Gamerpoints, wow if that isn’t a phallic exercise in comparing your figurative penis to all your friends, I’m not really sure I know what is. That may sound overly harsh and some could even take offence in this. I may reluctantly retract elements of it as this post progresses, I haven’t decided yet. I may be binarising slightly here, the difference between “look, look, isn’t this cool? I’ve managed to finally complete this boss and the game has rewarded me for it” and “Ha ha, you’ve only got X points, what a looser”. In fact, that is binarising, I’ve never heard either comment, yet I’m not the most sociable of gamers, my opening salvo illustrates that. Before you all rage-quit on my article or prepare an angry rebuttal to my inflammatory opening remarks, I guess I owe an explanation to why I really have beef with gamerpoints (or any similar systems).
Not all bragging rights are all bad, some healthy competition can inject excitement and energy into the most mundane of activities, in fact the opposition which fuels statistic comparisons most probably is the force which drives all gaming experience, to beat something. That something may perhaps be the AI, the clock, another person, and that in itself isn’t the problem. The problem really, is when the game begins to align itself with the collection of gamerpoints, playing on the gamer’s insatiable need to acquire more points than his neighbour, to reach the pinnacle, the hallowed points pie!* Whilst it may seem like a fairly innocent activity, the creation of some extra features, some evidence of all your hard work for your peers to see, it appears that it more often than not, it slips into the same pit-falls over and over again.
If you enjoy gamerpoints and really like their utilisation within the contemporary gaming experience, then I don’t wish to stop you. However, when the gamerpoints and the achievement hunt begins to contaminate the gaming experience, that is where the issue lies. The most obvious manifestation of this takes the form of collectable items and other arbitrary numerical-centric objectives. This is not to say that said objectives within computer games are a bad thing, some games have really made collecting and searching rewarding through in-game perks or by providing unmatched exploration al experience. Crackdown for example, rewards exploration with character enhancing experience and Brutal Legend insensitivises exploration and collecting by providing (for me) one of the most visually interesting game worlds I’ve ever seen.
The most recent title which falls foul to collecting for achievement’s sake is Red Dead Redemption. RDR has received predominantly good feedback from all the major journalists yet got a very mixed reception here on Chronoludic (take a look here), and amongst our many issues with the game, one which Mike noted particularly on podcast episode 1 was the myriad of seemingly pointless collect quests (hunting and gathering) side missions and challenges. Examples of achievements such as “Obtain Legendary rank in any Single Player Ambient Challenge” and “kill 18 grizzly bears” only serve to elongate the single player experience and contribute to your gamerscore (or trophy cabinet), their effects on your avatar are minimal at best. The world created in RDR was beautiful, yet engaging in much of the “extras” within the single player experience doesn’t offer you much more than fetishistic number hunt.
Here though, is where I feel a line has to be drawn, a line between collection for the sake of points and when collection is integral to (or at least part of) the game’s mechanics. Games which advocate the continuous grinding; collecting and farming for progression, are ones which employ these strategies at the very heart of the game. Level chasing and achievement chasing are very similar pursuits with one crucial difference, one is gaming mechanic, the other superfluousness bragging rights. The feelings elicited by these two experiences may be very similar, especially if you are playing with others, or your level is on a leader board, yet, at least if you a playing a game with the pretence to level up and grind, you know where you stand within the game. If, however, you have a prominently narrative driven experience stopping to pick some flowers, collect a Thermos flask or other some such facile attempt to “extend” the game, then you get a classic example of the ludic elements displacing narrative ones. The sum of this is usually ruined pacing or shallow mechanics which feel tacked on and just unnecessary.
What is the significance in this though? Usually in games you are able to ignore these extras, pretend they don’t exist, and continue forward in ignorance of them. Well, you would be able to, yet as stat-fetish still show no signs of going away, you are continually reminded of how inadequate you are at finding the “hidden” items. With this stand point it is generally a loose-loose situation for designers. If you choose not to make a big deal out of the “extras” then they feel pointless, if you however make a fairly big deal of it, you are encouraging the gamer to do something that 80% of the time have no interest in undertaking. There are rare cases where this hunting may be rewarded in a way you deem significant enough to encourage the “hunt” to begin, yet this is a factor which differs from player to player. What this does show, however, is the pressures games designers must be under when producing games. If you develop for any platform which has a point or score system attached to it chances are you are going to need to find ways of populating your game with different challenges.
The early days of the xbox 360 displayed that developers weren’t used to it. Gamers would see 60 or 200 point earnings per achievement, Call of Duty 2 was one such game. Granted completing the game on its hardest setting would challenge most users and you’d be rewarded handsomely for it, but for most gamers, the reward was beating the games hardest difficulty setting, not the 200 points which you were given. However, if so many points were given away in so little achievements (11 in CoD 2 compared to 30+ on RDR) it didn’t feel like you were playing the game over and over just for the sake of the points. This changed however, primarily with sandbox titles proliferating the shelves. Their worlds were perfect for collectables and therefore achievements, it soon began to spiral out of control. The “low” points really could be considered the achievement guides which give insight into the easiest games to earn gamerpoints in, or just tell you how to complete them easily. Okay, if gamerpoints are going to show how good you are rather than just being a penis size competition, surely the use of such guides only serve to highlight how obsessive the whole thing has become.
Achievement unlocked – 1g Wrote a blog post
Chr15 6r33n (Follow me on Twitter at chrisgreen87 and for Chronoludic updates click here)
*No, I don’t know what the Points Pie is, and I don’t want a slice of it.