The Balance of Video Games

If you’re a serious gamer then you have a constant problem. A battle raging on between your hobby (or maybe your obsession) and the rest of your life. It’s hard to not constantly play video games. Games can be lots of fun, but they can also be giant time wasters. And it’s not just the consumers fault for wasting hours and hours playing games when there are real life obligations being ignored. Video games want you to be addicted to them.

There are two games that I’ve been playing regularly in the past couple of weeks: Guild Wars 2, and Halo 4. Both of these games have introduced mechanics that keep you playing, even when you know you’ve got other things you should be doing. And the mechanic in both of the games is very similar. Guild Wars 2 has a daily achievement, that if completed, gives the player experience, gold, a special item, and karma (another in-game currency). Halo 4 has daily challenges, which require the player to meet certain in-game goals for bonus experience.

These are mechanics that keep gamers playing. On these multiplayer games in-game achievements like a high rank in Halo 4 and legendary loot in Guild Wars 2 are how players show off. It’s what other gamers look at to judge your gaming worth. More than once I’ve stayed up a little extra late making sure I got the daily achievement, even though every time I know I’d regret it in the morning.

But both of these games have more than just daily achievements. They both have monthly achievements that require you to play the game regularly over a much longer time period. If you’re serious about the game it’s hard to ignore these incentives, the rewards are just too great. But now the game isn’t convincing you to stay up a little later or disregard your household chores for one day, they’re trying to get you do it for a whole month!

Luckily I’m only playing two games and neither of them too seriously. But many gamers have numerous games they’re trying to level up in at once. Games used to just suck players in with the gameplay, and they still do. But now there are other forces at work that keep players hooked on their favorite games. It’s these mechanics that create the stereotypical gamer nerd in his mother’s basement.

Video games are fun, there’s no denying that. But next time you’re set on getting that next in-game achievement or playing just one more level before quitting sit back and think about what these achievements mean. These mechanics don’t evaluate the player’s skill; they evaluate how much free time the player has to waste on one game. So balance your time between games, and balance your games with real life. There’s always another daily challenge tomorrow.