Getting Over Compulsive Achievement Hunting Made Me Enjoy Games More

Achievement hunting can be a fun way to kill time, something that adds value to games after besting the campaign or mastering the multiplayer. It provides you with an incentive to plow on and uncover every little nook and cranny of your favourites, but when it becomes an anxiety-ridden compulsion, it’s a dangerous ballgame. For the longest time, playing became about filling up that little progression bar, and for who? Who really cared but me? Games originally meant to act as forms of escapism morphed into a detrimental chore, having a notable effect on my mental health as a result. I’m glad I changed that attitude, since I’m now a better gamer for it.

Steam has this nifty little sort-by feature in its library, and there are many functionalities that are par for the course like sorting by size, Metacritic score, playtime, and of course, achievement percentage. I gravitated towards the latter, refusing to play games I’d earned 100 percent in because I no longer saw a point. Even if I loved them through and through, and I would completely abandon any game that didn’t have achievements because it wouldn’t boost my digital score. I have obsessive anxiety and this was it manifesting in full force, with gaming transmogrifying into a genuine problem for me.

It wasn’t a good time – I played Ben 10 just because it was an ‘easy’ platinum. Why on earth was I slugging through this mediocre, bog-standard platformer, replaying it over and over for collectibles, grinding for XP? There’s a psychology behind it all – achievements are a little boost of dopamine and, I’ll admit, when I got deep into hunting, I wasn’t at my best mentally, and those little nuggets of feeling accomplishment were wonderful when the ding popped and the notification slipped out on the corner. That’s because achievements set goals, parameters we can strive to accomplish, letting us believe in ourselves even for a short period of time – it’s a mood lifter. At least, in healthy doses.

That little boost incentivizes us to go for more, and the tiers of achievements only add to that, with that feeling of accomplishment differing among them. For PlayStation, that’s bronze, silver, and platinum, but with Steam, it’s a glowing, animated golden border that shows you’re one of the few who has done it, and you can even flaunt as much on your profile.

That’s what drives competition, the idea to try and get as many as you can to top others, to be the best achievement hunter like you’re some Pokemon trainer on a lost cause to fill a Pokedex. Competition can be healthy and sometimes achievement hunting with willing friends that participate can be good fun, especially if it’s for games you enjoy and want to spend more time in. It’s when it becomes the driving factor in playing, a compulsive necessity in any game, that it’s a problem.

My solution was tough – I had to somehow negate that feeling of social pressure to compete or to show off how much I’d done and for that, I opted to set my Steam privacy settings to hide my games, my playtime, my unlocks. That’s the social comparative issue out of the way, but I’d still see that pesky percentage bar that was egging me on to try and fill them all.

I disabled it, swapped over to alphabetical – simple – but I often regressed, slipping it back on, trying another game. It took a while to get over it, but when I did, I got back into just enjoying games regardless of how many achievements I’d gotten for them, and it was a huge weight off my shoulders and I saw my anxiety improve as a result. If you’re feeling the same way, I implore you to try to get past it, because it can really put a dampener on how video games make you feel in the long run.

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James Troughton is a writer at TheGamer. He’s worked at the Nintendo-based site Switchaboo and newspaper TheCourierOnline and can be found on Twitter @JDTroughton.

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