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Compulsive Habits of the Gaming Kind
The first month of this new year has come to an end and with it many people across the world have started losing track of their new year’s resolutions and are now settling back into old habits. The comfort of giving into our impulses and settling back into established patterns is a compelling desire that is not easily broken and continues to feed our personal compulsions.
Compulsion is known as a persistent and uncontrollable impulse to perform a stereotyped action that serves to unconsciously ward off anxiety, avoid guilt or impulses unacceptable to our mind. Driven by urges of lasting nature, compulsive behaviors are repeated in an attempt to address underlying concerns and have captured the imaginations of humankind for a long time.
Literature on mankind’s compulsive behavior has stretched thousands of years; from Plato’s dialogues on effect of compulsive tendencies on living conditions in 300BC era Greece, to the body of marketing literature developed over the course of late 20th Century, designed to make use of impulsive consumer habits around the globe.
Compulsive Habits in Gaming
With the video game industry’s emergence as a fast growing and far reaching force in the 21st Century consumer market, people who identify themselves as “gamers” have moved on from the bygone narrow-minded stigma of basement dwelling nerds, to a breadth of people of all genders and ages, that hail from countries across the globe and come from all walks of life.
From this diversity comes variety in behavior that differentiates us from one another in the multitude of ways we interact with our surroundings and enjoy our entertainment; peculiarities that on the face of it, only seem to psychologically isolate us, but actually also simultaneously work to bring us together in our mutual quirkiness.
Whether one identifies as a casual or hardcore gamer, a singleplayer or online only player, a fan of puzzles, adventures or just plain action, no matter the genre or console preference, none of us are alone in our obsessions, habits and eccentricities; we are all driven by urges and routines that shape our gaming activities.
Let’s take a look at some of these compulsive gaming habits to better understand how and why we are compelled to repeatedly behave in a rhyme that is seemingly without reason.
Spending hours on Character Creation
So, let’s start from the very beginning of the act of playing a game. What is it that usually greets players right at the start of a game? Most games, after their usual boot up and intro screen, ask players to name their save file and their character avatar. Then there are games that extend this personalization element by presenting the player with the ability to create their own custom character.
Players get to interact with character creation suites and customize everything from the gender, age and looks of their character to skills, moves and attributes. Not only do these customization options allow players to exercise their imagination and creativity, but it also serves to give them a greater sense of ownership over their digital avatar.
It is no wonder then, that many gamers have found themselves so engrossed in the process of creation that they spend hours adjusting each cosmetic slider to come up with perfect facial proportions, and min-maxing abilities and attributes to create characters with ideal starting skills.
While it may make sense for some to spend this time on character customization in games like The Sims series or WWE 2K games’ Create A Wrester modes, where gameplay framework is built around the individuality provided by such customizations, it is quite different to dedicate such time and effort in games where customization does not count in the majority of the actual gameplay experience.
People spend countless hours at the customization page of titles like Fallout, Elder Scrolls and Souls franchise; games that round off character skills to player playstyle no matter what attributes are chosen at the start.
Same is the case with RPGs and MMOs such as Dragons Dogma, Mass Effect, Guild Wars and EVE Online, where if the cosmetic features of players’ avatar don’t get concealed by clothes and armors worn throughout the campaign,they are certainly going to be obscured by the games’ over-the-back 3rd person or 1st person camera perspective.
Even though players realize the futility of their actions, they are still compelled to spend time tinkering with their character. There just seems to be something irresistible about having the option to create a character that makes us want to utilize each and every minute customization option available in the entire creation menu.
“I only started my game after 8 hours” says Saqib Mansoor, whose work as SegmentNext’s eSports editor does not stop him from sharing an anecdote where he fell into the character creation time sink and only found out how long it took when “Steam told me that I had spent 8 hours in the character creation screen of Skyrim.”
