What Motivates Me: A Completionist’s View

Link Eyes

I’m a completionist. From the moment I could play games, anything less than a 100% on the little completion counter has bugged me.

I’m a completionist. From the moment I could play games, anything less than a 100% on the little completion counter has bugged me. But what is interesting to me is how often I will bypass parts of a game that have some reasonable support but do not have any kind of percentage point effect on the game.

Personally, I find there is a fine line between what motivates me and what fails to do so, and it isn’t always easy to distinguish. Part of it ties back to the concept of reward or achievements. Finding this threshold of what motivates me through the world of gaming has helped me understand how I can attack tasks in life with the most efficiency.

Secret Prizes

Blast Corps is a great example of a game that motivated me by both completionist advances as well as simple mementos. Blast Corps was an amazingly ingenuitive game; the point was, for the most part, to demolish buildings with a variety of destructive vehicles to make room for an explosive truck that was moving along its set path. Beyond this, there were weird(ly awesome) side missions that were not related to the main story, like destroying giant metallic floating balls in a jetting mech machine or a giant maze shaped like a level out of old-school Pac-man.

The path for progressing through the game was straightforward; if you want to simply go through the levels helping the truck get through without doing much else you could. However, the game threw in a free-roam exploration element after each level where you could go back, destroy what you wanted to, try to light up some scattered nodes and find random extras around the map.

This fed wonderfully into my completionist tendencies. I would spend hours looking for those nodes in dark crevices of the level, and I loved trying to work out the little puzzles to find hidden secrets in the levels. The moment I could backtrack to levels to get everything, I would. That exploration component of looking for a specific reward in a free-roam atmosphere always intrigues me, especially with a tangible reward. In this case you could unlock new cars for the race mode as well as other vehicles and add-ons.

Acknowledgements of Mastery

Beyond this completionist aspect of the game, each level had a medal rank based on the completion time. It has been too long for me to remember if getting the golds led to tangible rewards. I want to say maybe they unlocked new levels. Either way, the simple symbol of the gold was enough of a reward to really push forward and try to get all golds.

However, after completing the entire game with golds, I realized there were platinum medals. These definitely had no tangible reward besides the medal itself (except perhaps some obscure thing for doing them all). Yet the challenge and the platinum symbol was enough for me to push through the game, going for what I could get. Granted I was pretty young and some of the plantinums were brutally hard, so I did not get them all, but it amazes me to this day that the challenge of the levels with the medal achievement was enough for me to take my best shot.

This aspect leads to a contrast of completion tasks and open ended tasks. I will always be more motivated by a task that has an achievement in conjunction with the completion. This gives me something I can strive for, push forward more and more and then finally achieve. In contrast, I have a harder time motivating myself to keep pushing in an open ended game, such as an arcade style high-score game or something like Animal Crossing.

I will always be more motivated by a task that has an achievement in conjunction with the completion.

Geometry Wars, for example, has a medal system in tandem with an open arcade style high score system. I found myself not really caring if I died once I hit the gold medal. I would try to survive simply because I knew that this was my one opportunity to get some kind of high score since I was unlikely to come back to the level, but that high score aspect was almost irrelevant in comparison to the medal for me.

Context Matters

The context and setting of the rewards are important as well. For example, I have been finding it hard to care about the additional trophies in Kingdom Hearts 3D. I got the five I needed to get the better ending and have no drive to do any of the others.

Though this is running on the memento system, I feel it fails to retain my attention for three reasons. One is the tiered ending aspect. The game has a better ending that is achievable by getting a certain number of trophies, adjusted by difficulty. By having the harder difficulties require fewer trophies, I feel like it is almost wasting the value of playing the game on a harder difficulty to go and get the other medals.

To be fair, with medals that encompass very different aspects of the gameplay, it seems the designers wanted the player to pick up on the ones that fit their style, so I can find satisfaction in that reasoning even if it irks the completionist in me. For example, some of the medals for creating monsters and getting affection up seem over the top to me, but I know people that would really latch on to this aspect of the game.

The second reason is the genre and style of the game. Blast Corps kept me going with mementos because it was more of an individual level, test-your-might style game. Kindom Hearts, as an action/rpg, captivated me more with the completionism of its story aspects. Thus getting the best ending becomes more of a threshold than the trophies themselves.

