Sunday, November 1st, 2009...20:19

Achievements & Video Games

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Growing up I played baseball, ran track & field, studied piano, participated in the cub/boy scouts, etc. During that time I accumulated a number of trophies, medals, plaques, ribbons and so on. Of course I didn’t win/advance to the next level all the time or on the first try, and the reasons for receiving them varied wildly in perceived level of achievement from “best” 8 year old pianist in New Jersey (according to the New Jersey Federation of Music Teachers) to toilet bowl champions (in a roller-hockey division of 8 teams, the top 4 played in the “real” playoffs and the bottom 4 played in a consolation play-off i.e. the toilet bowl). Nonetheless, these experiences instilled a desire to perform at a hight level and/or a clear distinction between a “win” and a “loss”. In other words, they turned me into a “goal oriented” person. Rarely if at all do I find myself doing something because I enjoy it or because it makes me happy, etc. Happiness, joy and their synonyms are bereft of meaning in a goal oriented framework, replaced by words such as satisfaction and fulfilment. Many people in our society hold those who have legitimate goals in a higher regard when compared to aimless wanderers. Held in even higher regard are those who set goals and subsequently achieve them.

With that in mind, accomplishing goals, whether they’re cleaning the bathroom or finding a cure for cancer might stand as the most valuable use of one’s time. If so, then doing anything else that doesn’t contribute to achieving those goals can be construed as a waste of time. To a degree, one can reduce the amount of wasted time by re-framing a given task or activity such that it helps to achieve one’s goals, but doing so too often dilutes the spirit of what a goal is in the first place. After the fact, I sometimes mentally reprimand myself for watching TV instead of learning a foreign language (claiming watching TV helps my goal to be more in-tune with popular culture is a bit thin) or surfing the Internet instead of going for a run.

A chicken and egg problem exists as one has to set a goal before attempting to accomplish it. Many times, just setting a goal can be a daunting process. As a child many of the milestones were not only pre-determined, but at a coarse grained level, they were also structured to be achievable and build on one other. As an adult there are still examples of this e.g. completing a tri-athalon, but there are many more opportunities to choose and define one’s goals as well as to sit around and do nothing.

Playing video games is one way to feel [see fool oneself] as if you’re accomplishing something even if it doesn’t map to anything in the real world. Taken too far, one could easily end up as a WoW addict endlessly grinding away at new tasks. I consider myself somewhere between a casual and avid gamer and have found the Xbox360 achievement system adds considerable value to the gaming experience. Reason #1 is that the achievements span a wide range of skill levels, some only requiring completing a walk-through, and other necessitating performing complex maneuvers in a certain order over a non-trivial amount of time.

The other night I found myself lacking motivation to do anything “productive”, but also not ready to tune out and watch TV. I had been casually trying (I play the game once every few months) to get the “mother lode” achievement in Super Puzzle Fighter for over a year and decided to try again. I thought it might be easier in the early rounds, but that turned out not to be the case. Eventually in the 7th round I received an unusually large sequence of yellow gems and was able to build a 25 unit power gem, which I subsequently destroyed, earning the achievement. I also won the 7th round and realized that I had not used any continues yet. That meant if I won the 8th and 9th rounds without losing, I would also garner the “quarter miser” achievement, something else which I had been casually trying to collect.

After that, I called it a day, video game wise. I won’t lie and say I didn’t feel good about myself, even though I know I didn’t accomplish something too meaningful. Then again, in a few months I won’t be playing Super Puzzle Fighter trying to build and destroy a 25 unit or larger power gem…

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