Achievement Chore: She Plays For Gamerscore, Whether It's Fun Or Not

It's 9 p.m. and I've lost my fifth straight game of Madden NFL Arcade to the same person, each time by 30-0. My opponent has a gamerscore of more than 165,000. But it's not because she's good at football.

"I hate sports games," Kristen says with a weary laugh, reminding me for about the fifth time this Thursday night "I had to ask someone what a sack was. They said it's when you tackle the quarterback. I said, 'Which one is the quarterback?'"

Only in name are Kristen and I playing Madden NFL Arcade. Instead we are "boosting," - throwing games to each other, more or less, to rack up multiplayer achievements. I've already gotten 50 points the easy way. Now it's her turn.

It is a substantial part of how Kristen, whose last name I'm withholding out of concern for her privacy, has become, according to one leading compilation, the No. 4 ranking woman, worldwide, in Gamerscore. Her tag is CRU x360a - go ahead, look it up. Kristen - CRU or Crubie to some online - is a 24-year-old stay-at-home mum in northwest Indiana. You call her extremely motivated. You can call her obsessed. You can also call her an achievement whore, like she hasn't heard that from every piss-ant with a 5,000 gamerscore in the underground zone.

Bottom line, she's is really effective at piling up her gamerscore. But she's not sure when, or if, she will stop.

A Race to the Top

"It was a friendly race at the time," Kristen says of the beginning, three years ago, when she got serious about her Gamerscore. "It was to 20,000. My buddy was at 15,000 and I was at 13, I was 2,000 behind him. I said, 'OK, this might take years.'

Kristen had bought an Xbox 360 in early 2007 and, like most, it wasn't because it offered achievements. She was a multiplayer gamer on a few titles she enjoyed - shooters mostly. Then she joined a Gamerscore league. And then she got into this side bet.

"Once I found sites that had guides on which were the easy games, I beat (20,000) in like a month and a half," she says. "It got me hooked and it was like a drug. A bad drug. A bad habit."

Soon enough Kristen managed to fall in with some elite players in the achievement grinding world. One, named Smrnov, who is the global No. 10 on MyGamerCard, praises Kristen's team-spirited achievement hunting. "CRU was unselfish in the help she offered our team, and has always been reliable for getting the game time in, which is a very hard trait to find for spanning so many different games, versus a single one," he says.

Stallion83, the global No. 2, played with Kristen in those early days, and was most recently her boosting partner on Damnation - a terribly received game. ("We managed to have fun talking about The Leprechaun movies," he says. "Party chat has made some of these games less painful.")

"She was just a nice person," Stallion83 recalls,"like one of the dudes. Most girls cause drama and try to get attention. I didn't see that with CRU." Both he and Smrnov heap praise on Kristen's FPS skill. "A great FPS player," says Smrnov. "In addition, she's very good about figuring out the best strategy for completing a game quickly and doing all associated research. She has both gaming skills and gamerscore skills."

But that doesn't keep Kristen from going after the kids' stuff, too. Last week, Spongebob: Truth or Square put her over 165,000. It's a cute detail but it barely scratches the surface of Kristen's performance over the past three years. Nor does the four-game Gamefly subscription, in constant rotation. That's to be expected. And the shelf full of games, many of them years old and still waiting to be played, well, what would you consider impressive? A hundred and sixty?

She bought Jumper: Griffin's Story - one of the worst reviewed games ever in Xbox 360 history. The day Modern Warfare 2 was released, she spent all her time on Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. American Idol? She put the microphone in front of a speaker and played songs into it to ace the performances that much faster. It didn't work for Sing It: High School Musical or Hannah Montana, so, she had to belt those out herself.

"They're easy enough songs; It's not bad, there's no one looking at me while I'm playing it," Kristen says, "but my friends (on Xbox Live) see it, and all the guys can't believe I'm playing that game."

Remember that deal a few months back, when a someone tried to round up a 1,000 players to log in to NBA Live 07 and get the 100 gamerscore achievement for 1,000 players being online at the same time? Kristen was a part of that, with two versions of the game, one she had to go out and find for $US3 at a game store, and the other playing on her Japanese 360.

