I increasingly view my Achiever tendencies as a mental disease, a bit of neurological programming from our ancestral environment being over-stimulated by modern tools that provide all the signals without the underlying substance. Parts of our brains react to the bigger numbers and flashing lights in our Skinner boxes, but running on digital treadmills will not get us anywhere.

Today, I encourage you to separate the reward from the activity, the pellet from the lever. If it really is the journey rather than the destination, you should still want to go on the journey without a prize at the end. Would you keep re-running that dungeon if there was no more loot to gain? Would you farm if you had unlimited gold? For some things, you would. Good. Do those, freed of any worries about winning a roll on a 2% drop.

There is an easy way to test this: cheat. Grant yourself the reward at the end. This will not work in an MMO, but if the game saves to your hard drive, you can edit the save file. Are you really farming for experience or gold in some flash game? Are you running Diablo II or Borderlands bosses to try for better equipment? Backup your game, download a save game editor, and just give yourself the gun you want. There, now that you are no longer pulling the arm on a virtual slot machine, do you actually want to fight that boss multiple times per night?

Because let me tell you, we may call them Achievements, but they just measure time spent, and if you do not enjoy what you are doing along the way, you could be spending your time elsewhere. If your game gates the fun content behind that kind of repetition, throw the game away and find something that will not make you crawl through barbed wire. If you find that it is the getting rather than the having, I hate to tell you this, but desire is the root of all suffering. There will always be more useless crap to want, and apparently it is useless crap to you if you no longer want it once you have it. If you are really willing to work long hours for a digital gold star, I need some wallpaper replaced in the guest room. I’ll e-mail you the imaginary star, gold piece, or sniper rifle.

: Zubon

20 thoughts on “Cheat”

  1. I’m disappointed in the ease of the save game cheats for Borderlands. I had falsely hoped it was going to somehow fix this problem by using some sort of online storage for saved multiplayer games, preventing this sort of easy hack. Actually making accomplishments mean something. Its honestly killed the game for me (to the point I almost wish I hadn’t bought the game. No one is playing without a hacked save file other than me it seems).

    I agree that a lot of gamers, myself included, will bust ass to get an achievement/reward and feel so burned out by the time we do that we don’t end up even using it because we are sick of playing. However, I think the feeling of accomplishment is still there.

  2. I think in the end you overshot insightful on this one and careened into cynical. You do point out some problematic misconceptions about Achievement. But, your cheating experiment doesn’t take into account Progress.

    Doing something fun to “earn” a key to do something else fun to get a key to do something else fun is simply not the same thing as doing all those things and independantly having all those keys. Gameplay regularly gets more complicated, or in some way (story, visuals) more interesting as character progression goes on.

    Just going through the story/game without any metric for the progress is like taking a road trip but not having any mile signs that tell you how far away your destination is. It’d just be weird.

    Benchmarks rather than rewards; I guess that’s what I’m getting at. ;-}

  3. In single player games I consider myself to be an achiever. I love playing through to the very end and overcoming the final chapter of the game. The items and gear I pick up along the way are just means to an end but I get a warm fuzzy glow of achievement when I finally plant my boot on the quivering corpse of the ultimate big bad boss. I know from experience that this sense of achievement is greatly diminished if I use cheats to get there. Indeed I generally try and select a difficulty level that presents me me some challenge.

    In mmos however that warm fuzzy glow of achievement is like a carrot on a stick that is always being dangled just out of reach in front of you.

    And who the hell came up with the notion of repeating the same content over and over (and over) again just for some minuscule improvement in stats? That person should be put against a wall and shot.

  4. And what if some people enjoy pulling the arm of a virtual slot machine and choose to spend a few hours doing it?

    I’m with Moondog548, think you’ve overshot the problem with your cheating test.

    The key is that you cannot desire the payout at the end so dearly that you’re willing to put up for hours/days/years with an activity you LOATHE performing and cannot stop complaining about.

    But the payout can be a means of keeping score or benchmarks or just a warm fuzzy indicator of virtual progress/improvement, while you perform an activity that is relatively entertaining to you.

    Cheating and delivering the payout without any effort assumes that someone wanted the payout by any means necessary, is this typical Achiever sentiment?

    Others may very well enjoy the game of maximizing payout within certain rule strictures.

    All gaming is squandered time for the purposes of entertainment, ultimately, unless you’re doing it to exchange for RL dollars somehow, or it is some kind of social ego investment. But as you perform the activity, are you feeling better having spent the time, or feeling worse off after enduring it?

  5. I actually find it quite difficult to understand Achievers. As soon as an achievement is tied to something I really don’t want to do, I lose interest in that achievement. I say to myself, “No, that’s a stupid achievement” and move on. I really don’t understand why other people don’t do that too.

