I Hate That I'm Addicted To Boring Video Game Challenges

I'm having the same, recurring nightmare of late. It's one of those stupid ones where something that's normally inane and innocuous becomes unreasonably horrible. Here's what happens: I'm in Pandora, out on a mission -- to kill someone, probably -- when I notice something. Maybe it's a a box or a locker. And the second that I notice that, everything else fades away: there is only the lootable object.

Here's the problem: Borderlands 2 has a ridiculous number of lootable things. Like, they're just everywhere. And even if I loot them, next time I boot the game up, there they are again. Full. Waiting to be opened. So I do it again, and again, and again. It never ends.

Picture this: a frenzy with badasses flanking me left and right, friends down and needing reviving, and what is my dumb butt doing? Getting shot in the face while elbow deep in shit: bullymong scat is also lootable.

It didn't used to be like that. But then I took a look at Borderland's challenges, which award you badass tokens that you can redeem for stat upgrades. One of those challenges is called "Open Pandora's Boxes," and it involves opening any and all lootable objects.

It's so simple, and I can get perks for doing it -- so of course I indulge. Under normal circumstances, Borderland's challenges, like those in many games, are okay: they encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and try new things, or they reward you for something you already do. I can get behind the well-crafted challenges.

"Hurly Burly", for instance, requires me to shoot bullymong projectiles out of midair -- it's not something I would seek to do on my own, and it's a difficult thing to do, so I appreciate it's inclusion. Games like Left 4 Dead 2 in particular have countless number of amazing achievements and challenges: CL0WND has you honk the noses of 10 clowns, which you do by meleeing, (silly but amusing!) and Chaos Generator requires you to have all of the generators running at once in "The Sacrifice" (extra challenge, because each generator gives you a wave of zombies!)

But why give me incentive to do something that's not fun or meaningful? It's one thing to open a chest with guns in it -- who doesn't get a little wide-eyed and single-minded when they see a chest? Chests are great. I want to open chests. There might be awesome guns in there.

But why give me incentive to do something that's not fun or meaningful

The only reason I open the toilets scattered around the game is because I need ammo: a necessity, but not something I enjoy doing necessarily. But the second you introduce an achievement or a challenge, everything changes -- regardless of how enjoyable it actually is to do. I'll do it anyway -- and I think game designers sometimes abuse this compulsion.

For example, there are countless games with achievements like "kill x number of enemies with y gun." The issue is that the reason I don't use the gun in the first place is because it was awful or because there's a better gun. But instead of giving me a gun that's fun to use, I get a challenge to use the gun instead. So I'll use it, but I'm not going to be happy about it.

Stop that, game designers. It's a shortcut. You get me to do what you want, but it's not because you designed something worthwhile. You know you've got something on your hands when the player gravitates to do something, to experiment, without being explicitly told to do so. Not that I'm saying that's easy to design or anything -- if it was, I'm guessing that more games would achieve it!

It's not all mechanical stumbles -- sometimes, the problems rewards pose are more ideological. Bulletstorm has a special system called "skillshots", which give you extra points depending on how creatively you kill your enemies. The points flash up on the screen, and the whole idea is to try to one-up yourself with more elaborate kills as you go along. It turns out that the love of points above all else can be betraying. Brendan Keogh puts the experience of playing Bulletstorm best when he says:

It's all good fun. It's all satisfying and violent and everything you want from a shooter. But then my partner walks into the room while I am playing and sees what I am doing. Or I write it out in an essay like I just did, and it feels kind of... wrong. Whereas most shooters attempt to justify the endless violence with some kind of framing narrative or an irredeemably evil enemy, Bulletstorm is more honest. It is a murder simulator, and it doesn't try to be anything else.

Similarly, I get uncomfortable thinking not so much about what the game has me do, but the way in which it has me do it: points. Points change things, give me incentive, yes -- but more alarmingly, in this case, points help dehumanise what's happening on the screen all the more. In Brendan's case, being rewarded for killing creatively turns out to be revealing inasmuch as it is betraying: it forces him to wonder if he enjoys the murder and the mayhem after all.

