I found myself giggling this morning as I reclined with a fresh cup of coffee and the Nintendo Switch in my lap.
Some adults read the paper on a Sunday morning… I sip coffee and play Animal Crossing.
I consider myself a “gamer” to a certain extent. Gaming amongst adults is pretty normal now, and I don’t feel it makes me any less of an adult. It’s a casual hobby to be enjoyed when the dust settles around all the moving pieces of life. I could never get paid to game, and I’m not on any leaderboards, but it’s something I enjoy doing when I actually find the free time.
It started in the 5th grade when Santa brought a green special edition Nintendo 64. It of course came with Donkey Kong 64, the only game I had for a while until I saved up for MarioKart. It took me a shamefully long time to figure out how to toss around explosive oranges, but once I did, there was something incredibly satisfying about running around as one of 5 monkey aliases collecting bananas of various colors in each level. I later realized DK64 is classified as a “collection game,” and not everyone enjoys that style of video game.
You mean to tell me not everyone gets strange satisfaction from collecting 201 golden bananas and 101%-ing a game?
DK64 is the reason I call myself a “completionist” in the gaming world. I love finishing every single objective, checking all the boxes, discovering all the items, exploring every corner, and seeing a 100% after the end credits. I’ve done this with DK64, Banjo Kazooie, Mario, the Resident Evil franchise, and many others.
Most notably, I did this with Zelda, Breath of the Wild. 100%-ing Zelda took me over 200 hours (not consecutively). Finding all those Korok seeds to hit 100% was straight up Nintendo trolling the completionists, let me tell you. But the accomplishment I felt was incredible.
As I was counting the number of fossils I’ve discovered in Animal Crossing this morning, a realization settled over me. “Completionist” is not only an adjective for my gaming style, but also a personality trait I developed as I advanced through adulthood.
This may be more of an epiphany than a realization.
I think I finally figured myself out.
In reflection of my recent posts, it seems I have a fixation on checking all those adulting boxes, covering all my bases, experiencing all the moments. When expected moments don’t happen, I feel empty with unspent momentum and the disappointment can be bitter.
I want this experience to be complete.
I want to collect every single banana and see that 100% at the end.
But whose game is this?
Animal Crossing has built-in goals to accomplish. Resident Evil 3 has a pre-written story. DK64 pre-placed all those bananas for discovery, and I know damn well that blue turtle shell that smacked my ass at the finish line was gunning for me from the beginning!
I need to complete these virtual lists and check these non-existent boxes that were programed into a digital game for entertainment, because they bring a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that we all seek in real life but cannot always instantly have.
Sometimes we cannot control reality’s storyline. It spirals out in these strange microbursts of energy and fury. So instead, we control digital pre-programed stories and feel like we’re getting somewhere when reality feels paused.
200 hours in a game is like a lifetime of adventure and yields a few moments of blissful satisfaction along with infinite bragging rights.
200 hours in life is barely enough time to make a decision.
I cannot continue to look at life the way I look at a game. This isn’t a battle of completion. There is no pre-determined storyline, there is no list of objectives, there is no meter measuring my success.
I program this path.
I decide what it means to be an adult.
I decide what it means to be successful.
The goal isn’t to complete everything.
The satisfaction is in the journey.
If I can keep this in my mind, the pressure I feel to achieve everything I wrote for myself dissipates a little.
This is my game. My life. My list of objectives. In videogames, there’s no negotiation on what it means to “win”. In reality, goals can flex. They can shift. They can move fluidly through time and adjust at will. You don’t “win” life.
No one gets out alive, after all.
Being a “completionist” is placing a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself, and hinders my ability to enjoy the ride.
I’m going to finish this cup of coffee. I’m going to keep counting my fossils in Animal Crossing. I’ll probably never get the paper and read it on Sundays like my dad. There’s no deadline for my goal of publishing a book, I don’t have to be a parent right away, and so what if I haven’t put away the laundry yet.
An Animal Crossing bug just flew by that I need to go catalog, and I have all the time in the world.