282: I Want It All

I Want It All

Don't be too concerned if you find yourself constantly hunting for collectibles and achievements while you're gaming - that's just the way you're wired.

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"Researchers haven't agreed on whether people who have hobbies are happier and more balanced because they collect things, or they collect things because they're already happier and more balanced. Either way, collecting, from the self assessment standpoint of the collector, is nearly always seen as a positive in life."

That is a very good argument I would use to explain some of my 10 our a day in-game.

Anyway, great article. I like the psychological explanations.
I think that any gamer should think about enjoying everything the game has to offer. Not completing every gap in the game is like reading a book skipping parts or even not finishing it.
From the games I played, I only did not complete one thing in Wild Arms 3, because, despite all my efforts and all my dungeons re-scans, I could not find the last chest to complete the quest (there were hundreds in the game, hidden).

You know...I only started give a shit about collectibles once achievements were linked with them.

And I only started caring about achievements after seeing an online friend with 25k, back when I had 5k. I passed him years ago...Now, I have 87,268 gamerscore.

As I type this, I am in the middle of a Titan mode run in God of War 3 going for a Platinum trophy. I bought my PS3 in August, and have already reached a trophy level of 11, just a few months later.

And I can't tell you why I do this.

That's not to say there isn't a brave new world for publishers to explore here. Crackdown 2 recently launched a demo that allowed players to carry over achievements/points should they buy the game. The same was true of the relationship between the Dead Rising 2 prequel and the full game. As a prime source of consumer incentive, expect to see a lot more innovation and experimentation in this area.

While not exactly points or achievements, some of the Ubisoft game pairs for PS3/PSP allow you to unlock extras if you play both games. One example is how you can use your progress in the PS3 version of Assassin's Creed 2 to unlock stuff for Assassin's Creed Bloodlines on the PSP, and vice versa. If you own and sync both games you not only get free upgrades for Bloodlines, but even new skills -- and on the PS3 end you get the defeated Bloodlines' opponents weapons. I think the POP Forgotten Sands games also allow synching between the platforms.

Great article, I have often compared my love of achievements with stamp collecting in the past.

I find that I must be one of these 'gatherer of knowledge' type of collectors. I have played some rubbish games just so I can get a better understanding of the genre and the medium. Now and again, a smaller aspect of an on the whole 'bad game' might have been worth the play through.

As for collectibles reinforcing the aesthetic/theme, a lot of collectible don't, and it annoys me. Coins in Mario, especially in the newer games seem like an arbritary score system to accompany the gameplay, while other games add completely un-necessary collectible with the aim of improving replayability. Bourne Identity had random passports dotted about the levels that required you to go against the flow and style of the gameplay to find them, often breaking up relatively well designed chase sequences. It is for this reason that I enjoy collectible as an added layer of challenge that is not forced upon the player.

I also love going back over my achievement list and seeing what date and time I finished a particular level or boss. This probably owes a lot to me being quite a nostalgic guy.

Onyx Oblivion:
Now, I have 87,268 gamerscore.

On a side note, I just noticed that you are literally just below me on the Escapist Gamerscore Leaderboards. : P

How are trophies "less prestigious"? They came late, and because of that improved and enhanced the system. Levels, different types of trophies, Platinum trophies. Achievement were first and it's just a single number.

The metaphysical tradition of mastery.

Madigan admits. "The only exception I can think of was collecting all the feathers in Assassin's Creed 2." And the psychology behind that? "I think running and climbing around in that game was inherently fun."

Yea. I got all the feathers in that game because I really did want to explore every inch of those cities. I would've been climbing all over those places just to see everything anyway. That's one of the reasons I'm not a big achievement trophy fan: it just seems like a way of compelling gamers to play through the less compelling moments/challenges of a game. If the game is good enough, I'll do that anyway, I don't need a trophy.

I like collecting in games but not just for the sake of collecting. If there isn't a good reward, I'll feel gypped.

Like I did after shooting all those pigeons in gta4. That attack chopper was so horribly lame especially when compared to the arsenals I got in San Andreas (or any other gta)

Then again, all I got for collecting those SnowGlobes in Fallout Vegas was a stupid achievement trophy. That was a huge letdown after getting all the stat bonuses for the bobbleheads in Fallout 3.

So I like collecting but only to an end. If sony actually start offering rewards for the trophies like they are rumored to start doing, I'll change my opinion of them but so far they're worthless.

Collectibles are a huge thing in games. If I recall correctly, there are a few flash games that parody this mentality by being nothing but big collectathons. "This is the only level" is a game where the goal is to do all 100 achievements, and "Upgrade Complete" is a game that is literally nothing but grinding to level up everything, from the main menu music to unlocking the credits.

