General Musings

Achievement Junky

The alarm on his phone started ringing as Jack lay lifeless on his bed, his iPad perched conveniently on his chest. His eyes darted to his phone lying beside him. He swiped to deactivate the alarm as his eyes darted back to his iPad’s screen.

Though he had been debating with himself long and hard as to whether to stay or go, he had known for at least the last fifteen minutes what his eventual answer would be. He had lost his inner battle… again. He stared at the animations of his creatures battling to level up and let his mind wander.

The reality was that Jack was an acheivement junky. It could have been his upbringing in a family where nothing was quite as good as it could have been – an A should have been an A+, and an A+ was ‘okay’. It could have been the culture all around him where other people’s successes were put on a pedastal or on their Facebook wall. Whatever it was, he needed to achieve. Yet, like any other junky, he needed his fix. He needed to acheive right now.

Jack’s weakness had always been games. He had played games since he was young, his first game, on a laptop that his father had brought back from work had been Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of Lounge Lizards. For the record: he¬†had been totally¬†oblivious to the adult-rated material in the game at the time. His interest would later turn to the likes of Star Control and Star Control 2, Warcraft and its sequels, text-based MUDs and more recently, anything related to Blizzard.

But Jack’s interest in gaming had only begun to reach arguably unhealthy levels in recent years as the gaming industry began rolling out psychological manna-from-heaven in the form of achievements. The little in-game micro-goals that steered you towards a certain objective to earn a star, or a badge, or extra gems. And it had suckered him in good… because it catered to the basic human need that had been exacerbated by upbringing and culture: the desire for a feeling of accomplishment. Seemingly it didn’t matter how arbitary of superficial that accomplishment was. In his current game of choice, Summoners Wars, his goal was to collect strong monsters and level them up. To what end? Jack hadn’t bothered to ask that question yet.

Naturally this made it difficult for any meaningful, real-life achievement to be made over time. The delayed gratification required to learn a physical skill, say, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or to learn a new language, while immensely more useful, by virtue of being real, corporeal skills, was just so distant to be inconceivable by him. In the mental battle of willpower the immediate satisfaction of levelling an imaginary monster stood as a Goliath against the ten years it would take to get a black belt in BJJ. Goliath had been winning that daily battle for the last two months.

Maybe what I need, he thought, is a shift in perception. Maybe my real-life achievements need to be smaller and more attainable instead of so big-picture: i.e. go to class instead of sitting in bed playing a game. Perhaps, his train of thought continued, the solution is to blog about it to get the issue out of my brain and onto an open, web-wide forum!

“Yes! That’s a good idea,” Jack exclaimed out loud to nobody in particular, “I’ll get to that right after I get to this next level…” he trailed off as he directed his little monsters to their next objective.