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Start Press: A Whore No More

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Start Press: A Whore No More

You’ve gotta give Microsoft credit. Their invention of the Xbox Live system of achievement points and gamerscore was a stroke of mega genius. It lifted a playbook page from the videogame medium itself—the compulsive quest for nudging high scores ever higher—and applied it to the larger experience of gaming. How do you boost your gamerscore? Simple: play more games (or, put a different way, buy more games). But not just any games—only Xbox 360 games will do the trick. Also, for gamers who have both an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3 in their living room, which console do you think so-called Achievement Whores are going to use to play the latest cross-platform release? It might as well be the $100 question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

While I recognize that the achievement system can help developers entice players to wander off the straightest-line path and have a deeper gaming experience, I finally had to make a mental break and shrug off the gamerscore obsession. At a certain point it began eroding my ability to enjoy games that weren’t paying gamerscore dividends. I felt like a little lab rat that received a tiny shot of dopamine every time I pressed the buzzer with the Xbox logo. Even playing review code of an unreleased game—which should provide the thrill of early access—felt the tiniest bit less satisfying because the achievements I unlocked on the debug console weren’t being credited to my Xbox Live profile.

To use a sports analogy, I reached a point where I felt like an athlete who’s just gotten drafted into the pros and finds himself so obsessed with exactly how much he’s getting paid that it starts to obscure the enjoyment of the game he once loved. Back in my younger days, it didn’t matter if I played Blaster Master at my house, at a friend’s house, or on the freaking moon. It provided the exact same measure of enjoyment. While I still opt for the Xbox 360 in cross-platform decisions—mainly because I like the controller 10,000 times better—I feel like I’m finally shrugging off the gamerscore preoccupation. I can play a retro game on my MacBook Air. I can lose my mind over an incredible PS3 exclusive. I can play a game of “how many days can I stretch out these delicious spaghetti leftovers?” And each experience is a joy.

Now when I see a player with a higher or lower gamerscore than me on Xbox Live, I don’t succumb to the insecurities that drive qualitative judgments. I’ve begun to simply see the score as a measure of how long somebody’s been a member of the service. Low gamerscore, they must’ve joined recently. High gamerscore, chances are they've had their Xbox 360 since the console first launched. Having a stratospheric gamerscore doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a world-class gaming legend. It could simply mean you’ve got an enviable amount of free time to play. My friend Nate tells me the other day that he’s gunning for my gamerscore, and for a split second the palms of my hands begin to sweat. But then I think, what’s for lunch? And the feeling passes.

Jason Killingsworth is Paste’s games editor. He is based in Dublin, Ireland, and writes about music, film, tech and games for a variety of outlets. You can reach him online at jason [at] pastemagazine.com.

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