Press A to Restart: One Man's Struggle With Gaming OCD

By Reader Toby Clarke on at

I've reached an impasse. I'm stuck at a digital cross roads, with a difficult decision to make. I've been here for a while, weighing up the pros and cons of each option. Do I go down the left corridor, or head down the right one? If I choose incorrectly, I may never be able to find my way back to that same junction; I may never discover what lay at the end of the unchosen corridor. This is killing me. This is my gaming OCD.

I'm not particularly obsessive or compulsive in my everyday life, nor am I especially disorderly, but something about the gaming world brings out the very worst in me. I'll dither over which paths to take, for fear that the game might forever cut me off from the alternate route. I'll seek out meaningless collectibles and treasures just to reap that sense of reward that comes from stripping a game clean. I'll play beloved games long after completion to obtain hard­-earned achievements.

I also have other rituals that appear absolutely ridiculous to even my most hardcore of gaming friends. Upon buying a new game I'll often excitedly start it up, play through the opening chapters for a couple of hours before turning the game off and systematically removing all trace from the system that I'd ever played it. I then proceed to start a fresh save the following morning. My internal reasoning somehow manages to break it down for me. New games, whether from a brand new franchise or an established series, often bombard you with information upon starting them; there's usually at least a few new concepts and ideas to get your head around.

This often makes game openings feel, for want of a better word, messy, in my illogical mind. I might not clear a room of baddies as effectively as I'd like, or I may miss some admittedly inconsequential pick up. By having that first "off the record" run, I can fumble through the beginning, get to grips with what's involved and then blast through on my "proper" play-through for a perfect opening run.

Perfection is definitely part of my problem. Part of my gaming self is always striving for the perfect game, whether that involves collecting every last item, maximising my characters' strengths or simply completing levels in a cinematic manner. Games present you with a world of finite possibilities. Whereas in the real world you can only do your best and hope it's good enough, games give you a chance to not just do your best, but the best. This is particularly true of RPGs, a genre in which my OCD is perhaps most severe.

Games like Bethesda's Skyrim are vast, detailed, beautiful worlds that most gamers will simply enjoy stomping around in, slaying dragons and playing hero. I however struggled to get off the starting post as I weighed up the merits of every tiny decision.

"Should I pick up this decorative bowl?"

"My inventory is nearly full though."

"Hmmm... I don't think the bowl is worth very much."

"Perhaps I should go back and collect that old sword I left behind instead? I might need it, one day... for... something... maybe?"

Okay, so my internal monologue wasn't quite that tedious, but you get the idea. Most gamers would have just ignored the fucking bowl, while I remained paralysed by indecision. Slowly however, rather than embrace the freeform nature of the vast open world experience, I came to terms with the game the only way my brain knows how. I began brutally and extensively breaking down the game into all its various systems and processes so as to maximise my gameplay. Once I no longer confused the mechanics with mere witchcraft, I took great pleasure in exploiting mechanics like the in-­game economy for all they're worth. No longer would my hero waste time picking up bowls, no matter how decorative. This turns games like Skyrim into effectively the most beautiful and fun-to-use Excel spreadsheet you've ever seen.

I'm pretty sure I'm not entirely alone in my mildly obsessive approach to video games either.­ Take a deeper look at most of the games today and they all seem to positively encourage this behaviour. Nintendo's Pokemon tasks you with "catching them all."­ Not just a few Pokemon, ALL OF THEM.

Ubisoft games like Assassin's Creed sometimes play like glorified checklists as you tick your way through all the available activities. The Hitman series, by IO Interactive, prides itself on rewarding players for perfecting their play-throughs with scores and titles. It's difficult to find a game released in the last generation, and even before that, which doesn't include some form of progress tracker or completion percentage. Just to antagonise those that can't leave until they see that triple figured percentage?

Xbox Achievements play into this too, having become so compulsive to what marketeers lovingly call "completionists," that Sony stole the idea wholesale for its trophy system. With the supply of these gameplay characteristics so abundant, I have to assume that a large number of gamers make up the demand, and I'm happy to stand with them.

So I know I'm in good company when I turn off the console with a satisfied sigh after picking a dungeon clean of exactly the loot I needed, but is this all healthy? I don't think this behaviour is necessarily concerning; games, much like movies, books and other media are a form of escapism for many. Some people like to be transported to different worlds, some love to experience a great story, some like to shoot aliens in the face with dubstep guns, and some like to live in a world, for however long, that allows them to finish things flawlessly.

I am one of those people.

To lap up every task designed for me by the developers, to know that I haven't just done my best, but the best possible within the confines of that purpose ­built environment, that is what kick­starts my OCD and the guilty pleasure that comes with it. I could continue fretting, or I could just see if there's a treasure chest at the end of one of these corridors...

Toby, or Teeohbeing as he goes by on this site, is a self-confessed geek, the classic kind (printed on his heart, rather than his T-shirt), desperate to get into the games industry despite no specifically discernible talent. Read his blog here.

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