Chris Davies:
I Want It All

Don't be too concerned if you find yourself constantly hunting for collectibles and achievements while you're gaming - that's just the way you're wired.

Read Full Article

I think Madigan is confusing the components of this process: the habitual nature of gaming, and the desire to collect. When he talks about the importance of "random reward schedules," he's getting into the behaviorist idea that, by randomizing the reward schedule rather than making it predictable, you increase the frequency of the behavior.

Compare vending machines and slot machines--you put in money, pull a lever, and then.... Well, with the vending machine, you dependably receive a "reward" while the slot machine only rewards you some of the time. Who will pull the lever more frequently? Obviously, it's the person at the vending machine. The reasons for this can be seen touched upon in the "Skinner Box" episode of Extra Credits, but it boils down to several behavioral mechanisms in we, the human.

This is, I believe, separate from a person's desire to collect. While the random reward schedule is perhaps poised to most effectively capitalize on our innate desire to collect, neither explains the other, and both can exist independently. (I imagine, in context, this was the point Madigan was making, but I think perhaps the article just cropped the idea at an awkward place.)

The urge to collect speaks to our old hunter-gatherer roots. You didn't know when your next meal was, so you grabbed anything food-like you could carry. This later developed into making sure you had a worthy collection of weapons and tools, so that you'd be better prepared to handle any given problem that crops up. And then we, as mankind, became collectors of knowledge, so that we'd be equipped for any problem or puzzle that might stand in our way. (This is to say that our innate curiosity or desire to learn may be directly linked to this collection instinct.)

Then you take a brief detour over the Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" to see what the hell any of this has to do with gaming, stamps, or what-have-you. According to Maslow, once our basic animal needs are met--food, clothing, shelter, and safety--we move up to other, less concrete needs. The need to belong, for instance. People who have basic needs unmet tend not to preoccupy themselves with needs higher on the hierarchy.

Our instincts are need-fulfilling machines--they are specifically designed and tailored to identify a deficiency and fill it, sometimes preemptively. That is their business. These machines are running non-stop, and that doesn't change just because our basic needs have been met. Once we're fed, clothed, housed, and safe... well... our instincts want to continue doing what they do. To meet this, our brain creates other, less urgent needs.

This could be the "need" to finish that collection of stamps. Or the "need" to have all of the Mario games. Or the "need" to find every little widget in your current game of choice. Satisfying these lesser needs gives us a strange satisfaction that is unexplainable, yet strangely familiar. Getting that last widget somehow wakes that ancient pride of bringing in that prize mastodon that would feed your tribe for a month. It gives us a feeling of power.

Of course, sometimes this process gets interrupted. A person might be unable to fill a more basic need, and in frustration their mind turns to another lesser need as a "substitute." A person who is unable to keep a roof of his head is suddenly taken with collecting bottle caps, as a way of attaining a piece of that primal satisfaction. A way of feeling in control of something. (You can even see this in animals--smaller dogs, frustrated by a lack of any sense of dominance, often harass small children as a way of being the boss of someone.)

The chicken-egg cycle surrounding this (Does a healthy mind lead to collecting, or does collecting lead to a healthy mind?) is probably best answered by the worst kind of non-answer. Both and neither. A healthy person, one whose material and emotional needs are mostly met, will probably tend to collect something as a way of continuing to satisfy the instinctive urge to acquire and prepare. This keeps a steady stream of satisfaction coming, which may tend to make them feel more healthy as a person... which may lead them to collect even more. An unhealthy person may find himself stuck in a shame spiral, feeling downtrodden and powerless, and one of these collections may provide just enough satisfaction to help him turn his outlook around... thus leading him to take charge of a few other things, until such time as he's back on track.

Whichever half starts the process, the two will feed each other in an ongoing cycle, often leading to a feeling of satisfaction and overall mental health. And then the creeping shadows of obsession and addiction creep in... but that's a whole 'nother discussion.

Well, they are fun to collect, time and again. There's games where I don't really care for the trophies, though. And there's others where getting the trophies is a matter of MUST, especially games with a high replay value and a way of finding all the little collectibles. Like AC: Brotherhood giving you the location maps available for purchase after randomly finding a certain amount of flags. But, it does pull a sneaky, but putting a few in those secret locations, which means you have to go back and hunt through some of the memories for the sole purpose of flag finding...grr...

Gamerscore is different from other collectibles in one, key way - it massively affects how you are seen and respected by others in your peer group. Your Gamerscore is, essentially, your "Gamer Cred", chronicling your exploits as a gamer and quickly summarizing your experience.