Bulletstorm doesn't tell me that I should feel bad for what I do in violent video games. On the contrary, it tells me without a flicker of irony or doubt that this is and should be enjoyable. Actually, that isn't quite accurate. Bulletstorm doesn't tell me anything; it forces me to admit that I enjoy this. It's a strange, non-judging passive-aggression. Oh, you like murdering people in gory ways just for more meaningless points? That's nice. Here is a guy you could decapitate for twenty-five points. You don't have to, but I think we both know you want to.

The game acknowledges that we like what it has us do, isn't it? Maybe points have nothing to do with it. Or maybe points just end the charade and make it all blatant. Where does the sadism begin, organically with the player, or via the encouragement that the reward brings? Are we just kidding ourselves by trying to draw a distinction?

Reward with caution, game designers: challenges, achievements and the like change everything, but not always for the better.


Comments

    I agree with quite a lot of that actually. Its why i like achievements/trophies that reward you for things like Easter eggs or doing fun things in the game, like that one for the 600 mile or so drift up in-spiral car park in Burnout. For me its purely intensive to replay a game again after beating it, mind you, i don't bother with boring ones.

    I agree with pretty much everything written here, I just don't think they were the best examples. While I agree that the over-the-top nature of the violence in Bulletstorm is kind of unrelenting and not framed in a justifiable context, the whole game is just so tongue in cheek and insane that that you don't give the violence any more respect than you would a D grade action movie from the 80s.

    As for Borderlands 2, I disagree with the weapon use badass points as being shortcuts. Yes, if you are a completionist, they can be annoying - I know they are for me - but they are in place to reward weapon use. If you are a sniper fan, the sniper points are easy to unlock. Same for other weapons.

    I agree with "why give me incentive to do something that’s not fun" ? Like in Dishonored, there is an achievement for not getting upgrades/skills. Why bother programming in all these cool upgrades if the designers don't want you to use them? It's stupid.

      Some people find it fun to challenge themselves.

        They had the factory zero achievement in Deus Ex HR: The Missing Link which meant no upgrades OR weapons, yet that was awesome fun.

        Exactly. There is also an achievement for not killing anybody...and yet there are all these cool ways to kill people. It's to encourage more than one play through, more than one way to approach the game world. The devs should be lauded for putting variety in the achievement list. The only people who would think it's not a good thing are achievement whores who want to 100% a title in one go. Cry me a river.

    For some reason I new this article was written by a chick from reading the title

      Me too. Unfortunately I lack Batman's deductive skills, but I like to think he'd be proud of me for concluding "By Patricia Hernandez" meant the article was probably written by a female.

      Even moreso when I also suspected that there'd be a comment relating to her gender. I was happily proven wrong, spying thoughtful and well reasoned posts until I read yours.

      Girls are games journalists, and adults play video games. I wish those who say otherwise would get with times.

    The thing about boring video game challenges... is that they're optional.

    Just wanted to say that in regards to borderlands 2. Those in game challenges are infinite. They never end just get higher and higher. Now the steam achievements are something different.

    I admit it I'm addicted to garnering achievements in games and would play a game simply to amass the points. But at some point in the last year I realised I'd stopped having fun playing games and was just going through the motions of pushing through a game to get get everything and then moving onto the next one. No matter what I played though there they were waiting to be grabbed, earned but mostly grinded.

    Until the Steam sale introduced me to Terraria. 30+ hours of gaming with no achievements but those derived from the fun of building a castle in the sky and mining the depths in beautiful side scrolling 2D. Played a bunch of games since then but now it's all about experiencing it in all it's glory then moving on or staying hooked just because it's fun.

    The point to achievements to me is not to earn them or to strive to unlock them.. but to see how my gaming stacks up in comparison to the rest of the world. I just finished XCOM for the first time on the weekend and one of the first things I did is look at the Steam achievements to see what "rare" achievements I got that not many others got as well as things that were decision based that other people also made the same decision.

    It's like the stats at the end of each "The Walking Dead" episode.. I like to compare my choices with other peoples'.. but I'm not going to go back and do things differently for the sole reason of getting new achievements.. or not doing something so I get the achievements. I'll just replay the game and do things differently for my own pleasure.

Join the discussion!