Yes, she has an NTSC: J console. Kristen got that to play BioShock's Korean version, which has a separate achievement list. She's gotten 1,000 gamerscore in 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. She's gotten 1,000 gamerscore in 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand in Japanese. "I haven't even opened the Saint's Row 2 Japanese version, or the Saint's Row 1 for that matter," Kristen says. She's eyeballing a PAL console, but even an Arcade will be close to $US300 with shipping and, "Do I really need to play BioShock again?"

Some of the region-locked Japanese games she plays are bought by pooling money with Stallion83, Smrnov and others in the ultra-gamerscore crowd, and the group then trades the discs around by mail. One game, Clannad, was picked for its low-hanging fruit. It's a "visual novel," sometimes called a dating sim, but as the choices are all text-based the gameplay should be pretty easy, right?

"It's a text game, and you have to choose A or B, you only have these text options," Kristen said. "But I'm sitting there on Google Translate trying to translate these strategy guides and match up (Japanese) characters to make my choices. And I'm thinking 'Why the hell did I buy a Japanese Xbox and this game, this is just retarded.' It's so embarrassing trying to match characters to a language I don't even know. I've spent $US400 on a game I can't even read."

It makes me wonder. These are called games. And technically, she's playing them. But is this even fun? Is this ever fun?

"I definitely play more games I don't enjoy than games I do," she says. "Like, maybe 65 percent of the games I play I don't enjoy."

Kristen's husband doesn't even know why she sticks with it, if something like CSI: Hard Evidence is so unfulfilling for her to play.

"Sometimes I'll be playing, and he'll ask, 'Did I have to buy that or did someone else buy it?'" Kristen says. "And I'm like, 'Do you want the truth or do you want me to lie to you?' And he walks away, saying 'I can't believe you're playing that.' To me that's more embarrassing than playing Disney: Sing It."

A Mother's Work

Kristen is careful to remind me that she does have a life outside of gaming. "I'm an avid paintball player; I have my own gun, although that's also another expensive hobby," she says. "But yeah, I'd much rather go out to a bar, go bowling, play darts or pool than sit at home and boost games all night. I'm still young."

She's also the mother of a six-year-old girl. You can do the math there, it means Kristen became a mum at age 18. Before then, she was a rather typical kid, if a little tomboyish, and absolutely delighted by video games. Kristen says she's played them since she was five. When she lived with her parents, new games and new consoles were common, especially around the holidays. When she had her daughter and moved out of the home, her original Xbox and her beloved NES - which she still has even though it won't work - stayed behind. The Xbox 360 she bought a little more than three years ago marked her re-entry to games since having her daughter.

Sometimes mother and daughter play - Spongebob was one such example. But Kristen had to load up one of the five other gamertags she keeps on the console for family and friends to play. Boosting games might sound out of bounds to some gamers, but it's entirely within the ultra-gamerscore ethos. What isn't, however, is having anyone get an achievement for you. Even your six-year-old girl.

"She climbed up and said, 'Let me play,' so I said, 'Just a second,' and put her up with another (gamertag) and let her play," Kristen says. "Sometimes she'll say 'Look, mum, I got an achievement too!' She gets excited."

This isn't something Kristen wants to encourage. "I don't want her to get addicted like I am though," Kristen says. "She doesn't really see me play too much, actually."

Her husband, Jeff, doesn't game much at all himself. He owns a towing business that provides a comfortable lifestyle and accommodates both his interests and Kristen's gaming. He's rather mellow about all the time she spends with games, if not the money, and keeps both in perspective. Some guys have wives who spend a ton of money on clothes, or dislike spending as much time around the house as she does.

"I have some hobbies myself that are fairly pricey and I can't really blame her for that," Jeff says. "However, occasionally a string of new games will come out within a two day span and magically a few hundred dollars will be missing from the bank account. With as much time as she has allotted for video games and the kid I can account for her whereabouts at any given moment so I'm certain that she isn't cheating on me."

