A Curious Alchemy

Among the embers of youth, a few truths, passions, nuggets of experience and certain unassailable realisations can be plucked out and carried forward.  While I’m not yet ready to kick out my fire completely and move into a hollowed out Werther’s Original, I have to look at the glow from time to time and decide what to let die out and what to keep stoking.  Years ago, even recently, I used to care.  Too much.  About many things.  Things that may or may not have been important but, to me, they mattered enough to devote time and effort to.  As gamers, we are used to that, after all, our hobby is seen as one big fat, tragic irrelevance by the wider world, yet we shrug and keep going.

We pour a great deal of time into fictional worlds, much like others do with their hobbies if they would, but once, realise it, and often those worlds become the narrow tunnel through which they can’t deviate or see around.  These mini obsessions, capsules suspended within the wider hobby of gaming, take many forms.  Some focus all their might on gathering points to build a mighty gamerscore, others devote every waking hour to one game, honing sniper skills, until they can blow off a gnat’s ballsac from 200 metres, while others devote time, patience, and energy into maxing as many titles on their tags as they can.  I am one of those people.  At least, I was.

I don’t care for score as such, that capsule is the domain of others – you can spot it from the pink glow of Hannah Montana posters and Avatar headbands – but rather in simply maxing out the games which have, for better or worse, ended up on my tag.  Those green completion bars were made to taunt people like me, with their mocking white tails indicating that something lies unfinished, that the game in question is not yet ready to rest easy on the shelf, but will instead continue to haunt me every time I page through my gamertag on an idle Sunday afternoon.  I used to bite.  I used to let this heinous crime against my gamercard worm under my skin until, with a sigh, I’d have to grudgingly leap through hoops in order to ensure that the bar hit 100% and the game was laid to rest.

The irony is that as much contentment as it brought me, an equal, if not greater, amount of discord was beginning to be stirred.  I would look at the gamertags of friends and see the vast variety of titles that they whizzed through.  During chats and get-togethers, they’d be rattling away about this or that game, while I covered my ears and hummed over spoilers, unable to participate.  As more and more games became maxed, the further behind I fell.  It wasn’t until a curious alchemy stirred me that I began to realise that something wasn’t right and my eyes finally opened.  My well established gaming apathy had suddenly mixed with this maxing habit and swelled to a degree that I suddenly couldn’t ignore.

Sitting on the living room floor during a bout of apathy, caught in the sobering no-man’s land between my dashboard and the many heaps of unplayed or unfinished games, I suddenly realised that my gaming habits were helping to kill my hobby.  Utterly.  The pastime that I poured so much time and effort into, in an unsettling twist, was actually being hampered by the very same effort that I was putting in, making it more difficult and adding perpetually to the piles of misery around me.  I wandered silently through my office, looking at the impatient rows of PC games that were gathering dust while my operating system moved on and left them behind, and it was quite a smack in the face.  I couldn’t even glance at the sheer volume of handheld and retro titles without, quite rightly, feeling ashamed – more so than I ever had.  Some have sat there for more than a decade; some longer.

Of course, I’d been aware of them before, had felt guilty, and had been forever meaning to get to them when I could be bothered, but this was suddenly different. I was looking at all this through the fresh eyes of someone who has suddenly turned a page and had some papery truth leap out at them.  Time has always been my shield of defence and my ultimate justification and, to a great extent, it still is.  For those whose only hobby is gaming, good on you, however, that isn’t the case for me.  My other passions, for the most part, outweigh it and demand as much, if not more, devotion, so my time is truly divided, but how I spend that time indulging my gaming habits is another matter.

When it slowly began to dawn on me that I could be looking at the dying remains of my beloved hobby, everything became clear.  In sighing over new releases and pushing them away while I dicked around with old titles to try and beat the, often stupid, challenges involved in maxing them out, great games were being lost, held back, or left unfinished. The potential of great stories and characters were being ignored; neglected.  When I realised that I hadn’t yet played Bioshock, Heavy Rain, or Metal Gear Solid because I was toying with the idea of cocking about with Dark Sector to try and attain the asinine ranked online achievements, I was truly moved to reflect properly about where I went from here.

So here I am.  Perched by the fire, with the obsessive passions of the past somewhat dulled by reason, age, and experience, and pondering what to keep alive.  While I’ll always strive to max out the games that I truly adore, love, and find myself obsessing over as a tribute or a reflection of my unwillingness to let go of those worlds, stories, and characters – as it should be – I have to let the rest go and leave that needlessly obsessive part alone.  If I don’t, I’ll become so buried that my hobby itself will one day flicker out, along with all of those embers that I find myself musing upon.  My pastime itself  needs saved over the once-bright, perhaps child-like and almost oblivious need to ‘complete’, regardless.