Thirdly, I look to the simple fact that I am older. I have more responsibilities, less free time and thus have more of an eye towards spending my time in a meaningful way. This leads to shifting thresholds. Some things still keep my attention well, like an uber boss or interesting side story arcs. On the other hand, some things are harder to justify, like replaying a game for different endings.

The completionist part of me encompasses a large part of my gaming experience, so I’m sure this concept will pop up in other posts, but I feel like I should get to the worldly takeaways.

What Does This Mean for Life?

Ultimately, these experiences have made me more aware of my tendencies and motivations. Among other things, I have come to realize that it is good for me to try to create clear boundaries of completion.

For example, I’m writing this article months before it goes out, because my brother and I have created a launch timeline with a goal of how many posts I want written by then. The timeline goal is helping with my time management and focus, and the reward will be the ease around rolling this blog out.

It’s vital to keep what motivates me in mind when assessing future tasks. For example, if I ever wanted to go the entrepreneurial route and try to start a company, it would be key to make some kind of memento reward system for myself. Without set boundaries, goals and personal rewards, the open-endedness and vastness of such a task would deplete my motivation fast.

If I ever wanted to go the entrepreneurial route and try to start a company, it would be key to make some kind of memento reward system for myself. Without set boundaries, goals and personal rewards, the open-endedness and vastness of such a task would deplete my motivation fast.

Another good example is my recent inclination towards certifications. I am looking to try to put down a  CPA, CFE and CFA within the next 5 years or so. I know I can get myself to understand the contents of a textbook for a test such as these.

However, I find it hard to motivate myself to read about, say, SQL or put a lot of effort into learning a new language. Without a completion element, it has always been extremely hard for me to build motivation for learning other languages. Perhaps going forward I can devise a strategy that will help ease this process. For example, I worked on my VBA skills using projecteuler.net which has a bounded problem solving style.

I’ve also noticed recently how much a simple positive comment can act as a strong reward. Receiving a “thank you, great job” from a boss or co-worker is often one of the best rewards after a hard task. This is not that different from getting an achievement in a game to acknowledge that I have completed some task. Though I aim to give positive reinforcement for successfully achieved tasks, considering my own nature I have tried to make a special effort at this for those that seem to thrive off of the completion token, similar to me.

Anyways, that’s it for now. Let me know if you guys feel similarly about motivation. Are you more motivated by set goals with token rewards or more open ended tasks with full liberty to sink your teeth into many different aspects of the project? And do context and expectations play a large role in how you interact with these tasks and goals? Or perhaps I missed something else entirely that is a strong motivating factor for you?

Thanks for your time, and til next time, game on and learn on!


2 thoughts on “What Motivates Me: A Completionist’s View

  1. omegaCarotene

    wait, really? as if the premise of the main mission in Blast Corps. wasn’t wacky enough as it is; but i guess sometimes you just gotta break a few eggs. agreed, though, Blast Corps was an awesome game. and the not-too-subtle reference to Pac-Man was just icing on the cake. (come to think of it, “Truck-Man” sounds remarkably similar to “Puck-Man”, which might have been the localized title from “パク·マン Paku-Man”…but then they decided to avoid creating an easy situation for arcade cabinet vandalism)

    if Borderlands has taught me anything, it is that i am potential war-criminal and a loot-whore. but IRL, i’m a pacifist. really.

    motivation? trophies/achievements are a contemporary update of the points systems of the days of yore. something to think about further, perhaps… >[:)

    1. connorbros Post author

      Thanks for commenting! I do love me some Blast Corps… though I never understood why they would ever deploy the Backlash. They must have been short staffed. I never thought of the truckman puckman reference! (Likely because I didn’t know about puckman until I saw a video about a month or so ago and I haven’t played Blast Corps for years…).

      I concur that achievements are sorta a revamped points system in that they are used to test your mettle and display your accomplishments to others. But I think there is a fundamental difference between the open ended nature of a Tetris, Q*bert or Galaga and the closed goal set goal orientation of achievements. One of the main differences is how much each leans on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.



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