Video Game Addiction

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 4th Jul 2011

'Addicted to Xbox Achievements and PlayStation Trophies'

Just the Facts Ma'am
Video game addiction -- which is more commonly referred to as video game overuse -- is generally defined as the excessive or compulsive use of computer and video games to the point that it interferes with the routine activities of daily life. Among the common symptoms reported are the act of gamers isolating themselves from family and friends, eschewing other forms of social contact and events that the gamer previously participated in, and altering their lifestyle in order to focus upon in-game achievements rather than broader life events.

There is no solid foundation for the general theory of video game addiction at present largely because there is a lack of empirical evidence to support the definition of the issue as a mental illness. The behavior described above suggests several different forms of addictive attraction, and while the diagnosis of a general addiction to video games is not widely accepted today, there is an acceptance of the idea of addictive or compulsive behavior being associated with specific gaming activities such as acquiring Achievements or Trophies in video games.

There is no formal diagnosis of video game addiction in current medical or psychological literature; at various points in the past decade there have been efforts towards including it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a psychological disorder, but each time the matter was proposed it was rejected because there was not enough research or evidence to conclude that video game addiction was a disorder.

While the disorder has yet to be accepted as legitimate by the mental health community as a whole, the observed effects of video game overuse have been found to be similar to those of other proposed psychological addictions, giving enough weight to the matter to prompt McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, to set up Computer Addiction Services in order to provide treatment to patients referred to the facility by medical and mental health professionals.

The disorder has yet to be recognized by either the American Medical Association or insurance carriers -- and some experts suggest that it will take recognition by health insurance companies before either the government or the mental health community as a whole will willingly accept it as a legitimate disorder.

Bearing that in mind, and the qualification that specific types of behavior -- such as the fixation upon obtaining in-game Achievements or Trophies -- have been found to meet with the definitions for addictive behavior in the classic sense, something that most gamers recognize early on even if the mental health community has failed to define and accept it -- and we even have a title for that sort of addiction: Achievement Whore.

Achievement Whore

Person who acquires XBOX 360 console games for the sole purpose of getting all of the achievements for that game to gain gamerscore.

From the Urban Dictionary --

Achievement points are awarded for a number of reasons, but most often for completing a game-specific challenge. They have also traditionally been awarded for completing collections and for carefully engineered subsets of activities within a game, but the most common type of Achievement and Trophy are awarded for simply completing a section of a video game -- a scheme and connection that has been a part of the Achievement system since its inception.

Achievements and GP have become so central to the value that the gaming community places upon new titles that its depth and implementation in modern games have come to be recognized as value-added content in the game design process, so much so that many developers have teams whose primary function it is to design and implement Achievements and GP in their games to make it a more interesting and integral element of game play.

In May of 2007 Microsoft Game Studios and Bungee released Halo 2 as the first Games for Windows title to feature Achievements, integrating the Achievements and GP from the PC version into the existing Gamerscore database, so that for the first time in the history of modern gaming points scored in a PC version of a game counted towards the Gamerscore on the console side.

This was a pretty significant addition to the program, which had finally reached the point where it was being taken as seriously by developers and publishers as it was by gamers, and this change in the perception of GP had the beneficial side-effect of legitimizing it in the eyes of the industry -- a change in perceptions that prompted Microsoft to move to protect the integrity of the program by cracking down on gamers who cheated in it or manipulated their Gamerscore and Achievement counts.

In March 2008 Microsoft cracked down hard upon "Gamerscore cheaters" by implementing technology that allowed them to identify and punish gamers who had edited their GP totals and individual Achievements, or who had downloaded game saves off of the Interwebs and installed them on their console, thus tricking it into a literal orgy of ding! ding! ding!

Once they were identified, these violators discovered that the LIVE Policy Enforcement Team had reached into their individual accounts and reduced their Gamerscores to zero, publicly branding their violation of the rules by adding the title "Cheater" to the public side of their Gamer Tag and profile.