Last five articles by Lorna



  1. Rook says:

    I can understand what you are saying: I do not know when my desire to max out games or at least get as many points as possible came about but I have been in the same situation with consoles in the past that I am now. The pile of ‘to be played’ games is always there, no matter whether I beat the game and move onto the next or go back for more to collect achievements. I’ve even considered using the PS3 to just play a game and the Xbox 360 for maximising gaming for any specific title I amy play – the PS3 still sits idle.

    It will be different for everyone though as we try to find the balance between enjoyment and obsession along with finding the time to spend on our hobbies, be that gaming or otherwise.

    Whatever path you take with your gaming, I hope you get to spend time playing those games you want to play instead of just blowing the dust from them every now and then.

  2. Pete Pete says:

    Nice read Lorna! I’ve never been one to obsess so it was a great insight into that world :) Welcome back to the light!

  3. Stu Stu says:

    Yes, I can totally sympathise. I had the same dilemma, except it was the fact that maxing out games were killing the experience for me so I reverted to having fun and enjoying the game, only going for achievements if I felt like it or I’d enjoy doing so.

    As others have said, that pile never goes away though! ;)

  4. Ste says:

    I had this problem for a little while with my PS3 games. I’d refuse to move on until I had maxed them out. It got to the point where I wouldn’t buy a game without first checking out the trophies online to see if they looked do-able or not.

    Now I think I’m on top of it. I’ve moved away from console gaming now, back to PC gaming where gamerscores

  5. Ste says:

    Crap I didn’t mean to press that…

    ..and number of trophies aren’t shoved in your face everytime you go to play. I’m alot happier this way. I find myself enjoying the game alittle bit more. Don’t get me wrong though I like earning trophies/achievements, I just think there is a better way to go about it. Steam for example has achievements however it doesnt taunt you with them. I have no idea how many achievements my friends have and therefore I don’t see the need to compete for more of them. I’m rambling now so I’ll wrap this up here. Nice article Lorna.

  6. Dorwrath says:


    if i finish a game and see I have only five or six cheevos left, I might well decide to try to get them. otherwise I don’t bother

  7. Lee Lee says:

    Throw caution to the wind Lorna, load up a game play the tutorial and then change the disc. Join us whizzers with only 69163 gamescore out of a potential 181255.

    One of us, one of us.

  8. Samuel Samuel says:

    I’ve never maxed out a full retail release on my Xbox. Come close, there’s 2 achievements left to unlock on Forza 3 and 3 of the things on Assassin’s Creed II. I think I’ve only maxed out three XBLA games too.

    Doesn’t mean my love for some of those games is somehow lessened or cheapened. It doesn’t leave me unsatisfied, or with any sense that something was missed. I know I’ve played and completed and adored games like Assassin’s Creed and Arkham Asylum and Mass Effect. Asinine or masochistic challenges seemingly often arbitrarily presented simply because Microsoft requires it just don’t come onto my radar.

    All I can suggest is what works for me. Become obsessed with a game and its world and the characters within, and enjoy it for its own sake as far as you’re willing to go. If someone wants to look at the achievements list and think that you’ve somehow not done enough to prove you enjoyed it, then they can get fucked. And if you’re looking at the achievements list and thinking that you’ve somehow not done enough to prove you enjoyed it, then it’s probably not as good a game as you’re telling yourself – if it were you’d be too busy playing it to spend time on the achievements screen.

  9. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I agree with Lorna’s summation where maxing out a game should only really be an option if the enjoyment of the game genuinely warrants it. I maxed out Oblivion, Two Worlds and Borderlands because I truly adored playing all of those games. I didn’t max out Fallout 3 though because, although I maybe enjoyed it more than Oblivion, the achievements necessary to bring it to completion were fucking ridiculous and I’m not going to play a game through two or three times in order to justify to the developers, or those around me, that I loved the game. I completed the game itself, and all the side quests, and that’s enough.

    To try and max out games that are only on a gamertag because you fancied trying them out, is just something that I can’t bring myself to do. I know that Tania share Lorna’s obsession with completionism to the point where she’ll play a game on one gamertag to decide whether or not maxing it out is possible, and will be enjoyable, before tainting her “real” gamertag with that title… but I find that to be far too obsessive. It’s just a game. It’s just a gamertag.

    As long as the developers keep bringing out titles that make me sit up and take notice, and evoke a feeling of pure joy when playing the game, then I’ll likely continue to max out such games because A) I know that I’ll enjoy doing it (even Moxxi’s Underdome was enjoyable when we weren’t getting disconnected) and B) I want the satisfaction of knowing that the game was worthy of my additional time IF the developers weren’t being idiots and expecting you to play the game through several times in order to alter gameplay enough to pop achievements.

