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June 12, 2009

Scores Before Friends?

The weather is cruddy on the train tie covered shores of the Hudson River here in Fragville Junction, NY, and I have a day off to work with. So I watched the South Park episode Guitar Queer-O again. It's a fairly profound episode: playing games with your friends is more important than points. I believe it also probably mirrors lots of ruined friendships in the real world, with people who can't deal with being second best, or just bad, rather than "I'm gaming and enjoying time with friends!" First Person Shooter LANS with the Gravediggers started to turn into over-the-top competitiveness, and it wasn't lost on anybody. We would gather food, some adult consumables, a bunch of TVs and 360s or old XBoxes, and link them together, and play in a huge sweaty warehouse. As single men or gameplayers who had spouses that understood the passion for gaming, this was the ultimate in Man Cave gaming. The only thing that would have made it better would be the A/C running, but it wasn't required.

We don't know when the change came, but it was apparently there all of the time. Microsoft's new console came out, the XBox 360. Max had won his through Mountain Dew, and so he allowed his friend, Judas, to pay the difference on Max's reserved unit at EBGames, plus the balance of his 2 reserved games: Ridge Racer 6 and Perfect Dark: Zero. This saved his friend over $100. Max didn't care, it was a bargain for both of them, and he would be able to play with Judas online, and link up a bunch of systems for LANs (Max had 2 XBoxes and 1 XBox 360). Then something happened, playing a game there was a *plink* noise, and something said "Achievement Unlocked". What the hell is an achievement? Click on the power button, and it was something that was unlocked for doing something special in-game. It came along with something called Gamerscore. Track your score and achievements on the console, and also follow it on XBox.com. Sounds silly but fun, now we know if somebody's lying about "beating Halo on Legendary with the pistol!".

After that, things seemed to change, but Max was oblivious to it. His friend wanted a bigger score, and was racing to get achievements and score to be better than any of his friends. This was pointed out to Max, who reacted surprised. Really? Max liked  the Gamerscore, but wasn't made aware until he was closing in on 20,000 points. "It's because Max plays so many XBLA titles. If he didn't, I would have a better score!" said Judas. Max plays too much in the first place, he's been playing videogames since the late 1970s, and he's spent countless thousands of dollars on games, consoles, tokens, controllers, everything gaming. Well, maybe not the stuffed animals, Max got those for free... or so he says. The over competitiveness with Judas and his brother Peter was insane, they apparently had been at it for years, way back into childhood. Competing about everything: women, cars, money, jobs, etc.

Gradually, the LANs died, members stopped playing or showing up altogether. Then one Autumn it was over, just before Christmas. Max had married and moved on, and while Judas was invited to the wedding, after that, done. Over. Max finally had enough, he wouldn't compete anymore. His wife, and his friend Albert saw the friendship was over, and was damaging as well.

Aside from the competition, there was another underlying issue: Max was being treated for depression. Something that many people are aware of, something that people either battle, deal with, or ignore. Judas said that depression and mental illness did not exist, only people who wanted attention said they suffered from depression. Some people crave the attention, I'm sure. But tens of millions of people in the world who suffer know that it's not an imagined situation. Some people who want attention from depression are actually crying out for help, some of those people don't understand how to deal with their depression. But when Judas said depression was an attention-getting thing, Max took that as a personal insult. He wasn't going to be called a liar, he was diagnosed with a chemical imbalance, and having dealt with depression for over 15 years without help, wasn't going to take that nonsense. Again, it was done, over.

Some people just don't get it. When you've got a friend, they don't always want to compete, they don't want to seem better than anybody else, they want to fit in. When a person is dealing with depression, they, too want to be like everybody else and to fit in. It's very simple. When you have a friend who doesn't judge you or care about where you live, what car you drive, what your score is (!), that's a real friend. In the end, does Max want his friend back? He'd like it, but he knows it's not likely, nor is it a good idea. Sometimes it's best to let sleeping dogs lie.. With that, we finish.

Shorter semi-daily "Random Thoughts" can also be found at the Four Tokens Media blog.

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