I’m addicted to feeling a sense of accomplishment. It’s the one thing in life that makes me feel important and that I actually have a purpose as I fumble around on Earth. Very little is more fulfilling to me than successfully ticking something off my to-do list. Ultimately, I live for the thrill of knowing that I’ve achieved something through my own hard work. While this mindset is undeniably great for productivity, it’s completely counterintuitive in other parts of my life.
For example, my attitude of needing to achieve something wound up bleeding into my main source of entertainment: gaming. If I was playing through a game, it wasn’t enough to simply enjoy my time with it. No, there was a list of tasks I had to complete in the form of trophies and achievements. What should’ve served as an optional way to have fun quickly became a necessary accomplishment if I wanted to feel like my time spent with a title wasn’t a complete waste.
No matter if I was playing a title for review or at my own leisure, the first thing I’d do upon installing a game was to look at its trophy list. A list of questions ran through my mind: What difficulty do I have to play it on? Should I be looking around every corner for collectibles? Is there anything I can miss during my playthrough? Occasionally looking through these lists were helpful to the overall experience, but mostly it added extra pressure that negatively impacted an activity that should’ve been fun and relaxing.
My goal-oriented mindset has done a ton of good throughout my life, but it started to become increasing toxic in the early parts of this year. I found myself applying this sort of longing of achievement to other aspects of my life. I stopped viewing things for what they were and instead looked at them as a checklist. That girl I liked? Well, a fantastic friendship with her isn’t enough, I need to actually date her for it to be a success. It was a terrible attitude that I’m absolutely abhorred by in retrospect, and one that brought out the absolute worst in me. I was viewing everything through a lens of success and failure despite life being so much more complicated and beautiful than that. It was clear that this issue went far beyond harming my enjoyment of games, and I knew I had to make some changes in how I fundamentally think.
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One of the first steps in rectifying this thought process occurred when I noticed that I had a better time when playing games on Nintendo Switch. No, it wasn’t because of that mythical “Nintendo magic” or the system having far better games, it was because I wasn’t preoccupied with a checklist that I needed to complete. Instead, I found myself appreciating the design of games, and getting lost within the wonderful worlds that developers had painstakingly crafted. It seems awfully obvious in retrospect, but in the moment, it was an epiphany that I didn’t need the ding of a trophy popping to enjoy gaming. I could just, y’know, enjoy the game for what it is.
This led to me turning off all notifications on my PlayStation 4. Everything from trophy unlocks to friends sending me messages now go unseen, and I’ve essentially disconnected from Sony’s heavily intertwined ecosystem. This sort of isolation may go against the social pulls that gaming publishers are increasingly trying to push, but for me it was absolutely freeing to be left unshackled. I managed to play through the entirety of God of War in two lengthy sessions without any sort of popups taking me out of the experience. Trophies and friend lists be damned, this was the way the game was meant to be played.
I never before realized how distracted I was during play sessions. From looking up trophy lists to keeping track of what was missable in my head, my mind was constantly focusing on things that were non-essential to the game I was supposed to be playing. However, this also applied to so much more. From writing to my personal relationships, I was constantly distracted by a bunch of unnecessary goals that kept me on edge and feeling miserable if I wasn’t achieving them. It’s still a work-in-progress, but I’m trying to enjoy the moment more and appreciate what I do have. No amount of success is worth losing sight of what is actually important.
Obviously, trophies and achievements weren’t the root cause of my issues. I still view them as a great part of gaming, and I still occasionally check a trophy list after I feel content with my playtime to see if I’ve missed anything. The trophy list was why I went back into Yakuza 6 and spent more time rescuing stray cats, but it was never a distraction from the core experience since I let it stay in the background like it belongs.
So, if you’re like me, I encourage you to declutter and get rid of distractions. It’s a great way to remind yourself as to why you love gaming in the first place. Plus, if you’re lucky, it might teach you something about life itself.