Automating Fun: Thoughts on Idle Gaming

in Editorial & Opinion

By Noah Tebben, Contributor

As a recent graduate of dear old RPI, I look back to what felt like two seconds of being a senior and think about how I slipped from proper gamer status into the desolate state of being a sideline player prime for gatekeeping. We all love the RPI dick-measuring contest of how packed our schedules are, and at the time I was taking 24-credits and working three jobs and doing all of the above at a mediocre level.

With that, I have a confession to make. Despite all of the work I had to do, I still grew a healthy Call of Duty profile and racked up many an hour on similar shitshows of gaming popularity. You’re probably thinking that I just had terrible prioritization, and you’d be right. But I actually was able to have my CoD and eat it too. I’ll explain after some background info.

Much in the way that Cookie Clicker or Candy Box grabbed many an internet kiddie a few years ago, I was hooked on games for the economization aspects of the game mechanics. That is, I didn’t enjoy video games for their shootery goodness or challenging trials so much as I enjoyed accumulating a digital wealth of worthless experience points and fake currencies. I was just barely more hip than a digital stamp collector and twice as useless. I’d select some games over others because of the military and sci-fi settings, sure, but the primary driver I had to play was to earn those sweet, sweet digipoints.

Cookie Clicker and Candy Box fell into a niche category called ‘Idle Gaming’. That is, the primary game mechanic is to do a menial task, like clicking on a big on-screen cookie, to earn some arbitrary currency which you then use to purchase tools and upgrades to earn more arbitrary currency to purchase more tools to earn more arbitrary currency in an exponentially-expanding loop. The rush of earning and the speed of growth was the hook. These were called Idle Games because they would accumulate currency for you even while you weren’t actively playing. You could make your purchases and upgrades at the start of the day, enjoy your classes and do your homework and know that your game was still making progress without you. And after all that was done, you could come back to a pile of earned goodies and do it all over again. It ran while you slept. It ran while you ate. You were always playing and you were only putting in minutes a day if you wanted to. This was the ideal scenario for a busy student with an economic game addiction.

Of course, I’d get impatient and work out ways to beat the system. If I could get twice the rewards in half the time, that would leave me even more time to get my school life in order. Why not four times the rewards? Why not cheat the game and see all there is to see in an evening, and then move on? Sure, it was dissatisfying and disingenuous, but it got the gamified monkey off of my back and left me with even more time in the day to get things done. Which I then used to find other idle games to explore and get hooked by. (It was almost like the problem wasn’t with my workload but with my time management. Nah, I’m sure it was something else.)

Thankfully, I got the idle games all out of my system by my junior year. Except, there were still the mainstream games that now had the same economization aspect. And I still was hungry for it. Why not go bigger? For the busy student with no game time, I worked out a way to turn Call of Duty into Duty Clicker 2017. Automation is becoming increasingly powerful in the world, and just as Fortune 500 companies and burgeoning research institutes use automation to carry out their work, I used automation to ‘play’ my video games autonomously and leave me free to work and work some more without putting in the game time. I got input recording software for my gaming machine. I did analysis on the game’s menus, its time delays between screens, the ways the game paid out experience and unlockables. With all of this work, I was able to make a digital puppet that would queue into games, go prone to stay hidden from the enemy team, and use the melee button repeatedly to avoid being booted for inactivity. So yes, I created a bot to fist the ground and give observant internet strangers free kills, but after every match, I would receive experience and CoD currency, and that’s all I wanted. My stats suffered, I blatantly broke the CoD code of conduct and could have been banned, but it did work. I could start the script, use my entire day, and then cash out with several hours’ worth of goodies at the end of the day. Was it sad? Oh yeah. Pointless? Absolutely. I fed the addiction this way while managing to tread water with my actual responsibilities.

I bring this story up to illustrate some of the complex psychological things that can go wrong with video games. Granted, I’m a weird egg. I’m positive there are maybe 14 other people on the planet who might have had the same dedication to digital currencies and unlockables, and that’s it. But as we start to see gamification taking place in more and more of our personal lives, branching outside of recreation into our actual work, I wouldn’t be surprised to see video game addiction getting more mainstream recognition and support.

To close, I wish I could say I shed these habits in the post-grad world. I am much better. I shy away from any game that has too much emphasis on collectibles and time investment, usually staying away from anything that takes more than 100 hours to complete. I don’t play Call of Duty anymore once the core game mechanics get stale. However, I still do automate some games for their digital items. I still use exploits and glitches to obtain rewards faster, where I can. I’ve made steps, and there is still some way to go. Idle games and the economization of their mechanics can be a great hook, but they can end up eating more time than a game that requires your active attention for a weekend or two. Time is your biggest asset. I can’t recommend enough to be really tough on how you budget it, if you’ll accept a hypocrite’s advice.

Oh, and when I die in 60-odd years, I want my coffin’s camo to be Red Tiger.

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