Even pressed for a ballpark estimate, Kristen doesn't know how much her obsession with Gamerscore has cost in the preceding three years. "My pro system is $US250, my Japanese console cost $US400, the hard drive I put on it was $US50 - I don't want to see the number, and I'm sure Jeff doesn't want to see it," she says. "But I think it would be cool to know."

There's another number about which she seems even less enthusiastic, though. And that's the next big milestone for her gamerscore.

Calling It a Career

Two hundred thousand. According to MyGamerCard, only one other woman has a total that high (with a second very close to reaching it.) And yet when Kristen brings it up, it's with a tone of voice that ponders what she will do then. It's almost like she doesn't want to get there, for what it will force her to consider.

The simplest answer is by far easier said than done: Just quit. "I keep saying when I get 200,000 gamerscore, I'm going to retire," Kristen says. "There are people who do that. I say it now, but I don't think you can ever actually quit. It's like a drug. It is addicting."

And she uses that word often enough that I figure I should bring up the subject. Carefully. I would never say video game addiction isn't real, knowing that real people do indeed battle it. I also believe it's a topic given to alarmism. And I'm not a psychiatrist, so it's not my place to go diagnosing other people's behaviour. But I ask Kristen anyway. Maybe, has she ever considered talking to someone about her gaming?

"I wouldn't say I need to talk to someone," Kristen says after considering the question for a long moment. "I'm not hurting someone by doing this. My family life is not being hurt. Granted, it's like an addiction, but I'm not hurting anyone. Well, I'm getting little sleep sometimes, but that's on me.

"Besides, I saw where someone had gone to be treated at a rehab centre for video games, and it was something like $US30,000 a year, and I thought, 'Do you know how many Xboxes and games I could buy with this?'" she says, without a trace of irony. "I don't think so."

When Kristen is most at ease with her gamerscore is when it describes how she's good at something. How she's figured out a way to beat the system; or how she's actually put in the time to get the "General" achievement in Call of Duty 3 - getting 40,000 points in ranked matches - to collect a rare 100+ gamerscore achievement.

"It's very much a personal pride thing, being ranked in the top five in the world in something, whether it's gaming or the fact I'm a female gamer," Kristen says. "I'm never going to be in the Olympics, so I'll be a great gamer. It's something I know I'm good at."

But I hope when she breaks 200,000 she can put the controller down. She spent the first three years of her adulthood being a mum. I suggest to Kristen that, maybe, she's spent the last three in front of a console, trying to get some of that lost time back.

Kristen ponders this, and seems to agree. "Maybe," she says.

Maybe then she can call it even.


Comments

    Great article. Thanks!

    Yeah, people who do this aren't gamers... that's just insane. I've had my 360 since launch in 2006, and my score is a little under 17,000, that's from just playing the games I want to play. I say again, if you're gaming just for the points, you're not a gamer.

      i reckon you're right mate
      i mean, can you get into some of the great story lines if you are just looking for the quickest way to whore the achievements? doubt it.
      i wonder if she makes her family dinner...
      i doubt it is as rosy as this article depicts it.

        I think it's pretty judgemental to say all this. She's certainly a gamer still - maybe not like you, but casual gamers aren't quite like you either. If it makes you feel better, imagine that she's playing one big MMO called Meta-gaming, where she constantly buys $100 upgrade packs. Are the top-end WoW guys "not gamers"? Don't get me wrong, I don't really care about trophies/achievements, but we've all seen similar obsessive points/stats chasing in COD's prestiges and loads of other games. She's just chasing different points.

        It's also a bit rough to cast aspersions onher motherhood because she plays games a bit differently to you.

          I guess "not a gamer" sounds a bit harsh, but it's like... I could not imagine playing a game I don't like just for the points. The WoW guys put the effort in because they love it... same as people do prestige because they want to continue leveling. This chick is just in it for the number on her tag... which seems to me like a monumental waste of time, especially if you're not even enjoying the games you're playing. "Gamers" do it for the passion... she sounds like she's doing it for the bragging rights... that's what I'm getting at. She needs to get her priorities right.

