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Why 2011 is a Gaming Completionist's Nightmare

Posted: 18/11/11 23:00

If you had been observing me at home over the past couple of weekends, putting aside the sinister nature of your activities, you would have witnessed some uncharacteristic behaviour on my part. Normally, my weekends are a healthy mix of outdoor and indoor pursuits, with me bouncing between one activity and another. Instead, you would have seen me virtually immobile, sat in the front room for hours on end, playing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Had you spoken to me, you would have learnt that I was in a frenzy of dogged determination to complete the game before 15 November, the release date for Assassin's Creed: Revelations. Behold the completionist in his natural habitat.

Actually, I have to be honest here. I am not a true completionist. I do not yearn to collect every single coin, gold ring, or feather that a game might feature. I do not insist on playing through on each difficulty setting on offer. I do not attempt the same precise action until I finally unlock some hidden treat. I am, if there is such a term, a semi-completionist. I like to play a game all the way through the main story, usually in the most direct way possible, just the once. I do, however, have a bit of a thing for series of games. I can rarely bring myself to start playing a game without first completing any and all preceding episodes, even if this means digging out an old console to do so.

Video game completionism is not a new thing. Since the 1980s when eager teens would push endless coins into arcade machines, determined to reach the infamous 255th level of Pac-Man, there have been players who want nothing more than to see the end credits roll.

Today, game developers are pushed to find increasingly inventive ways to give this extreme breed of gamer something to work towards. The latest weapon in the developer's arsenal is the concept of "achievements". These are the little in-game notifications you receive to tell you that you have sliced your 800th banana, or successfully shot 1000 hapless soldiers in the head on the field of battle. To the average gamer, these minor milestones elicit no more than a fleeting smile or surprised twitch of the eyebrows. But to the completionist, these are medals of honour, testament to their skill and determination to unlock every hidden secret that a crafty developer has planted in their product.

Since Xbox LIVE introduced the Gamerscore in 2005, almost every other platform has followed suit in giving players a system for recording these achievements. There are even social networking websites devoted to gamers who wish to share all their trophies in one place.

People I know who consider themselves completionists tend to be quite frank about their compulsion. A dear friend of mine is a case in point. She is currently driven to distraction in her attempt to collect her 150th companion pet in World of Warcraft. She also has achievements for catching 31 types of saltwater fish, eating 100 chocolates, and 983 other equally obscure accolades. When I ask her about this obsession, she will freely admit it, and even go so far as to say that this is the aspect of the game she enjoys the most.

So why is 2011 proving to be such a nightmare for completionists like myself? It is because it is the year of the sequels. Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Batman Arkham City, Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Uncharted 3, to name just those released in the past few weeks. Some of these series I have been keeping up to date with, but not all. I suddenly find myself with half a dozen additional games that I feel compelled to complete, before I can pick up the latest offering.

But the scariest game of all, the one that is bringing even the most obsessive completionist to his knees, is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Why? Because the director Todd Howard has announced that, thanks to procedurally generated content, Skyrim will have an infinite number of quests. And that is why I won't be buying it.

 

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