He explains that he was so intrigued by the possibilities of the creation suite that “I was installing mods and seeing what new features came in the creation menu. Additionally, I was searching Google on various aspects: Best Race, Best Class, Most Evil Race, Most Damage, Late-Game Rogue, etc.”
Hoarding Ammunition and Items
Speaking of RPGs and action adventure campaigns, most of these games are host to lengthy quests that feature challenging enemies and obstacles, which not only require players to utilize their skill but also employ items to accomplish their goal.
While some games do a decent job of making sure that any item which is crucial to game progression is available for use at its time of need, one cannot always rely on this kindness. What if one were to spend too much cash on non-essentials, or use too much ammo or healing items in early levels and is not left with enough for the time when they are actually needed later in the game?
There is nothing worse than reaching a part of the game and realizing that you cannot go any further because either you do not have enough cash to purchase that progression blocking item, or you lack enough elixirs and potions in your inventory to tackle the next boss; leaving you with no choice but to back track and grind the stages for cash, ammo or health items to overcome that roadblock.
Rather than face such frustration, many gamers choose to spend a lot of time scouring the entire map and looking into every nook and cranny of a level to pick up every item drop that they can; filling up their inventory with every type of item and weapon, just in case it proves to be useful later in the game.
Aside from this relentless collecting, another side to the act of hoarding items is the player’s refusal to sell them and the extremely frugal use of consumable items in an effort to save them for later use.
While it seems like a prudent idea at the start, the effort and time taken by players to meticulously play through each level without using items is rewarded by the realization, at the end of the game, that they are now left with more cash than they know what to do with, maximum amount of elixirs and potions allowed in the character inventory and hundreds of un-used crafting items that have no use at the end.
Saad Umer Baig, who works as an electrical engineer, recalls that “As a kid while playing Elder scrolls games I used to waste a lot of time hoarding items for the sake of money, but as I grew older I began to be smart”.
However, some habits remain difficult to break, as Saad goes on to explain that “In MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft, hoarding potions was common. As a warrior, I would keep them for emergency situations but would always end up being healed anyway. So, I would end up saving them for a rainy day to the point where I would need to use one but forget, and it’s too late by then.”
Restarting Checkpoint to get Perfect Run
The behavior of compulsively hoarding and conserving usually requires players to avoid making mistakes in order to reduce reliance on ease-of-play consumables; this type of play typically requires players to engage in yet another compulsive behavior, which is to repeatedly restart at checkpoint to get a perfect run.
However, the motivation for doing so is not just limited to restarting just for the sake of hoarding resources; it is predicated on the need to fulfill an arbitrary goal, a desire to complete a level in a specific-manner, no matter how many tries it takes.
This desire can range anywhere from conserving ammo and getting through that Resident Evil corridor without firing a shot, running through an enemy infested room in Silent Hill without taking a hit, or sneaking past a stage in Metal Gear Solid without getting seen by any enemy soldier.
While the ambition of achieving no kills, no alerts or an S rank makes players more skillful and better at the game, the repetition can easily turn into an obsession where players end up voluntarily killing themselves to restart from the last checkpoint; creating a vicious cycle where each new try adds on to frustration, each new dose of frustration further clouds their gaming skills and instincts, leading to more sloppy play, more failures and more retries.
“I cannot play stealth action games unless I do a perfect run. Not only do I hate getting caught, I don’t even want to leave traces of being there.” declares Muhammad Khurram Khan, a student of ICAP and ACCA.
He further explains that “Basically, my need for ‘perfect runs’ in stealth games started off with Dishonored. I mean, I’ve played quite a few before that, but I was never really that careful in them as I have been ever since.”
“I recall there was this achievement on the 360 version that popped if you finished the game without killing anyone, that really intrigued me” with this he discovered that “Almost all of the missions in it required me to pay close attention to the conversations in the world, side objectives that had to be heard or completed in order for me to ‘neutralize’ and not kill my targets. I spent hours and hours, loading the same damn save, trying hard to not kill anyone. I invested in the sleeping darts a lot and that really helped me.”