The zeroing-out of their Gamerscore did not just remove the illegally obtained points, but eliminated ALL of the GP that each violator had acquired in their years of gaming, including points obtained legitimately. Not only that, but any Achievement previously unlocked by a gamer found guilty of Gamerscore cheating were permanently disabled -- so gamers could not come back and replay the games to add those Achievements legitimately. They were still allowed to gain GP and unlock Achievements for games they had not played before and from new releases, but the GP and Achievements for the titles in their personal library of games were now untouchable.

This had the understandable effect of causing many violators to delete their accounts and start over with new Gamer Tags -- but in the end the message was delivered -- Gamerscore cheating would not be tolerated. Additional punishments were handed out to the most persistent of violators, including the permanent ban of the offending Gamer Tag and, frequently, their console.

Console bans were used especially to punish gamers who made use of the services of professional "GP" Consultants, who would unlock Achievements and Gamerscore for payment of real world money, a trend that Microsoft sought to end quickly, because its existence subverted perceptions of the underlying value of the Gamerscore as a means for measuring gamer rank and social standing.

Achievement Hunting
The response of the gaming community to these changes, and the recognition of both Gamerscore and Achievements as a legitimate system for evaluating position and prowess was to create entire new online gamer community whose approach to Achievement hunting was both legitimate and intense.

The members of the Achievement Hunting community first began to trade information on methods for unlocking the Achievements in new games on gaming chat boards, with the pursuit eventually spawning the creation of websites like and similar sites, whose basic premise was to assist gamers in the process of fully unlocking the 1,000 GP for each game using legitimate methods, or at least methods that would not result in a ban...

The Achievement Hunting Community represents just one facet of the multifaceted community of gamers who consider GP to be a good reason to play a game. The Hunters are perhaps a more extreme example, with the majority falling into a significantly less intense population of gamers who view GP as a nice bonus to their gaming, but not as a principal motivating factor...

When a gamer ends up in the GP Hunting minority, the chances are very good that they arrived there through a very common practice in console gaming -- they ended up in a GP competition with one of their mates, and once they got started, they simply never stopped -- and continue to rack up GP often long after the original competitors in the race have given up.

It is fair to say that most gamers view GP as an interesting and even fun side-effect of their gaming, but for the most part they do not pick their games based on GP, or the idea of it being an easy 1K GP or anything like that. The existence of derogatory titles and countless jokes as well as cautionary tales about Achievement Whores and Whoring are demonstrative of the general sense of ridicule that most gamers hold for the minority of gamers who focus upon that pursuit -- to the point that it has actually become a common insult in the gaming vernacular to accuse a gamer of being an Achievement Whore.

When you examine their Gamerscore and the individual games that they play the underlying patterns revealed there tend to identify their motivation much more accurately and easily than asking the question directly. In simple terms there are certain games that, if you see them in a gamers played game list by themselves mean nothing, but when they are found in clusters, are a dead giveaway, and reveal a lot more about the gamer than they probably mean to or are comfortable with.

-- Ten Clues that Indicate
You May have an Achievement Habit --

10: More of the games in your games played List have 1000GP than don't

09: Avatar: The Last Airbender is in your games played list (5 Achievements + 3 Minutes = 1000GP)

08: Madden NFL 06 and 08 are in your games played list at 1000 GP each and they are the ONLY football games in the list... Those of you who have them know why. Note that you could also have just one or the other and this still SIMply be True.

07: The Simpsons Game is in your games played list and the only Achievement you have for it is "Press START to Play" -- what has been universally declared to be the easiest achievement... Ever.

06: NBA2K6 is in your games played (5 Achievements +1 Hour = 1000GP)


04: Peter Jackson's King Kong is in your games played list (5 Hours = 1000GP)

03: Fight Night Round 3 is in your games played list (3 hours = 1000GP)

02: You own a second (or third) Xbox 360 from different regions so that you can play that region's games to add them to your GS -- owning a JP NTSC Console so that you can 1000GP the Asian Region version of BioShock is a dead give-away!

