Inside The Mind Of A Completionist - mbellacio Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Inside The Mind Of A Completionist

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Do you have the entire layout for Super Mario Bros. memorized? Know every secret from every Castlevania ever made? Did you play through each Grand Theft Auto until you had discovered every hidden package, aced every rampage? Well then... you, are most likely a completionist. But don't worry, I happen to be one to, so I feel your joy... and pain.

But what makes a completionist tick? Is it healthy, or does it hint at some sort of twisted pathology? Well, I'm no doctor, so ofcourse what I say will just be my opinion, but I happen to think completionism is actually quite normal and healthy... when done right.

When I was thinking about the topic of completionism, I suddenly remembered reading an interview that had been done with Sigourney Weaver who as you all know played our favorite Alien killing hero, Ellen Ripley. They asked Madame Weaver what she thought was the driving fascination with the Aliens movies, and it's creatures. Her explanation fascinated me, but was so perfect in it's simplicity. She stated that because humans are so inherently weak and vulnerable when compared to other creatures, we have a natural fascination with something like the xenomorphs which were such perfect predators and survivors. In other words, our envy is what fueled our interest.

I would suspect, that there is a similar sort of mental process for the completionist. It feels quite good to say that you have completely mastered something to the point where there there is no room for improvement. How often do we get to say that in life?

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Historically, humans know more about beginning ambitious plans than they do finishing them. Ancient civilizations built gigantic statues and monuments that were usually never completed within one lifetime, or even two. Great Conquerors lived long enough to expand their dominions, but rarely lived to see them at their greatest heights or their eventual demise. Famous artists, composers, mathematicians, and scientists alike often layed the foundations for discoveries that would literally change the course of history, but time denied them the honor of any recognition for it.

So then perhaps our time is unique. A modern gamer samples hundreds of different lives, hundreds of different stories with thousands of different endings and possibilities. And for those dilligent enough to pursue it, one can see the beginning, the middle and the end of countless lifetimes. Is that meaningful?

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It's been said that many of the games that children engage in are vital to character development because children often are involved in elaborate role-playing. So playing hide and seek, as simple as it may have seemed, may have just been the beginning of your desire to be a private investigator, or police detective. Building a snow "fort" might have been the genesis of your desire to work in construction. The point is that playtime is not always about just having fun. Sometimes it's a powerful means of problem solving or motivation.

I can personally attest that there have been days when my thoughts were an absolute mess, and all I wanted to do was sit down and veg out with a good game. But inevitably, something funny would happen. Having success in a challenging game often built up my confidence in my problem solving skills. And the harder the game, the better I felt. Before long, I would find myself thinking, "If I could figure this out, I MUST be pretty bada**!!!" As with most challenges in life, having sufficient confidence is a huge part of attaining success. You can't win unless you try, and you won't try unless you believe you can win. It would seem that something as simple as an artificial achievement in a game can help bridge that gap between believing and trying.

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Ofcourse, there is a dark side to being a completionist. The bitter truth is that all too often, playing a game to 100% completion just isn't worth it. When attaining achievements becomes little more than bragging rights between a small social set. the benefits are difficult to see. Which leads to another point. I tend to think that games can provide a compelling parallel to our real lives.

A completionist in gaming would most likely be a perfectionist in the real world. But the unpleasant truth about perfectionism is that it is at least partially rooted in delusion. Perfection does not exist in our world, and trying to madly pursue it can easily cause an individual to miss out on a lot of beautiful things along the way.

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So if your favorite thing is nailing impossible head shots in the latest FPS, is that all your getting out of it? Yeah, you've played Saints Row 3, and beaten it like 10 times. But how much of that world did you actually soak up? Did you compare the textures on the walls throughout the city? Did you find details that almost certainly everyone else would miss?

I guess the big takeaway here is that achievements for achievements sake can get pretty hollow after a while. You can master every special move and fatality in Mortal Kombat to brag to your friends, or you can do it for the personal satisfaction. When goals start to become just a meaningless collection of boxes to check off, you've missed the point entirely. That rule applies to the virtual world, and the real one.

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