  6. I can’t tell if the commenters who are also achievers didn’t quite understand Zubon’s point or are just being defensive with regards to their style of gameplay.

    Like @spinks I have very little achiever in me so when Zubon talks about spending a huge amount of time on something “you do not enjoy” to gain some drop or arbitrary achievement the behavior does seem to be a bit of a “mental disease.”

    Now, if you’ve done the due diligence–the kind of introspection Zubon has wrt to his own behavior–and found that you actually do really enjoy the repetition that comes with gameplay catered to achievers, I still think his suggestion of trying a simple test (if possible) of granting yourself the reward/achievement right away is a useful and possibly surprising experiment.

  7. I’m an achiever, I admit it.
    Zubon’s cycnal critique is correct – it IS just a Skinner-box.
    But in my defense I will point out that slot machines are by far the most popular form of casino gambling.

  8. That’s not cynical, it’s critical and honest. If you’re not enjoying the journey, do something else.

    I’ve cheated in Titan’s Quest to change my class (a function I think should be in the game proper), and found that yes, indeedy, I enjoyed *playing* in different ways.

    Tangentially, it’s unfortunate that I can’t “cheat” to the MMO endgame and see if I enjoy *playing* it before spending hundreds of hours and too much money qualifying for it.

  9. Well, WoW is essentially a slot machine.

    If I drop in my money, I *might* win something.

    If I run this instance, I *might* get a loot upgrade.

    Look up variable ratio reinforcement and its efficacy in regards to other means of reinforcing desired behavior.

    I bet folks that play the slots think they have skill too ; )

  10. Scott, before assuming all comment dissenters are just Achievers being defensive, let me try explaining the critical disconnect between Zubon’s problem and proposed experiment, and where I’m coming from.

    If you cheat though, you are cheating yourself of the journey there, as well as delivering the supposedly desired goal at the end. It’s not surprising at all if people find an ashen taste in their mouths afterwards.

    But is it because their desire for the goal outweighed everything else? Or was it because they just deprived themselves of the journey there?

    P.S. For everyone’s info, I am EASK, and a very strong E at that. I’ve played City of Heroes for four years with no loot focus, and I am in this genre for the mob to mob combat, with solo challenges. I can happily street sweep and play massively meditative online, and I actually find group instances kinda stressful – a pure raid lifestyle is definitely not my cup of tea.

    But I can certainly conceive of people who are polar opposites from me and love the social side of raiding (even if they have to get 20 other people who are in it for the loot only). If I am weird enough to like beating on pixels by myself, I am sure there are people weird enough to like organizing 25 people to beat on pixels together.

    Maybe this whole thing bothers me because I’m a moment-to-moment guy in my games. Would you cheat in one of the newfangled FPSes with levels to get to lvl haxx0r, or are you in it to y’know, shoot things?

    Cheating bypasses the actual intrinsic moment-to-moment doing, besides getting people the extrinsic reward/achievement they supposedly crave so much. You’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater – “oh gee, I guess I didn’t need this extrinsic reward after all, so I will stop performing the action completely and go do something more worthwhile with my time.” But you might just have missed the fact that you like the actual action doing in itself.

    1. That last sentence would also be the point. See also your first sentence on your first comment, or Bhagpuss above.

      1. And I’m suggesting that cheating might not be the way to discover those points because they get bypassed. But I shall shut up now and let others talk for a bit. :)

  11. Last night I saw my wife hugging cliff walls somewhere in Cantha to get another .1% towards her Cartographer title.

    I didn’t know whether to walk away or throw her a piece of cheese.

  12. Not really feeling this post at all. I mean I guess we all agree that Killers have a “mental disease,” and now we say that Achievers have a “mental disease” too. Is it fair to say that Explorers also have a “mental disease” in that they have a compulsion to seek out the new, regardless of whether it’s any better than the old? And the “Socializers” desperate for more connections, more social links beyond the 150 or so that our monkey brains can manage properly, are they “mentally diseased” too?

    I feel like in the long run it’s all video games and we’re all dead, so being pejorative about what others enjoy seems rather silly.

  13. I think a better test for this is to find a game that lets you avoid the reward, and play it anyway. So in Borderlands, don’t pick up any new gear, FREEZE your character as they are, and see if you enjoy continuing to play.

    This is more easily done in City of Heroes, where they actually have an option to turn XP gain off. For a day, or maybe a week, just flip that switch. If you continue to play and do all the things you enjoy, then chances are you just like the gameplay.

    For the record, I did this, and I still had a blast. Turns out I enjoy kicking guys off of buildings even if candy doesn’t come out.

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