That's far from the only reason, though. We also collect them for the same reasons as any other collectible, or even a few others - like the sheer joy of the challenge of completing a unique or difficult task. I've always preferred the kinds of achievements that have you go out of your way to achieve something, like the "Big Game Hunter" achievement in Mass Effect 2, requiring you to kill the Thresher Maw, to pure grinding or luck-based ones, like the ranking ones in shooters or the max level ones in RPGs (The DA:O ones requiring you to max a certain skill tree are particularly annoying - I'm pretty sure you'd have to complete the game like a dozen times to actually get them all)

I specifically try NOT to get achievements, unless they're like the ones in Fallout and you'll end up getting them anyway. The only game I cared about was Mass Effect 2 as far as achievements go, and it didn't make you do 1 million damage to eneimes or something retarded.

Spoiler alert, getting people to play single player games longer makes no sense.

Very, very interesting, and a topic that particularly appeals to me, partly because of my own past experiences.

When I was a lot younger and wiser than I am now, I had a Sega Megadrive (Genesis for our cross-Atlantic cousins) and a copy of Super Street Fighter 2. Having mastered the game beyond any rational point, having seen every possible ending (the best being when you beat the game on the hardest difficulty without losing a single match), I decided to go one step further.

And so, many many MANY months later, I finally did what I'd set out to do - beat "Super Street Fighter 2", on the hardest difficulty with thirty-two straight "Perfects" in a row. Yep, it's possible. Bear in mind that this is the Sega Megadrive we're talking about here, so there's no way to save your progress halfway through. You fight fourteen characters, beat them all, and then accidentally have to block one of Sagat's fireballs in the penultimate round? Tough luck, start again. It happened to me more times than I could list.

(For the record, you can do it with Vega, using only the hard claw strike, by tempting your opponents to walk towards you, then hitting them at maximum range and retreating. If you get the timing perfect, they can't block your strike, even on the hardest difficulty. It's hardest with the projectile-using opponents, for obvious reasons - you just have to get very good at jumping, hitting at the last possible moment, then retreating again. Hardest of all is DeeJay who can counter pretty much every move you can make, Guile whose projectile recovery time is a third of anybody else's, and of course Bison.)

Now you'd think that it would be immensely satisfying to finally accomplish something you'd worked so hard at, but all I felt when I finally did it was a profound emptiness. Of course I was a teenager at the time ("I spent all my time on this, when I could've been making out with girls?") and pretty much decided I'd never do it again.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago (yes, two weeks ago from NOW, one and a half decades after I beat SF2 with 32 perfects in a row.) For only the second time in my life I felt that same emptiness, having just beat "Painkiller" on the hardest difficulty level with every achievement earnt, every secret found. You'd think I'd have grown out of this by now, wouldn't you? What gives?

And what compels us to do these things? There's no material gain involved here. I don't think I'm the kind of person who needs an "escape". I don't regard myself as particularly obsessive in my normal life. Plainly there's no particular satisfaction involved in the accomplishment. There are more worthy and life-affirming challenges, if all I want is for something to test me - not always easy to find in these days of take-away food and motor vehicles. So what drives me?

I also regard myself as being fairly self-aware, but on this one I gotta say I'm stumped. What motivates a person to do that? I'd love to hear your ideas, or the ideas of anybody who's been driven to do this kind of thing themselves.

Personally, I think that the worst thing achievements and trophies have done is turning collectibles in an either-or situation. Before it happened, I wouldn't try to pick up all the collectibles, just as much as I could. This way I wouldn't skip tricky collectables, but wouldn't need to go back to pick them up if I missed it. I got 53/100? Cool, I got over half of them. 87/100? Great, I found a lot. 96/100? Wow, that's excellent, I got almost all of them!

Achievements don't care about that. Got 99/100? Yeah well tough look kid. Better comb this drab overworld for a few more hours to see if you get that last collectible. Yeah no thanks. I have better things to do with my time.

I still have this quaint old-fashioned belief that games should be fun (except when they shouldn't, of course) and that completing a task in a game should feel less like work than the work I work at. It's a pretty clear line that has spared me of many a stupid achievement. (The only other place I draw the line is, 'Completing this achievement should not require you to leave the game on for much longer than recommended and leave it overnight'. That's why I don't have the Mega Man buster on the original Dead Rising and probably never will.)

clarissa:
I think that any gamer should think about enjoying everything the game has to offer. Not completing every gap in the game is like reading a book skipping parts or even not finishing it.
From the games I played, I only did not complete one thing in Wild Arms 3, because, despite all my efforts and all my dungeons re-scans, I could not find the last chest to complete the quest (there were hundreds in the game, hidden).

