NOTE: This article was originally published on GameChurch. It is solely the author’s intention to re-publish it on Theology Gaming for compilation purposes.
I lay on my bed restless. My mind deep in anguish, my heart sank in despair. It was going to be a tough night after what happened. I didn’t fail a test, nor get fired from a job. My family and friends were all alive and well. Nevertheless, I was facing a crisis — one that was made of platinum and in the shape of a trophy.
People enjoy making progress, regardless of what they do. Video games are especially competent of delivering such sensation through many of their common structures and mechanics. If you are like me, however, an additional layer of progress-tracking is always welcome. Thus is the lure of achievement systems — meta-games that award players who are willing to fulfil requirements beyond that of regular play.
Back in 2009, I started gaming on the PlayStation 3. It wasn’t long before I grew accustomed to the ubiquitous pinging that resounded every time I used the console. When trophies popped, I couldn’t help but sense a permanency to what I had achieved. These digital symbols latched onto my PSN profile and endured even after games had run their course. They seemed like timeless accomplishments.
This was all very satisfying. Yet, things got complicated when I approached this hobby with the trait of perfectionism.
Psychologists have identified two distinct types of perfectionists. Those belonging to the adaptive group go the extra mile in search of excellence. The standard of their goals are high, but remain realistic and attainable by effort. Even when they do fail, the reaction is not one of negativity. They move on with newly gained experience and become better equipped for the next task.
I had assumed that this was my attitude toward trophy hunting. After all, I was raking them in with great success and I enjoyed both the games and the extra challenges that the system offered. As my confidence grew, I developed a determination to collect every trophy of every game that I played on the console. That goal appeared reasonable at the time.
Reality struck when I stumbled upon a game called Brutal Legend — precisely, its multiplayer component. Its unstable servers frustrated me, but I persisted and managed to connect from time to time. Nevertheless, I was stunned upon noticing that my statistics kept on resetting periodically, making it impossible to accumulate the number of “wins” required for one of the trophies. I searched the internet for solutions, tried again and again, but to no avail. Eventually, I realised that it was no longer up to me; whether or not I could unlock the platinum trophy for this game was out of my control.
One could see that this was a key moment for me. I should have simply considered it a lesson and moved on. Somehow, as I gazed at my profile, now clearly flawed, the permanency that I once admired had turned increasingly detestable. My brand of perfectionism was being exposed as far from adaptive.
Alas, I was a member of the second type of perfectionists — the maladaptive. I struggled in dealing with failure. In this case, I couldn’t accept the fact that reality was in conflict with my goal. I fixated on trying to remedy the issue, to the extent of going on a complaint campaign. I wrote to Double Fine Productions (developer) and Electronic Arts (publisher) to persuade them of patching the bug. Later, I even wrote to Sony and requested that they allow users the option of deleting trophies so that I could pretend this whole thing never happened. As expected, my pleas were ignored, ridiculed, or given the courteous reply: “Thank you, we will take your advice into consideration.” Despite my best efforts, nothing brought relief to my predicament.
Fun and games became fear and gloom. The concentration I had for life weakened, as even sleep eluded me. My strivings for perfection had ultimately led me to destruction. The irony couldn’t be more apparent.
After spending a month in this state, I was undoubtedly tired. But having had some time to think, I knew that it was vital for me to accept imperfection as part of the human condition. During that period, I also came across an interesting verse from the Bible. It read: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”1 At the very least, this wisdom encouraged me to readjust my perspective. We all set personal goals, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to consider the bigger picture — to discern what is fleeting from what is truly perfect and everlasting. Life is prone to disappointment and failure, yet I have learned not to fall into panic, but to simply look further ahead at the larger goal of attaining an everlasting crown. I just hope that it comes in platinum.
- 1 Corinthians 9:25 (NIV).