With this in mind he aimed for achievement for completing the game with no kills “but after hours of planning, running, hiding etc, I was finally able to finish the game – and it didn’t pop! I thought it was glitched, but apparently, I hid a body and it was eaten by rats or drowned.”
But that didn’t deter him “And so, I started my second playthrough. Since I already knew the maps, had played certain areas so many times, I was actually able to get not only the ‘Clean Hands’ achievement but also got the ‘Ghost’ achievement as well.”
Perpetual One More Try
Another variation to the need for perpetual repetition is the ability of many gamers to get stuck in the “One More Try” mentality.
Unlike the need to continuously restart levels, this habit is less focused on achieving perfection and more about getting engrossed within the gameplay loop to the point of making excuses to oneself to continue on playing the game.
Whether it is one-upping their rival in Civilization, avenging a loss in Street Fighter or gunning for a LootBox in Overwatch, it is a habit that creates situation where the players cannot help but continue playing the game at hand, until they have accomplished that made-up short-term goal in their mind.
In many instances this perseverance can be pretty rewarding for the player, as another go at a level in Super Meat Boy or an additional try of a boss in a Souls game can yield positive results; allowing the persistent player to overcome the roadblock and get a strong sense of accomplishment from the process.
However, same persistence can also lead to instances where the mind keeps creating new goals and excuses to continue the playtime while justifying itself as needing just one more round in Civilization or one more match in Overwatch.
Leaving the player hooked to the game until the mind completely loses track of time and before you know it, the quest to reach just one more Loot Box at 8pm results in being wide awake at 3am, 4 Loot Boxes later and still going at it, with the mind still convincing itself that this next round will definitely be the last.
Usman Zafar, who is an android applications developer, recounts his predicament with Dark Souls:
“My run through DS1 was a breeze. Killed first 4 bosses in a few hours. Completed Sen’s fortress like a boss and with underpowered weapon. And then I went to Anor Londo and the nightmare started. Somehow, I managed to reach Ornstein and Smough but it became apparent that I won’t be able to kill them.”
“I tried over and over again for 2 straight days without sleep (I only took breaks during loadshedding). I even turned off the Internet to avoid invasions. I actually summoned Solaire (my first and only summon ever) to help me but all in vain. I ended up ruining the analog stick of the controller because of “I got it. Just one more try” and then I decided to kill Ornstein.”
But his ordeal wasn’t over; as he goes on to explain “I was so happy and then I realized the nightmare had restarted. I couldn’t go back as no fast travel without lord vessel. So I started searching Anor Londo and found a crystal weapon by killing a mimic. Took me some more tries to kill Ornstein and finally found a way to kill ‘super sayyan’ Smough. And then I slept for straight 8-10 hours afterwards”
Having already talked about restarting a level and retrying a game, we move on to the habit of reloading ammunition clip of the weapon held by player character.
Whether they are fans of 1st person shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield games, or 3rd person action games like Uncharted and Gears of War series, most gamers know that the two of the most frustrating situations in any shooting game are: when the players have the enemy in sight but are unable to kill them due to an empty weapon, or when they are unable to get an ammo pickup because they had not reloaded an unfilled clip.
Game developers realize this frustration and in an effort to streamline gameplay, most shooting games make it so that when players reload their weapon they refill their clip capacity without losing any ammunition from the clip they discarded in the reload, allowing players to give attention to aiming and shooting rather than dividing their focus on ammo inventory management.
This gives players the freedom to reload the equipped weapon at any time without worrying about wasting ammunition; creating a situation where players get into the flow and routine of reloading after every shootout and instinctively be ready for the next enemy encounter.
For some players though, it goes even further; as they are compelled to instinctively reload their weapon after every move and every kill. It doesn’t matter if the last kill was a perfect error-free headshot, even with 73/74 rounds in the rifle, the player’s thumb reaches out for the reload button to round that number to 74, the maximum limit of the clip for that gun.