      I disagree. Video games are generally objective-based: complete this level, get to this next checkpoint, find this item, etc. But achievements are also objective-based: complete so many online matches, find all the pick-ups, etc. A lot of achievements just award you for what completionists would've done anyway back before achievements existed.

      I'd say that a fairly good chunk of people get a thrill when a game goes 'Good job, you've achieved something cool! Here's some gamer points for your trouble.' Hell, I'm one of them (of course, if a game gives me an achievement for just playing the game or pressing the jump button for the first time, then that's another story). And while I'm certainly not someone who plays a game just for the gamer score, I can definitely see it as a legitimate way to play them. After all, achievement hunting is just as objective-based as playing the game for fun.

      Oh, it's still a game, but it's a different sort of game. Lets call it a meta-game. It's looking for an accomplishment outside of the electronic world of the game itself--she's in a larger competition with the rest of her community.

      And, I'll bet she's got a score of achievements that you haven't been able to earn, whether because you haven't dedicated the time or you haven't the skill. I know for a fact htat I'd never be able to earn a number of achievements in quite a few of my games and I'll bet she has them.

      Careful who you go accusing of "not being a gamer." What right do you have to decide someone isn't "a real gamer"? It's almost discriminatory.

    Fascinating article. Clearly, she is quite loopy to be playing soemthing like Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs: The Game because she wants the points.

    I recently went back to Assassin's Creed 2 after finishing it to grab some leftover achievements (5 bodies in a hay bale, steal 1000 florins etc.) and I could probably get the full 1000 points if I had a bit more time but I can't commit myself to bother with something like that. I'm satisfied enough with my efforts.

    That said, part of me still thinks 'Dude, sweet!" whenever I hear the achievement unlocked sound.

    This just seems completely stupid. I have not once tried harder than I should for an achievement and am happy with my score of 21,494. If it's no fun, why play it? It's not like you're making money from it (and even then, if you don't find your job enjoyable, why do it?).

    My friends just use Gamerscore as some casual ribbing when we have a game. I believe that's the whole point of the thing.

    I like the idea of achievements coming up on screen such as "10 headshots achieved" - I'd get a kick out of that, but to associate a numeric value with it which doesn't actually mean anything is playing on a modern person's ever materialistic need for more.

    Gamerscores are arbitrary. Achievements do have merit.

    Wonder how much difference there'd be if gamerscore was replaced with a different metric, say "games played: completion percentage". Suppose any numerical system is going to be subject to the same fundamental issue of people thinking a higher number is automatically better

    Lol I read the whole article before looking at the link to her gamertag. Then I laughed when I saw her completion rate is 56.59%

    Having a large gamerscore in my opinion is pointless if you aren't going to complete most of them. I actually think of people who boost gamerscore without completing their games as rather sad and cocky. Kind of like "LOOK AT MY BIG NUMBER" even though its only that big from completing 50/200+games. My friend that I play with almost every day and boost with on every single game has about 120 000 GS, and his completion rate is around 90%, for us its about the completion and achievement something rather than just getting score.

    I thought Stalion83 was the number one guy in the world with the highest. Isn't he the one chasing 1 milion gamerscore? I've been to his site before, he must be no.1

    "I’m never going to be in the Olympics, so I’ll be a great gamer. It’s something I know I’m good at.”

    Sorry, but reading guides and working with other people simply to get the achievements does not make you a great gamer. It just makes you one of the top obsessive points gatherers. Makes you wonder how good a mum she has been to her child though. From what I read it doesn't sound like her daughter was top priority for the past few years when you add in her other hobbies of paintball and going to bars.

      Exactly.
      I wonder if she even finds time to put out for her poor hubby who is out earning the bucks.
      Reading and applying guides and strategies for getting a high gamerscore IS NOT gaming and i doubt she enjoys the games for what they were meant to be.
      poor developers seeing their work reduced to this crap. No one makes a game for the achievements, its something that they build into the story. And while it is a nice feeling to get achievements nothing is more braindead than getting a guide from gamefaqs or where ever and (for example) looking for all the damm flags or feathers scattered around AC 1 and 2. what a waste of time. play with your children, go out with your partner. GET A LIFE!

