I used to love gaming. Like, it was my thing. Got the NES when I was in 2nd grade. Had my Gameboy Classic loaded with Kirby with me all of the time. SNES. PSone. Worked all summer and bought my own PS2 at launch. Bought me an Xbox for my 21st birthday while I was in Iraq. Got the 360 when I played Oblivion at a friend’s.
So what went wrong for me? It was a slow process, but the villain was achievements. I didn’t care about abandoning a bad game before. But something about achievements had me hooked. I stopped playing games for fun. I played to get 100% in them. I didn’t play games that I couldn’t get to 100%. I played games that I wasn’t enjoying for much longer than I should have, and gave up on games I was loving just because I got all of the achievements.
I remember the first game I cheated at. Lost Oddessy. I did my research, followed a guide so I didn’t miss anything. When the achievement for collecting all items was supposed to pop, nothing. I retraced my steps. Spent hours trying to find what I missed. Then, I stumbled upon a site where you could download save files. I found a 100% complete save file for Lost Oddessy. Loaded it up and *pop* I got it. I spent hundred of hours on that game, I put in my time, I deserved that sense of accomplishment of getting 100%. I cheated for one achievement. But that was all it took. I kept cheating whenever I was playing a game that I wanted to be done with. Then, I figured out how to just unlock achievements without even playing the game. I was smart about it. One or two a day, in the correct order, cheating became the part of the game that I was enjoying.
I didn’t get caught, at least not by Microsoft. It was an achievement tracking website that I was using. And it was on Lost Oddessy. See, there were some DLC achievements that popped that I wasn’t paying attention to because I didn’t own the DLC. But I bought it after the fact. The same day, but still. I was kicked off of the website because it was suspicious that I unlocked an entire DLC’s worth of achievements in one day.
I panicked. I unfriended everyone. Locked down my account so nobody could see anything that I did. Wrapped up all projects I had going on and packed it in. Unlocking achievements was my drug. I wasn’t happy in life. I wasn’t getting anything done in life, and I needed those achievements to get that high you get when you check something off of your “To-Do” list. Without my trophies, I finally had to address my own shortcomings in life.
I’m going to fast forward a bit. The next generation of consoles came out. I ended up going PS4 because it was a fresh start. But Sony has trophies. They have a percentage bar. The platinum trophy. It was a lot to resist. I did alright at first. But that compulsive desire to get that bar to 100% came back.
I couldn’t play anymore. I was still pre ordering games, but I wasn’t playing them because I knew that I wouldn’t complete them. I didn’t want to try something new out of fear of being unable to finish it.
Here we are. I’m 33 years old and my one release in life has been stripped away from me because of this game mechanic I would love to be able to disable. If I could just play a game with no way to track arbitrary goals, I would love it. I thought that I was broken. Obsessive. Compulsive. But it’s called The Zeigarnik Effect. The inability of the subconscious to forget unfinished or interrupted tasks. That itching in my brain that I would get when I wasn’t at 100% had a name.
Now, I would love if Sony and Microsoft and Steam would give people like me a way to just disable these trophies and achievements and just play the game, but if they do that, they will anger those gamers who need to know how many people have a trophy, it throws off their statistics.
I sold my PS4 and my Xbox One and I bought a Switch. It’s the only way to game without falling victim to The Zeigarnik Effect. I’m hoping that it works out for me.