Rewarding Rewards

I picked up Sins of a Solar Empire on Thursday and only got to spend a little bit of time with the tutorial. It looks like a deep game with a lot of stuff to learn. Once I get this post done, I’ll probably dig into it some more. It struck me that I’m less inclined to want to really learn a game like this one at the moment. I don’t know if that’s the console mentality getting its hooks into me again or if it’s just that I feel like I’m always pressed for time to figure games out.

I think that’s one of the downsides of writing about games for any length of time. Eventually, no matter how good you are at figuring stuff out, you just reach a point of burn out where you don’t want to delve into the complexity of a new game. It’s much easier to pick up something like Devil May Cry 4 and button mash as you build your familiarity with the combos and enemies than it is to learn how to manipulate another strategy game system filled with minutiae. Simple to play, difficult to master is the hallmark of great console gaming. Difficult to grasp but ultimately super rewarding is the hallmark of a lot of PC gaming. I think the feeling of accomplishment is higher when you come to grips with a strong PC game, but it takes longer and you need to be more dedidcated to get there than you do with console games.

That’s not to say console games aren’t rewarding. They just hand out the rewards in quicker and less valuable chunks. Playing Uncharted, the game lets you know when you’ve accomplished fifty headshots or kills with a certain weapon. It’s a useless reward that’s ultimately meaningless, but when it pops up you think, “that’s cool”, even though it’s really not. I mean, who cares that I did that? All it proves is that I’ve been playing long enough to get to fifty. It’s like the game is rewarding you for wasting time with it.

I think that’s my biggest gripe with how Microsoft has implemented achievements. Far too many of them are simply things you get for playing a game long enough to get them. It’s not skill that determines their worth, but rather the amount of catassing you’re willing to do. Given that most gamers seem to just plain suck at games, I guess that’s the only way that achievements can have value to the majority of the audience, but I’m much rather see them all be based on some level of skill at a game. Worldwide leaderboards in arcade games are easily a more useful use of the Internet on consoles than comparing achievements.

It makes me think I jumped the gun a little bit in a feature I wrote for CGM a couple years ago regarding achievements. I said back then that they were comparable to the Activision jacket patches on Atari consoles. Given how they’ve evolved, they’re really not like that at all and that’s a shame because they could be much better badges of honor. Some games get it right, but even those games have far too many throw away goals.

People love these things, though, and I think it’s just because they’re there. Without them, the bad gamers among us wouldn’t get these little popups telling them they did something. With them, everyone’s somehow a “winner” in every game. There are times when I feel like I want that, but then I feel guilty for caring at all, because in the grand scheme of things if my skill didn’t improve, it seems even more like I’m wasting time than I already was.

Weird, I know…

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