Will Preston

Seeing the word “unlocked” in a videogame is more precious than life itself

by on Jan.05, 2011, under Opinion

Addiction is nothing to be laughed at. No, really. Especially if it’s something unusual. And what better time to start an addiction than at Christmas. Regular routine gets put in a chryo-chamber until it is revived in the New Year. January. It’s the ‘Monday morning’ month of the year, don’t you know. This article will be the start of my 2011 routine of buckling down yet again after a couple of weeks of no university work, no job and a Johnny Vegas level of self harm. But beer wasn’t the only harmful intake. Last article of the year was on the latest Call Of Duty game and I refused to play the multiplayer. I do like the multiplayer, but it’s never changed. But people still pay half a week’s wages just to have a chance at getting that virtual medal after killing 500 people with the same gun. After a six hour binge on its predecessor, the thought struck me like a fifty calibre round ejecting my surprised brain out of my handsome head; it’s not the game that’s addictive, it’s the upgrades and achievements. This isn’t a new concept.

Some people are just boring and put their name

Back in the cretaceous period of gaming (when pixels were about as visible as Raoul Moat on a swing) the high score was the achievement. Granted, it was just an opportunity to graffiti the scoreboard with a three letter insult but the prestige was there. Then gaming came to the home and secret content was the focus. Some games such as the Super Mario series had secret levels hidden away in what are now referred to as ‘Easter Eggs’. Finding them didn’t reward you with anything other than the journey itself. As the ages of gaming passed, more content was concealed to the gamer unless they played the game through and ‘unlocked’ things as they went. The term ‘unlock’ in the video game idiom conjures up the game as a treasure hunt. An interesting example of the treasure hunt being executed in the literal sense happened in Grand Theft Auto III where throughout the compact citadel of Liberty City were several ‘Hidden Packages’. ‘Hidden’ meaning ‘drug’ in this case. Collecting enough of these unlocked more weapons for the character. Fast forward about ten years and every game has them. I mean it. Every one of them. Now you can’t start a new game without initiating five treasure hunts or an upgrade system.

The amount of people I've killed just to see those words flash up...

An upgrade system can make even the dullest games compelling. Start the player off with just a damp stick and a rag for a weapon and they’ll grind as much as they can until they’ve finally upgraded their arsenal with a multi-barrel rocket launcher with heatseeking ammo and fast reload. Call Of Duty is a great example of this sort of system. Online, players start at the bottom with barely any guns to wank about with and through sheer geek determination, they access all sorts of fun upgrades and ‘add ons’ for their assault rifle. In this way, the army issue M16 now comes across as some kind of Barbie doll, if you trade the swimwear outfit for an attached grenade launcher. And if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, the game gives the option to trade in everything you’ve upgraded and collected for a chance to…wait for it…do it all again. Oh, but this time you get a nice medal next to your name. It’s not the medal we’re going for, though; it’s the chance to see the words “You’ve been promoted” and “P90 unlocked” flash up on the screen.

Typical example of a 'Hidden Package'

If, during the normal course of a day, phrases like that flash up every time I completed a task, I would be a lot more proactive. Think about it. When having to do the hoovering, once you’ve finished doing the living room the words “Room hoovered (3/4)” flash up in front of you like some ghostly text message. What do you do? Rise to the challenge and give the bedroom a damn good go with the Dyson until a jingle plays and the words “All rooms hoovered!” ejaculate at your eyes. It’s still early in the day, so you decide to complete the challenge simply known as ‘No hands’ where you have to wee in the toilet standing up with no hands and not sprinkle the sides. You feel lucky and today’s the day that you deliver a flawless stream. As I have said, addiction isn’t funny. Neither is toilet nonsense.

No matter how monotonous or linear the game may be, it’s these little virtual achievements make up the game. No, they ARE the game. Even all new Xbox and PS3 games are required by law to set up pan-gaming achievements on Xbox live and PSN. That’s a double layer of virtual belly rubs there. But once you’ve achieved everything, you’re absolutely spent. Think of it as a long series of tickles with a looming great blowjob in the distance. And once you’ve walked the line and reached the big tempting lips and unlocked the (ahem) final achievement, you’re left feeling spent, ashamed and a tad sticky. Just like a blowjob. It’s an easy addictive trap to fall into, the biggest traps being World Of Warcraft. If it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t like the fantasy genre, I would be pronounced legally dead by now.

It’s not the little things in life, the little things ARE life. Just by reading this article, you’re probably one step closer to unlocking a massive achievement somewhere down the line.

[Achievement unlocked: ‘Finish 2010’]

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