I’ve often wondered what exactly it was that kept me coming back to such a position. Years of effort have worn a fair ass-groove into the couch, that’s for sure, but why do I keep doing what I do? Is gaming really the addiction that the media would love me to believe it is? Am I really left with no other choice than to reclaim that groove time and time again like a junkie seeking his next fix? With a device in my hand designed for precision control, have I really got any control at all?
There are certainly elements of addiction in gaming, or more accurately- addictive elements within a lot of the games themselves. There’s got to be some kind of pull to get players to continue playing, especially in this day and age where, in a lot of cases, the number of daily online players is what’s used to calculate a game’s popularity. And when it comes to modern gaming, it doesn’t get any bigger than Call of Duty. CoD’s popularity is the video game equivalent of the that one girl who was known throughout your school for giving out handjobs like they were going out of fashion. CoD has lines and lines of people chomping at the bit for a piece of it’s action every day, and it’s not just because shooting camouflaged enemies for hours on end is fun. There’s a little something else going on that has the players caught hook, line, sinker, and issue of Anglers’ Times. It’s not even a devious scheme working behind the scenes either. No, it’s right there in plain view for all to see- EXP.
Call of Duty works on a system of experience points (or EXP for those who’ve never played a video game before and have just stumbled upon this article by chance). This means that, in a sense, you get paid for your actions. Kill an enemy player and you’ll receive some EXP. Kill a bunch of motherfuckers in a row and you’ll be awarded with bonus EXP for being extra deadly. You may also receive a complimentary pat on the back. You’ll start off at level shite- called so because all of your gear at this time will pretty much be shite- and you’ll gain access to the next level by earning a set amount of EXP. Each time you hit a milestone of points you’ll level up, unlocking more efficient weaponry and random fun customisable stuff to keep you amused. Then, in order to get to the next level, you’ll have to earn more EXP than last time, but your reward this time will be even better guns and equipment that will help you lay waste to other players.
The strange thing about the Call of Duty games, as opposed to many other games that are built around similar points is that when you reach the maximum level in CoD, the game gives you the option to “prestige”. This means that if you take it up on it’s fantastic offer, then you trade all your hard earned EXP, weapons, perks, and everything else you’ve gained in exchange for resetting yourself back to level shite, swapping all of that for a little gold star beside your name. This makes zero sense to me.
Of course, auld ‘CoD’ers ain’t the only game which works on an EXP system; a whole metric shit-ton of other games do too. I’ve just mentioned this franchise due to it’s overwhelming popularity, but as far as online multiplayer games go, most are now using a similar system to keep players coming back for more. Some offer you helpful equipment along the way, just like I mentioned with CoD, while other’s simply use a more you’re-better-now-fuck-off approach where you gain no in-game perks, just a level up screen every few hours. Some games even make you drop down a level if you’re playing particularly badly. This can really take the wind out of your sails.
Another way of keeping players hovering over their joypads is the lucky dip concept. MMORPGs (pronounced exactly how it’s spelled) use this all the fucking time. The likes of World of Warcraft will reward you every once in a while with little goodies. Let’s say, for example, that one in every sixteen boars killed will drop a few pieces of gold, and you just happen to be collecting gold for an over-priced piece of armour so that you’ll look cooler than Iron Man’s uncle. Chances are you’ll find yourself becoming a cheesy Kraven The Hunter-esque character for a while as you lurk in the words waiting for poor, unsuspecting, defenceless, delicious, stupid hogs to potter on by. Before you know it, day has turned to night and you’re still nowhere near suiting up in your new orc-proof attire.
The lucky dip system has been compared with lab-rats in a maze. The rodents will travel around pressing down on floor panels to activate a mechanism which occasionally drops a piece of cheese for them to gnaw away at. Even if the rat s left empty handed more often than not, it will still continue to stand upon those floor panels in the hopes of receiving it’s meal. This is wildly evident in the likes of Pokémon, where some of the sights may never actually be seen. There is a tiny chance, while travelling throughout Pokémon’s lush worlds, of spotting a fabled “shiny pokémon”. These may appear in caves amidst the swarms of Zubat, in the long grass amidst the paedophiles, or on the surface of bodies of water. The only downside to this is that the chances of actually encountering a shiny in the wild are thousands to one. If you started looking for one right now, you’d probably be older than a Kabuto by the time I actually saw one. Sightings of shiny pokémon are almost as rare as alien sightings are in real life; and just like the toothless hillbillies who’ll tell you they were abducted by UFO’s, most folks who claim to have seen a shiny are bullshitting. IT is, however, another way to keep players clocking up enormous amounts of hours playing the game.
Truth be told, I’ve spent a hell of a lot of my time sitting in front of a gaming console. Whether it’s sitting across the room playing any of the three generations of Playstation, jamming on my Xbox360, retro-ing shit up with the some 16-bit goodness, or bringing the DS into the jacks for a good old fashioned shite, I’ve clocked up a hell of a lot of hours playing video games. They lit a fire in me at a young age, and still manage to keep that flame burning as bright as ever today. At this stage it simply feels natural having a pad in my hand. I see no harm in it and I feel absolutely no shame either. Do I regret losing the countless hours to gaming little addictive tricks, hours that I’ll never get back? Fuck no! Games didn’t steal this time from me, it was mine to give away and I did so gladly. I may not have enjoyed every second of it, but the majority was spent on amazing journeys into mind blowing fictional worlds. I got to see things that I could never even have dreamed of, meet fantastic characters who reflected the way I feel in ways that I wish I could, and I’ve developed bonds with on-screen sprites in ways that I still find difficult to explain. That’s not even mentioning the amazing real life friends that I’ve met due to video games. People who share the same passion as I do, and when we get together we often spend our time talking about it, laughing about it, or just straight up playing games and experiencing these things together. Side by side in the heat of battle, putting our wits and skills to the test as time passes around us.
If I was to travel through time and examine my former self, the me of yesteryear or even yesterday, I’d find a man who loves doing what he does and wouldn’t change it for the world. I’d also find incredibly difficult to park an entire fucking phone box into a small room. Maybe I should have spent my time becoming some kind of doctor so I could solve this problem.