Collectible unlocked. Achievement found.

 Last week I listened to the Gamers With Jobs Conference Call Episode 181. A question from Mr. Tomaytohead (his name was spelled phonetically) initiated a discussion between the podcasters on how they play games. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conversation turned to completionism, achievements and how they inhibit/inform the fun experienced by the gamer. This discussion left me thinking long and hard about how my gaming attitude has changed, or not, over the past 12 months.
 
Given infinite (or at least excessive) free time I am very much a completionist gamer. Glinting treasures, light seeds, minerals, insignias, medallions, COG tags, dog tags, intel or flags, I found them all. This behaviour extended back before achievements, it should be said, with (notably) a proud 100% in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on PS2 under my belt. However, achievements had resulted in my gaming becoming mostly co-operative; GameFAQs.com and X360A.org were my wingmen, and an unhealthy amount of pre-game planning and mid-game pausing assured maximum achievement progress per hour.
 
As I write this I am painfully aware that the motives behind this post and my feelings toward this style of game playing are far too apparent, but my frame of mind leaves me inclined to leave such premature indications where they lie. I should also declare that with this blog post I will unlock the "Dear Diary" quest on Giantbomb; hopefully I can convince myself (if no-one else) that I have legitimate cause for continuing to type nonetheless.
 
To return to my original train of thought ; why did this change? The past year I have reduced the amount of time I have available for games in order to spend as much time as I can with my girlfriend. This has resulted in some internal back and forth as I try to shake the old habits. Yes, I did manage to resist collecting all of the blast shards in inFAMOUS and the feathers in Assassin's Creed II, but I still struggle not to plan ahead of starting a game and use walkthroughs. The straw that broke the camel's back did so during the aforementioned podcast episode, when Eskil Steenberg reached through my headphones and made Love to my brain.

Why do developers put large numbers of odd trinkets into the vast (or not so vast) worlds they create? To invite me to see the full extent of the gaming expanse that they have so lovingly crafted, says I. Because they are cynical developers preying on stupid gamers, says he... Damn it, he's right.

Sure, some collectible items unlock in game rewards, hell some unlock out of game rewards. However, how many games encourage collecting for collecting's sake, or worse, for achievement's sake (call them trophies if you like). For every Uncharted, yielding unlocks, or inFAMOUS rewarding XP, there is an Assassin's Creed or Prince Of Persia (2008). Even where there are returns for such scavenger hunts, rarely could I say they have truly improved my enjoyment beyond the satisfaction of hearing the pre-requisite chime/gong/victory jingle that accompanies each step on my way to... (no)where?

Now that I've primed you for it, you know what's coming, I was listening to the fine gents at Gamers With Jobs after all. Just as Eskil made Love to my brain, so the GWJ crew have rubbed off on me. The exception to all of the above seems to be BioShock. I gladly explored every nook and cranny the first time I delved deep into Rapture, and I'm doing it again this time around in BioShock 2. The nuggets of story, character and colour poured into the audio diaries leave me gleefully holding onto that little green button each time I pick up another little brown tape recorder. Whay can't other games manage this?

Truth is that there are other games that have managed to do this. If I say Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dead Space both do similar collectible audio logs, my own response is to laud the influence of BioShock on these games. Even inFAMOUS had dead drops, but I found they detached me from the story rather than drawing me further down the rabbit hole.

Well, this probably doesn't have the ire for a rant, the direction for a commentary or the factual accuracy and focus for an article, so I guess I'll have to call it a blog of loosely connected thoughts, inspired by Love. Now to post it and collect that Giantbomb quest.

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