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Friday, December 03, 2010


The other day, a few story missions short of the FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS final mission, I was surprised to discover I’ve reached the level cap. Quests no longer award experience and the skills that go with it.

I’ve never reached a level cap before. In most of the games I’ve played, you really have to play an exhaustive number of side quests or generally run around killing random critters for hours to max out your character.

Sure, I can still get achievements and Gamerscore points. I can accumulate in-game money. But I was shocked to discover how much less fun the game is when I don’t get XP for missions. It feels like the wind is out of the game’s sails. It’s funny. I wouldn’t have said I was playing F:NV in order to level up my nameless courier character. I would have thought I’m playing it to run around a beautiful and witty fictional world, and follow the story, and of course to massacre bad guys. (It is a first person shooter.)

But take away the little reward of finishing a quest and getting some XP and getting to parcel out the skill points, and suddenly I’m no longer staying up till two in the morning. I actually did not bother to play the game today.

Why is that?

And there’s the whole Xbox Gamerscore phenomenon. I like getting achievements. I like seeing my Gamerscore point total go up. Like Hunter, it hardly seems worth playing a game on the PS3: no cumulative points for achievements, only “trophies.”

None of this makes rational sense. When I first heard about Gamerscore points I had to keep asking Hunter: what can you actually do with them? Nothing? Then who cares?

But later on, he asked me to play Mass Effect on his profile. Mass Effect has a clever system where each time you play the game, your next incarnation of the main character gets some goodies from the previous incarnation. I was playing as an Adept, so his next guy would start out with an extra biotic superpower. I agreed, but only if he would play another game on my profile. I didn’t want to lose the achievements and points on my profile.

It’s not currency. You can’t spend it. Who cares? Well, I do, apparently. It must be hardwired pretty deeply, because for sure my rational brain can’t explain the attraction.

Somewhere deep down, I just like to collect points.

Why?

UPDATE: In the shower, it occurred to me that what I'm feeling is unappreciated. I do all this questing, and I don't get no love? The Gamerscore points correlate, in some abstract way, with society's approval. Humanity being a social animal, it makes sense we're hardwired to seek the approval of the tribe. The leveling up corresponds to status within society. Because it's hardwired, it doesn't actually have to make sense, it just has to tickle that particular nerve.

UPDATE: Incidentally, F:NV is an incredibly buggy game. It freezes constantly. Sometimes your permanent companions just disappear. Some story forks dead end, because the programming glitches and you can't complete your missions. In fact, I couldn't complete the game at all because of an unfixed "known bug": if you do too many chores for Mr. House or Yes Man, and then side with the NCR, your entire game playthrough is permanently doomed.

I would not recommend this game until they release a second patch and fix the programming. Boo, Bethesda.

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5 Comments:

There's a pretty great TED talk addressing this subject that I felt explained a lot:
http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_chatfield_7_ways_games_reward_the_brain.html

By Blogger ThisBloke, at 8:54 AM  

http://www.cracked.com/article_18461_5-creepy-ways-video-games-are-trying-to-get-you-addicted.html

Probably the same information in Cracked.com article form. So I know now why I spend so much time playing video games, but for some reason I still haven't been compelled to stop.

By Blogger Billi Dee Knight, at 11:13 AM  

I had the exact same experience with Fallout 3. I could no longer be bothered to play at all.

By Blogger Mark Slutsky, at 3:44 PM  

I know this marks me as cognitively abnormal, but all the awards, achievements, and leveling that have nothing to do with the story deeply disincentivize me from playing. If the game is supposed to have a story, I just want to do the story. I don't care about points and achievements at all, and when games require that I get them to unlock powers...meh.

To my mind, it's all of one piece with "100 hours of gameplay" where 92 of those hours are pure dungeon grinding. Meh.

By Blogger Alex, at 10:17 PM  

I find that once I've completed the major storyline in such games, I lose all interest in the rest of the game, even if there are a ton of side missions left. I think it's that I feel the narrative is over, like I've finished the book, so I mentally close it. Though I do find I get sucked back in with expansions, because they extend the story.

By Blogger Trevor Finn, at 4:02 PM  

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