01: The Tramp Stamp on the back of your Sim in The Sims 3 reads "Achievement Whore"

A Bit of History. . .
The Xbox LIVE Service was first introduced to console gamers in 2002 with the launch of Microsoft's original Xbox Game Console -- with an updated version of the service included in the launch of the 2nd generation of Xbox console, the Xbox 360, in 2005. In 2007 the LIVE service was extended to include Windows PC's running a Microsoft OS, in conjunction with the new gaming service called Games for Windows LIVE, and again in 2011 with the launch of the Windows-based cell phone Operating System and its associated services, branded as 'Windows Phone 7' -- with its new and scaled-down version of LIVE included as an integral element in Microsoft's mobile gaming strategy.

The Xbox LIVE service is an integral part of Microsoft's console, and from the user POV revolves around the identity of each gamer in the form of their "Gamer Tag" -- a unique pseudonym (or nickname) created by the gamer that represents their identity on the LIVE service and across the many different online multi-player core services that are included with most games today.

Many gamers consider the Xbox to be the source of game Achievements -- the general idea being that when they "invented" Achievements over at Xbox they were the first to do it -- but this is not entirely true. It would be more accurate to say that the blokes over at Xbox came up with a public system for publishing Achievements, since many games that came out prior to the original Xbox had lists of challenges and collections of activities that, for lack of a better term, were in-game Achievements.

An Interview with an Achievement Addict

In the process of researching a piece on Gamerscore Cheaters we met Gerald, an unemployed HVAC Technician from Maidenhead (Maidenhead is a town and unparished area within the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, in Berkshire, England -- in other words it is a real place, not a made-up town) who describes himself as "an unemployed bloke on the dole who spends his time playing Xbox and tending the garden."

Due to his addiction to Gamerscore, the criteria that Gerald uses in selecting games is different than that of most gamers, though not every game is selected based upon how easy its Achievements are -- he still picks up games that he likes to play, he just happens to play a lot of games that he does not particularly care for all that much. But as he explains it -- "You don't get your Gamerscore to 160K by playing only the games you like, mate!"

Gaming Update sat down for a brief chat with Gerald to explore the world of the Gamerscore Addict, and present this Interview for your edification and entertainment...

Gaming Update: How did you end up addicted to Gamerscore?

Gerald: For most of my life I was playing PC games and beating them, and then moving on to the next game you know? Getting to the end of the game meant beating it, and maybe I did not do you know, everything that there was to do you know? But that was that.

Then I got my Xbox 360 and the first game that I played was Kameo, and I think I was only playing for ten minutes and my first Achievement popped up -- it was the one for finding Pummel Weed -- and you know, it said I earned 20 Gamerscore you know? And I was like 'what the hell is that?'

So I did a web search and I learned about Gamerscore you know? And it was an epiphany. Suddenly you know, there was a reason to play every part of a game, and a reason to replay a game, and a reason to care about finding everything and it was, you know, amazing.

Gaming Update: So it was unlocking that first Achievement that did it for you?

Gerald: Well no, not really. You know, the first one was good but what it was you know, was that it started me wanting to unlock all of the Achievements in the game, you know?

So that got me started on the idea of the Achievements being part of the challenge of the game, you know? But it was not the Achievements so much as my best mate Roy who rang me up because you see he bought a 360 and he needed help getting it online.

So I went over to his flat and figured out that he needed to get an Ethernet hub because, you know, his PC was hooked right into the Internet and he needed to be able to share the connection. So I helped him out with that and then we were talking about games you know, and he had finished King Kong which he had gotten with his 360.

So I loaned him Kameo and borrowed King Kong, and later that day we befriended each other on the Xbox and he had a higher Gamerscore, you know, and Roy he likes to trash talk you know, so he challenged me sort of by pointing out that I had my 360 longer than he had his but his Gamerscore was better than mine, you know?

So yeah, I would have to say that was when I got addicted to Gamerscore...

Gaming Update: So it was competition with your mate that got you hooked?

Gerald: That but it also changed the way I viewed games you know? How I evaluated them, how I decided which ones I wanted to play. It was not a change for the better you know, seriously not.

