By Will Oxlade
Some people's understanding of OCD is as simplistic as 'someone who prefers things to be organised'. There's more to it - the fear and anxiety, for example. My case isn't extreme but I do have a compulsion to push my front door twice after locking it. There have been times when I've left the house in a rush whilst half asleep and forgotten to do my 'test'. My entire day then consists of worrying about an open door. I've had this since I was young. My mother was worried I wasn't all there when she bought me a Lego vehicle. Even though I was older than the minimum age requirement it appeared I was having difficulty with it. I wasn't, I was merely organising the bricks by colour and size. It did speed up the building process when I finally got around to it. I never got another Lego toy after that. My parents had moved me onto Meccano. After some years of playing with my toys incorrectly, I finally got my first console. As it turned out, I played video games incorrectly as well.
One of the first games I had was Battle City. The objective is to destroy the enemy tanks whilst defending your base. I had a different objective. It was to destroy every single block that mapped out the battlefield. I lost a lot. I would give myself unnecessary tasks in games. For instance, while playing Contra I had to step on every single walkable surface. Every time I played Super Mario Brothers I had to complete the first level without taking my thumb off the run button. When I did fail a task it would bug me so much that I couldn't carry on and I'd be forced to restart the entire game. I didn't have the pleasure of Level Select back then. As you may have guessed, this would get pretty frustrating. Even more so because I never rage quit so I was stuck there until my compulsion was satisfied. When new consoles were released with numerous games, my list of quirky objectives increased.
These gaming compulsions only occur for me when I've done something in-game that has an effect on me. Whether it was satisfying or just for peace of mind, it would be something I wanted to do one more time. That one more time quickly turns into every time. I suppose it's similar to a night of drinking lots of beer. Once you open the floodgates it's really hard to close them again. I've tried many times to walk away from it. My in-game compulsions that is, not the toilet. I'd control my in-game character away from an area of a compulsion. Once I'm near the point of no return I can't help but turn back and finish off the task. Take Skyrim for example. A grey icon would appear on the compass and I couldn't ignore it. I'd have to travel towards it until it became unlocked for fast travel. This became a vicious cycle as more grey icons would show up along my journey towards the first icon. It would be hours before I actually started a quest.
With this behaviour in video games, it does take me quite some time to finish them. I borrowed my friend's Assassin's Creed 3 whilst he borrowed my Tomb Raider. He completed Tomb Raider over a weekend whereas I was still running along the shorelines of Boston to reveal the map. It's the only time I can sincerely say I've enjoyed long walks on the beach. I do this with every single RPG or sandbox game that has a similar mapping system. Different genres bring out different compulsions. If I'm spotted by an enemy in a stealth game I have to restart from the last checkpoint. In an FPS, I'd have to reload after firing one bullet. OCD or not, the reloading quirk is quite common in the FPS gaming community which leads me to my final discussion.
I've been possessed by these compulsions in games for some time now and with the introduction of achievement points and trophies, I found that some of my non OCD gaming friends have started doing things that I do. I was laughed at in school for being the last to complete Goldeneye. Reason being, I was determined to get at least 10 headshots before completing each level. Nowadays, a certain amount of headshots is quite a common prerequisite for unlocking more points/trophies in most shooting games.
Let's not forget about those collectables. Perhaps they make gamers explore more of the game than they normally would. A collectable could be hiding in a neglected area, which then gives said area a sense of purpose. Obviously it's each to their own. I have friends at either end of the spectrum - some who couldn't give a shit about their Gamerscore and some who are veteran achievement hunters without OCD. Have points and trophies made gamers play in a more compulsive way? If so, has that in-game compulsion seeped out into their real lives? If this sounds at all familiar to any of you, please feel free to comment below or share your own gaming quirks. I'm quite intrigued.
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