This impulse to reload is so strong that not only do such players suffer from getting killed during inopportune reload animations, but also have difficulty in adapting to game franchises like SOCOM, ArmA, Rainbow Six and Mafia series, as well as one-off games like E.Y.E, Black and Chronicles of Riddick; games that feature realistic magazine clip management, where reloading a clip that is not empty causes players to lose bullets in discarded clip.
This is best characterized by teacher and fellow SegmentNext contributor, Navaid Zafar, as he proclaims “It’s just my modus operandi while playing shooters. I reload even after firing a single bullet”.
However, he goes on to caution us about obsessively reloading willy-nilly by explaining that “usually there isnt much chance of a mishap while reloading but in Gears your gun jams if you time your reload wrong and in an intense shootout that could often mean a difference between life and death.”
As seen throughout this text, people who identify themselves as ‘gamers’ have grown into a significantly large and diverse portion of the global population; most of these people play video games for many different reasons.
Whereas some play video games to experience something new, get visually dazzled or challenge themselves, others view purpose of gaming as a source for escapism, simple entertainment or a conduit to pass time.
Majority of gamers who make investment into a game, do so with the intention of playing it till its end. For most, ending a game means finishing its campaign until the credits roll; occasionally, if they develop a particular linking to the game, some like to go even further and do more than one playthrough to either experience it all over again, or play it using different choices, equipping different costumes and achieving different endings.
However, there are few of us who are not content with just ending a game and do not feel satisfied until they have experienced all that the game has to offer, which includes, but is not limited to: exploring the ends of each area on the map, destroying every breakable object, examining everything before clearing an area, talking to every NPC, earning all achievements or trophies, getting every collectable and easter egg hidden in the game.
This need to get every bit of entertainment and satisfaction out of one game not only bolsters sense of completion and adds appreciation for all the effort put into the game by its developers, but it also helps keep the player away from compulsively buying every newly hyped game in the market.
Conversely, the need to accomplish everything creates its own type of addiction; the need for absolute completion and attachment to experiencing everything allows players to get seduced by the marketing language used by game publishers to link DLCs and Season Passes with the ‘Complete Experience’.
This compulsion to experience everything can also lead players to spend countless hours doing activities that they don’t find entertaining, forcing themselves to go through all that tedium, all in an effort to unlock that last element in the game that can range from a visually significant thing like a character skin or a new loadout to something trivial like a rank or an emote.
The need to experience 100% of a game not only creates issues of time management but also creates hurdles for people to comfortably enjoy absurdly large games like Witcher, GTA, Fallout and Elder Scrolls series; procedurally generated titles like Diablo, Rogue Legacy and FTL; or ever-evolving games like Destiny, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV and other MMOs.
Umer, a businessman who is fond of Souls games and already has Bloodborne Platinum trophy under his belt, had this to say about his efforts to 100% his next Souls game:
“Dark Souls 3 is an amazing game, I loved it through and through, including the DLC from very little that I played. But when I started hunting for achievements in the game, I came across so many hurdles and tasks that had me grinding in the game like there’s no tomorrow.”
He further explains how the requirements for achieving its achievements required him to “fight Champion Gundyr about 30 times to level up in the covenant”
Despite his perseverance he “stopped chasing after 100% when I came across Wolf’s Blood Swordgrass from the covenant Watchdogs of Farron” that “had a ridiculous drop rate, I once spent literally 2hrs straight up killing them and only came up with 5-7 of Wolf’s Blood Swordgrass. And that’s where I drew the line”
Thanks to all the respondents: Saad Umer Baig, Usman Zafar, Umer, Muhammad Khurram Khan, Saqib Mansoor and Navaid Zafar for sharing their perspectives, anecdotes and experiences with the gaming habits.
Let us know in the comment section if you and your friends have also experienced such compulsive behaviors in past gaming sessions, or if you think there is any particular habit that got left out and would want to see get covered in the future.