“Fake” Achievements in Video Games (Or … Life Is Meaningless)

Peter Michaud has an interesting pushback against video game achievements, Achievement Porn,

The article is surprisingly interesting, and his point cogent, but there’s a whole meta discussion that he seems to have missed: regardless of whether the video game you’re playing is skill based or treadmill based, it’s still a video game. Far be it for me to judge a person’s choice in entertainment media, but no one who watches reality TV labors under the illusion that they are achieving anything substantial. Any achievement in a video game is a “fake achievement.” And video games aren’t alone.

Michaud goes on to label a number of real-world achievements, such as academic progress through grade systems, as achievement porn as well.

I actually agree with him on his larger claim, but Michaud doesn’t take his argument far enough, apparently believing their are achievements that aren’t fake,

This explosive growth in “achievement porn” is why it’s more important than ever to get your mind right about what you’re doing with your life and why you’re doing it.

The easy part to culling the bullshit is to ask yourself: Is this activity making a positive, tangible difference in my life or anyone else’s life? Is it a real, true prerequisite for a tangibly effective activity? Alternatively, am I totally okay with doing this just because I like doing it, laboring under no illusion that it benefits me or anyone else?

This is simply relativism despite what Michaud claims in a follow-up essay. Maybe for him, garnering achievements in World of Warcraft doesn’t add up as making a “tangible difference in my life” but for me it does. Similarly, I don’t see the point at all of those treadmill-like Facebook games, but I know quite a few people for whom they are extraordinarly tangible and have a very positive effect on their lives.

Or put differently, life is meaningless aside from the idiosyncratic and relative meaning that individuals choose to assign to it. Sure my WoW achievements are fake. So are my promotions at work, my degree, and whatever meaning readers will ascribe to this essay. If earning video game achievements are your thing, go for it. If sitting around meditating on the nature of the universe is your thing, go for that. In the end, none of it has any objective meaning or point, but rather only relative value to you, which you’ll have to decide.

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