient at when it comes to playing Battlefield 4, it’s my ability to be able to shoot a perfect outline of bullets around a bad guy without actually hitting the bad guy themselves. It’s strangely hypnotic to watch – I’ll spot an enemy, take aim at somewhere over his left shoulder, and then sire away while desperately trying to salvage the situation. Not that you have much time to watch, mind you, considering the bad guy in question has probably shot me dead by the time by bullets get anywhere close to where they should be going. It’s even worse if you stick a mouse instead of a controller in my hand – any sign of combat, and I’m more likely than not to start shooting into the nearest wall texture or skybox within an instant out of sheer panic.

Most people will not reach these levels of accuracy incompetence, of course, but even a few errant shots poorly judged can often be overlooked in the heat of battle, where everything seems to happen so suddenly. But with only those fleeting moments to notice the errant nature of your shots before you collapse in a dead heap, most will end up not seeing the error that ended their life – or, more likely, choose not to see it. I mean, the hitboxes in this game are messed up anyway, right? Those shots were OBVIOUSLY on target…

BF4 aiming

Clearly the best shot ever. (Source; RespawnLess.com)

Poor decisions

Maybe it’s a thirst for bloodlust that powers me forward when all the signs say to go back, but I often find myself thinking that the place to be in Battlefield 4 is the small room filled with bullets and death that none of my team is going in. And, in news that literally no-one will find surprising, this often gets me killed. I could quietly try to justify my actions by stating I’m only trying to be a brave soldier, who is really desperate to take the objective or save a squad member’s life, but most would agree that this approach could be redefined as “blindly charging past ten enemy soldiers”, and is not the best means to achieve anything constructive.

We’ve all been there, of course – blowing our perfect cover to try for a cheap kill, for instance, or instantly regretting the decision to try and drive through the enemy base at the precise moment you crash into the first wall you come across. The logical thing to do would be to learn from the error, take it on board and become a better player in the long term as a result… But we all know that is not going to happen. Why wasn’t your team supporting you? Why are you not allowed to pass through solid brick walls like some sort of vehicular ghost? This game sucks. We all hate it.

Poor awareness

Perhaps I’m just past my prime, where the days of being able to see a guy seventeen miles away and kill him in an instant are long gone, but I often find myself perplexed as to how a harmless shrub can spring to life and kill me in a glorious shower of bullets… Only for the killcam to show me the blatantly obvious guy who has been standing there for roughly past ten minutes. Likewise, it’s either that my hearing is getting rapidly worse, or I simply don’t recognise why the hail of gunfire provided by the team members behind me has stopped until I receive a knife in the back of the spine. I simply cannot keep up with everything that is going on, instead choosing to shoot wildly at any object that moves half an inch, even if it proves to be a mere piece of paper blowing in the wind.

In reality, with all the carnage and explosions that happen in multiplayer games nowadays, it’s pretty much impossible to notice everything that’s going on. Even if you have the sensory awareness of a hawk, it would be pretty much a universal agreement by everyone that you’d be lying if you said you’ve never been flanked by the enemy in your life. But it’s the map design really, isn’t it? And man, why aren’t there clear and distinctive silhouettes for the bad guys, which are highly visible even when they hide in dense vegetation? Man, the game designers really need to get their act together.

BF hiding

Deadliest shrubbery ever. (Source: computerlover.com)

Poor luck

As in life, I sometimes find myself making fairly sensible decisions in Battlefield 4, only for the forces of chance and fate to come along and upset the apple cart. Either the enemy grenades will bounce off the tiniest piece of scenery in order to land at my feet, or I’ll merely drop dead for no real reason at all. It’s not necessarily my fault, but at the same time nor is it anyone else’s – it’s just not going to be my day. But hey, luck always turns eventually – it’s just a matter of biding my time, and then gleefully ignoring its existance when it appears, instead acting like everything that happens is a result of my pure skill.

But favour should always goes your way, right? Stupid game is just blowing you up to balance the playing field, as your legendary gaming talent is unfair to the rest of the players. Oh, and that second rapid death from that guy hiding cleverly in the rubble was clearly because he glitched to get in there. And the third death only happened because the game balance is screwed up and your gun alone is not shooting everything dead in a nanosecond. I mean, DAMN IT. The whole thing’s just a PIECE OF TRASH, and it’s NOT EVEN YOUR FAULT.

…Right?