Pressing the Reset Button

As a self-confessed perfectionist, there’s no greater joy than starting again in a game. Sure, that sounds counter-productive, but hear me out.

New games are the perfect opportunity to restart a narrative armed with knowledge for the fresh playthrough ahead; to make better choices and to achieve a more immersive playthrough. If only we could do that in real life, eh?

There’s method in this apparent madness, however.

According to Nick Yee*, there are three types of gaming motivations: social, immersion and achievement. Perfectionism taps into all three. Socially, you appear more competent; immersion is increased with greater awareness; and a sense of achievement is the ultimate goal.

Video games present us gamers with the opportunity to display competence: the need to feel that you’re doing well, to be effective and to develop new skills. Competence can manifest itself in many ways during gameplay: higher scores, becoming more powerful, winning and getting feedback about how awesome you are, basically.

As increasing complex as modern games are becoming, the more gamers strive to achieve more.

You’ll notice how often, in recent games, a stats screen is displayed – whether it be an RPG, sports game or FPS. Sometimes they’re nestled in the pause menu, often they’re in plain sight. Many gamers are attracted to these achievements and quests; they play because they want to achieve progress, power, accumulation, and status within a game.

The problem is, the more choice is presented to the player, the more we strive to make meaningful choices. Autonomy is powerful motivator, but equally, it can inhibit our gameplay to varying degrees. Humans hate to lose options once they think they have them. This is a phenomenon termed by psychologists as “psychological reactance”.

Just think of Bioware’s games, they’ve mastered the art of offering choices, whether it be faction allegiances, romance options or even player classes. We invest so much mental and emotional energy into relatively mundane choices (in the sense that they do not affect our everyday lives) between virtual characters and environments, that it’s no wonder we feel torn when faced with thousands of choices per game: it’s a fear of commitment, for fear of missing out. Gone are the days of simply completing a level…

Enter the perfectionist: someone who strives to achieve everything achievable in a game but who lacks the prior knowledge (without spoiling the narrative) to make the correct choices first time around. I personally want to experience games as they were meant to be played. The more games encourage autonomy, the more this is derailed.

Have you ever played an entire game of Skyrim while ignoring the civil war questline? It’s entirely possible, of course, but it undermines the entire narrative. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly fun to go AWOL on a story mission, to go on a jolly adventure and experience the limits of the game, cheats and all.

In terms of immersion, though, you’re challenging it the second you divert from a narrative. Games, these days, have to find the balance between offering an immersive narrative and also encouraging the player to have fun.

If you want to enjoy a seamless story, sometimes it seems games purposely drag you away from a narrative that it’s worked so hard to invest you in.

We have a choice, as a gamer: play the game for its narrative or play it for completion.

I’ve found a solution.

One that, upon reflection, I seem to have adopted in my real life, too. It’s not life-changing, riveting or a unique idea but I’ve noticed that there seems to be a common misconception that the New Game button is only for new players.

In my experience, people rarely admit when they’ve had to restart a game due to difficulty, lack of immersion or the fact that they’ve made a wrong choice hours ago and are only just realising the consequences.

I say, use it to your advantage.

As we are choosing to spend more time virtual realities, you are encouraged to seek the most enjoyment from whatever game you’re playing. Forget the moral upset that surrounds ‘rage-quitting’ or restarting, it’s codswallop.

Have multiple save files.

Experience ALL the quest lines, romances, allegiances, side-quests and random events in whatever way you choose.

I know I’m not alone out there with my propensity to restart all of the time. There are others like me who constantly restart games and generate the ‘perfect’ game save as they stumble through a game. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay.

Just as much as some people plough through a game’s story and ignore every side-quest, loot box or random event available. I’m done with trying to conform to someone else’s fictional idea of ‘how to game’. You game the way you want to game. Be the player you want to be.

Respect others in an online environment, sure, but if you need to hit that restart button and begin your virtual narrative again, then go for it.

This applies to our everyday lives, too.

We spend so long getting so caught up in other people’s opinions of ourselves and others’ perceptions our achievements, that we often ignore our own needs.

That’s missing the point of living.

  • What others think of you, your gaming habits and your achievements is none of your business.
  • You’re responsible for your own happiness, so get out there and do what makes you happy.
  • Don’t compare your life, real or virtual, to others. You have no idea what their motivations are, equally they don’t know yours.
  • Stop overthinking things: slay that dragon, rob that bank, drive that Aston Martin. Gaming offers you a passport into another world, live a little and enjoy your time doing what you enjoy.
  • Press that reset button every once in a while if you find yourself on a journey of mundanity. That applies to gaming and your life.

Well, this started out as a concise post about restarting games, it turned into a life coaching session. Gaming is so woven into the everyday lives of gamers that it is hard to keep the two separate. Perhaps we don’t need to? As gaming becomes more common and a regular hobby for a huge proportion of the world’s population, it seems natural to see the two as symbiotic.

*As quoted in the book Getting Gamers: The Psychology of Video Games and Their Impact on the People Who Play Them by Jamie Madigan.

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