The Psychology of Achievements
Glittery objects have always captivated humans and, according to anthropologists, they were important markers of tribal status thousands of years before the modern area. Actually, not much has really changed these days, except that we have substituted gamerscores and PSN trophies for bangles and jewels. Behavioral psychologists believe that on some level, video game achievements and trophies tap into a deeper human desire for social status and wealth. By all accounts, they are incredibly popular – many gamers report playing just for the sake of unlocking these virtual badges of honor. What drives us to obsessively accumulate these electronic totems, and what does the popularity of achievements tell us about human nature?
Games have had scores for as long as they have been around. Even Spacewar -- by all accounts the first multiplayer computer game – kept score of how many times one player killed the other player’s rocket ship. Undoubtedly, many disputes were settled and much trash talk was had during early matches of Spacewar in computer science departments in the 1970s. But there is arguably something different about achievements. On Microsoft’s Xbox Live and on Sony’s PSN, one’s gaming prowess is now permanently on display for all to see. Psychological researchers Rene Weber and Patrick Shaw think there are some good reasons why Achievements are so popular, and it has to do with the way they tap into the desires of different kinds of gamers. They have identified at least 3 different archetypes, each one with their own motivation for acquiring virtual loot. Which type of gamer are you?
Reason #1) Social Acceptance
Humans have an overwhelming need to feel love, and for some gamers the achievement system mirrors the same endorphin high they get from receiving a complement from someone. “Hey,” the game tells us, “keep up the good work buddy.” This warm pat on the back from games becomes addictive, and we seek out further approval from both the game designers and from other gamers in our quest to unlock tougher and tougher achievements. We revere those who have unlocked the most, and we look down on those n00bs with low gamerscores in the equivalent of an online popularity contest.
Reason #2) Money Analogues
For these packrat achievement hunters, it’s not only about having the most, it’s about having the best. There is a reason why that platinum trophy is the hardest one to get – because platinum is the most valuable of metals. Accumulating achievements, as banal as it may seem, is actually a pretty close analogue to working a job to accumulate money in real life. The problem for gamers of this type, and what makes the achievement system so addictive, is that just like money in the real world, they can never get enough. There will always be someone with more trophies or a higher gamerscore, and the thought of those people is what keeps some folks playing into the wee hours to unlock ever more virtual bling.
Reason #3) Completionists
Some gamers don’t chase achievements for the glory, or even for the sense of accumulating virtual wealth. They do it because somewhere deep down inside, it irks them if they reach anything less than 100% completion in everyone of their games. Perhaps they are driven by a sense of value – they want to get the most out of every game that they possibly can. Maybe they suffer from a mild form of obsessive compulsive disorder. Regardless of the reason, their thirst for achievements is practically insatiable. As tiresome as their quest might appear, nothing can match the overwhelming sense of zen calmness that a completionist feels upon attaining that coveted 100% status.
Regardless of the individual reason for chasing the fleeting satisfaction of achievements, there are enough gamers of every type to ensure the ongoing popularity of this measurement of skill. Perhaps other researchers, looking for a connection between video games and addiction, might do well to look at gamers’ achievement scores as a guide. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have some pointless Easter eggs to collect.
Surely there are more important things in life than chasing after virtual achievements, but we can't think of any.
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