Gaming Update: How do you mean?

Gerald: Most gamers probably look at the Achievements in a game to decide how much extra that they want to play it, you know, to unlock them. For me it is not a decision so much as a need...

I mean, take Call of Duty 2 for example, not a game with a really large number of Achievements in it, and you could easily play through it to the end and have unlocked like four Achievements and you know, you won the game so for most normal gamers that is it, you know? Game over? But not for me, no, I would just be getting started.

Gaming Update: How does that work? When you say you are just getting started?

Gerald: OK so for you when you play the game, you put it into your Xbox and you play it and you unlock a few Achievements and you are done, you know? But for me, that is, that is just way after the start.

See, the first thing that I do after I get a game I have not played yet is I look it up online to see what the Achievements are, you know? The site I prefer to use is you know? Because they will have a complete list of all of the Achievements but also a road map to maybe the best way to get them all, but more important you know, is they will have a list of which ones you can miss by accident, and you have to know what ones those are before you start playing or you can end up wasting a lot of time and effort.

So the first thing I do is look the game up there, and then I make a list of all of the Achievements, you know? With a spot next to each for me to tick when I have unlocked that one, so I have a nice and orderly way to keep track of my progress through a game.

If there are Achievements that are tricky or it is important that you unlock them before a certain point or something, you know, I make a note of it there, and then I chart out the plan that I will follow to unlock them all.

Gaming Update: And this is something you have to do each time?

Gerald: Yeah it is my system. I have notebooks for you know, every game I have ever played, with my notes and stuff; that is especially important for games where the difficulty Achievements do not stack so I end up having to play through three or four times depending, you know?

I will always start by playing through at the highest difficulty that I can, and then work my way down because you know, then it gets easier.

Gaming Update: Are there particular types of Achievements that you like or dislike?

Gerald: Oh yeah! I despise the ones for playing the games for x-number of hours because they almost always require you to play a game way more than you actually need to in terms of time to unlock all the Achievements, you know?

I really like the ones that spell out a finite set of requirements -- like kill x-number of this mob, or find x-number of this object, because those are like bread and jam, easy and quick with a goodly element of you know, obvious progress. The other type, you spend a lot of time looking at the stats page and thinking OK, I only have to play for ten more hours...

But you have to play because if you don't you never unlock that Achievement and it is about unlocking that Achievement, you know?

Gaming Update: The primary motivation is unlocking the next Achievement then? Do you still compete with Roy?

Gerald: Well yeah but you know, it has to be under the right circumstances too. Yeah Roy and I still complete, but you know, we all compete. There are blokes on my friend list who i know are painting a target on my back, and would love to catch up and beat me (laughs).

I keep an eye on them, you know? And when they get close -- like within two or three thousand points, I pull out one of the games in my twink pile, which are games with easy to unlock Achievements and in a few hours you know, I will increase the gap another couple of thousand points. It drives them crazy (laughs) because they think, yeah, I am getting close and he will never see me coming, but I see them. I keep an eye on them. We all do that.

Gaming Update: When you say it has to be under the right conditions?

Gerald: Yes. I have to be connected to the Internet, you know, because otherwise your unlocks don't get time-stamped, so you don't know when you unlocked it. I like to be able to go back and look and see that you know, on such-and-such a date I had a really good night and I maybe unlocked thirty Achievements in that one night.

If you are not connected the unlocks are blank, you don't get the date attached to them, and that is no good. Really.

Gaming Update: How long have you been addicted to Gamerscore Gerald?

Gerald: Yeah, from that day in 2005 I told you about. Addicted? Yeah, I am addicted. I should probably get help for this, but I am having so much fun that you know, I don't want help. It's like some people say well, you have a problem, and yeah maybe I do, but you know, I am not sitting on a barstool drinking myself stupid or playing silly buggers with drugs, I am playing video games.

You know you can use a word like addicted, but what does it really mean? I could stop any time I wanted to, I just, you know, don't want to. You know?