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Imaginative vs. competitive: How kids and adults game differently

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I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older I don’t play games solely for fun anymore. On the first playthrough, I consider the story and ending a reward. If there are no unlockables or Achievements that I want, I usually won’t play the single-player mode more than once. I've encountered a few exceptions, but I typically don’t find myself replaying longer games for fun. And isn’t having fun the point of any hobby?


No Achievements here…just plain old fun!

Recently, I was hanging out at my girlfriend’s house. I watched her little brother play Halo: Reach’s Forge mode with a few friends online. They were doing silly things like jumping off high platforms and building ramps to launch vehicles off of. I didn’t see the point in it, but it looked and sounded like they were having a blast.

Then I remembered that 10 years ago I was doing the same thing in Halo: Combat Evolved. The original Halo had no unlockables or Achievements, yet I beat it on every difficulty and explored every nook and cranny of the game simply because I enjoyed it. Sometimes my neighbor would come over, and we’d spend hours replaying levels and trying out every weird idea that crossed our minds.

 

I don’t even play custom content online anymore because it usually doesn’t get me any credits or experience points. Nowadays, I'm far more likely to play a series of frustrating online matches; the hope is that I'll get a few experience points toward a prestige level, an unlockable, or an Achievement that has almost no effect on my game.

At first I thought it was just me, but the same applies to many of the people I play with. Why do we keep putting ourselves through this? What happened? Are we the reason every developer has started implementing multiplayer and padding their game with collectibles?

I’m not saying reward hunting is bad or not fun. A certain satisfaction accompanies that "Achievement Unlocked” sound, and rewards are a good way to persuade players to try something new. I just can’t understand how or why I became driven solely by formalized rewards.

Perhaps it’s just an effect of maturing — of not being as easily entertained as I used to be. I can’t totally blame the industry: Rewards and unlockables have been around longer than I have.

But now that the summer slump is upon us, I think I’m going to take a break from competitive Trophy chasing. It'd be nice to play some old games and try out some new stuff just for fun. Maybe I’ll replay BioShock and try out some different plasmids or learn to use some new characters in Super Street Fighter 4. I invite and encourage you to do the same.