    I’m not a gamerscore whore though, or an achievement whore. I see it as being no different to buying every album and/or single from a band if you call yourself a fan of the band. If a game comes out, there are no singles available (except DLC if you want to split hairs) and so the videogame equivalent of buying the singles, going to the gigs, wearing the t-shirts etc is, for me, picking up all the achievements. If they’re sensible.

    When a hobby becomes hard work, that’s when the chore aspect takes over and kills the enjoyment. I’ve done it with art, programming, songwriting and probably gaming.

  10. Adam Adam says:

    Brilliant Introspection Lorna :)

    I went through the same thing ages ago. when I first got my 360, I loved achievements and I liked getting them, I loved watching my score go up. When I first saw on a stat tracking website that I had achieved only 30-40% of my total I felt like I hadn’t got the best out of the games and that seemed wrong. I took to trying to do a few maxxes, got sucked in to a few Achievement point increase contests but then looked back at it and realised it was wrong for me. I didn’t like having FIFA 06 on my Gamertag or Madden, it seemed wrong and thats where it all fell apart for me.

    The score is arbitrary and the experience is number 1. The only game I know I’ve so far 100% that took some serious effort was Viking. I bought it because it was cheap and once I saw that all of the cheeves were offline and do-able in 1 run, I went for it.

    It probably took me the best part of 20 hours to get that 100% and 3/4 of the way through I was sick of it, I wasn’t doing it for the 100% any more, only doing it for my own personal achievement.

    I’m glad I’ve moved on from it. I still look at the cheeves, pick out the ones I like, ones that sound challenging or fun (or just are their as marker’s on the way to unlock better content to enhance the game) and I go for them. I get a real kick that way when one I wasn’t trying for pops and better than that, I don’t actually have to buy the game on the 360 anymore to enjoy it.

    If I can get the game at half the price on the PC, on steam -I will, no questions. The game looks better, the controls are better for me and I still get to talk about it with friends :)

    Win, this article has it.

  11. Kat says:

    Achievements and the like, to me, are purely targets given by some group of people and assigned a number. I like getting them but the only game I’ve maxed out on the top of my head is Lips and that was by accident, didn’t realise I had, just enjoyed playing it. I confess I don’t get the desire to max games out because the moment my interest in a game dwindles then in my head that game *is* maxed to me. As with everything in life, gaming is a balancing act and you just need to do what suits you and what brings you the most enjoyment.

  12. Edward Edward says:

    I’ve only ever maxed one retail game, and that was Spiderman Web of Shadows, and only because I really truly enjoyed it and because it was attainable.
    Otherwise, I’ve maxed both Penny Arcade Adventures, but the majority of my games I haven’t maxed and never will. I have way too many games to play as it is and came to the realisation you recently had that if I sat to try and max them all, I’d lose too much of my life and miss out on even more great adventures that beckoned me. My policy has always been to at least try to attain the achievements I know I can get, rather than force it too much in case I end up not enjoying the game and loathing it trying to get all the flags or whatever bullshit malarky they throw in there sometimes.
    Fantastic article Lorna, a pleasure to read! :D

  13. Richie rich says:

    Preach it, Sister.

    If I was in the Lost Boys, you’d better hope you hadn’t invited me to the dinner.

    If I was in Hart To Hart, I’d be the old guy who does the intro.

    If I was a computer generated music TV presenter I’d definitely be based on Edison Carter.

    Max it up.

  14. Tania Tania says:

    A truly beautiful article, full of melancholy and sad realization, yet so revelatory and liberating. Like you’ve finally been freed of a great burden. :)
    I really hope you re-discover your love of gaming now and finally get to play all those games that have been sitting patiently on your shelf for years. Maybe you’ll even get around to playing some of my favorite point and clicks, and I’ll have someone to talk to about them at long last!

  15. Richie richie says:

    Tan’s right – this is a great article. I can totally relate. Like I said before, I’m all about the max and it’s created a love/hate relationship with gaming for me. I mean, I’m genuinely not sure about buying a recent game (Trouble Witches Neo) because it has ‘odd’ achievement scores. I mean what the fuck? It’s a good demo. Harumph!

    That said, without the pursuit of the max, I don’t know how arsed I’d be. I’ve not really adored a full price 360 game since The Saboteur and that was ages ago. But I’ve enjoyed maxing games, even if I’ve not enjoyed the game. It’s a weird zen thing, grinding out the achvs. Without it I’d be lost in a sea of racing games and FPS shit. This generation sucks balls.

    My gut feeling is that all the good gaming ideas are on the PC but I hate gaming at desks these days. I’ll stick with the maxing until something better comes along but I hope you can liberate your gaming self, Lorn. There’s nothing up here but dead folk.

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