    As long as she's being entertained, whatever floats your boat. I don't like to get mad at other people for their personal choices.

    Boosting takes away the whole point of achievements in my opinion. Especially when it comes to the rare, hard to get ones. You know the ones I mean, the achievements that take some amazing bit of luck or skill to get. (if you do it legit) When you see someone with that achievement, you wonder if they got it legit, or if they boosted it.

    From a personal standpoint, there's no sense of accomplishment if I were to get a friend and then trade off shooting each other in the face for 2 hours just to get an achievement.

    But whatever floats your boat.

    Very interesting article. In reality, though, she's doing little more than whoring points endlessly. Doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me. But hey, each to their own and all that.

    So because she is a girl it makes this cool? This is ridiculous - she clearly has no real desire to play games, just to add to a score

    Sometimes the fun is after you have all the trophies or achievements is just to stay in the multiplayer online mode - who cares knowing you wont get any more achievement points, you do it for the fun.

    I'm sure if this article was about a unemployed 24 year old dude, it would have been written in a completely different tone

    I've got nearly 60,000gs. Its not that impressive a number in the x360a community but it averages out to about 75% completion and I don't boost for online achievements (so games like Timeshift and Stranglehold are stuck at 50% complete). I'll admit that I go for achievements when I play solo, and play through several times if I have to, but I'm not doing it to raise my total gamerscore. Playing a bad game for an easy 1000gs is just wasting my time.
    Getting 1000/1000 or cracking a milestone number is cool, but for me unlocking the achievements themselves is the point. Its like the developer is saying 'I bet you can't do this'. The Zombie Genocide achievement in Dead Rising is a good example. Some people see it as mindless grinding for 20gs, but I saw it as a challenge.
    It reminds me of the old 'beat that' challenges we would throw around with Atari games. 'I got 1,000,000 points' or 'I got to level 20 in under five minutes'.
    There are also achievements you can take some pride in. I've got the "Mile High Club" achievement in CoD4 and "Star 69" in MW2. I'm really looking forward to getting 1000/1000 legit in Street Fighter IV. Its not just time consuming its also extremely hard. Right now I'm proud that I've got 570/1000 in SFIV, most of my friends haven't even cracked 200/1000.

    I'll admit I do get a little OCD with it. I was at 55,530gs and spent an afternoon trying to find the right achievements to score me 25gs to knock me up to 55,555gs without going over.
    Also, I've outright refused to play Avatar. It actually looked interesting but I know that I'll unlock all the achievements and I just don't want that on my profile (although it would be funny to get half the achievements, then I'd be the only person on the planet who has Avatar on his played games list but not 1000/1000).

    I used to be an achievement whore, I helped mates boost and infact most of the guys I game with I met whilst chasing Gears achievements. But somewhere between driving a car in circles for two hours in Grid and standing in the middle of a Darkness map to get shot in the head 500 times I had an epiphany.

    I was feckin bored.

    Now I still like getting achivements, but I don't go out of my way to get them. Unless it's something I really want to do in game I can live without it (case in point Assaissin's Creed 2, one achievement left and it'll stay that way) It's incredibly pointless and I wonder why I spent 2 years doing that... I'd get home from Uni and then put in 8 hours of achievement whoring, sleep and repeat for a number that nets me sweet f-all.

    Heh, unless achievements give rewards that actually do anything (pre-randomitemsTF2) I wouldn't give a crap. I barely find myself finishing games these days and go back to Valve.

    The only time I'll go for achievements is when it's directly within my reach and/or fun to do (eg. Stache Whacker on L4D2).

    WOW. Poor girl... she's totally addicted... she says she doesn't enjoy playing them. So - she's playing for the number - THE NUMBER DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING ABOUT HER SHE JUST THINKS IT DOES. it's a false sense of achievement... she's just lying to herself. Fuck each to their own - you guys are just ignoring the problem too. She needs to learn to enjoy life so she can be there for herself and others. Right now she's just an addict. I'm not saying she's a bad person, she's just in a bad place. She'll learn. Hopefully.

    Fuck, this is so depressing to read.

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