Do you read the filing information on the back of a book's cover? Or the printing information on its last page (This book was printed on size 10 Helvetica on .5 mm thick paper...)? Because to me, some achievements are just as amusing as that.

If a game gives me an achievement for finding 100 doodads and this achievement is just a little pop-up window that tells me I'm a 'Doodad Seeker', then I don't need to pick up the 100 doodads to see all the game has to offer. I just need to pick up one doodad and get any other achievement. It's the exact same experience.

By comparison, it's too bad I didn't have the patience to collect all the feathers in AC2, since not only was it a cool game, but it also was a sidequest that had a heavy emotional weight attached to it. One day I'll talk about all the tiny things AC2 does right. One day, you'll see. One day.

The Random One:

Do you read the filing information on the back of a book's cover? Or the printing information on its last page (This book was printed on size 10 Helvetica on .5 mm thick paper...)? Because to me, some achievements are just as amusing as that.

If I may, I think you misunderstood me.
The printing information is not something the book has to offer. I am not talking about the physical object, I was thinking about what it represents. Sorry if my example was lame. (What is curious is that many times I caught myself reading this printing information on the book.)
Personally, I am very fond of collecting things in games. Sometimes I do not have patience and get angry eventually, but at least the game has the possibility of collection.

I have not played AC2 yet, but I am planning to. I'll probably grab all the feathers. I am a person who dodged over 300 lightning bolts just to get Lulu`s last weapon on Thunder Plains.
Waste of time? Maybe. After all, I am playing a game.

dastardly:

The urge to collect speaks to our old hunter-gatherer roots. You didn't know when your next meal was, so you grabbed anything food-like you could carry. This later developed into making sure you had a worthy collection of weapons and tools, so that you'd be better prepared to handle any given problem that crops up. And then we, as mankind, became collectors of knowledge, so that we'd be equipped for any problem or puzzle that might stand in our way. (This is to say that our innate curiosity or desire to learn may be directly linked to this collection instinct.)

Very nice comparison. You went deep into the roots and your arguments make sense.
My only question is: this hunter heritage is often more remarkable on men, because in these old times you are speaking of (sorry if I misunderstood) men were the only hunters, right? Women generally stayed "home".

After your reply, I am thinking about how come I have this strong colletor sense...

Chris Davies:
Don't be too concerned if you find yourself constantly hunting for collectibles and achievements while you're gaming - that's just the way you're wired.

I don't think it's just a human urge to collect things; I think a big part of it is the difference between men and women (or boys and girls to be more accurate). I'm going to generalise now, so feel free to be an exception.

Boys tend to want to collect and own things, and boy's toys are definitely designed with this in mind. They're usually a variety of very similar toys from a large range, that the boy will want to own as many of as he can (whether he's "gotta catch 'em all" or just building an army of Transformers, the same principle applies).

A lot of the "nerdier" hobbies are also "boy's hobbies" - train spotting, stamp collecting, tabletop wargaming - and they all involve an awful lot of collecting stuff. They often involve collecting things that don't really matter to the collector - I'm sure plenty of you have owned toys that you didn't really like, but fitted in with your toy collection. Or have mp3s of songs you don't like (and skip every time they show up on shuffle), but deleting them would mean you had *gasp!* fewer tracks in what is basically your mp3 collection.

Even non-nerdy, but traditionally boyish hobbies involve collections - football cards & stickers, getting each year's kit for your favourite sports team etc.

And I can't think of any tabletop wargamer who doesn't have at least one entirely unpainted, unassembled army lying around somewhere - something he's collected, but clearly isn't important enough for him to do anything with.

This is why videogames which are frustrating, or just plain shit, but provide unlockables or achievements (or some other such collectable) are still bought and persevered with by men - we're willing to put up with quite a lot to see our collections (of games, of gamerscore, of bonus tat for TF2...) increase.

Girls on the other hand, while they do get targeted with certain toys that could be (and sometimes are) collected (My Little Pony = Transformers for Girls) don't tend to exhibit the same behaviour.

Instead they tend to focus on a few toys that they really enjoy, and lavish a lot of attention on them - this does involve buying accessories and so on for the toy (so the toy company still wins), but they don't tend to amass the same vast collections of similar crap that boys end up with (and that mums aren't allowed to throw away).

Which probably explains why girls just aren't (generally) as interested in those "nerdy" hobbies - they're about collecting things, which girls haven't been engineered into obsessing over (when and if they discover there's a point to the hobby beyond collecting things, like playing games or painting models or whathaveyou, girls are much more likely to be interested).

This would also explain why videogames targeted at women rarely succeed (developers seem to think girls like collecting ponies and rainbows instead of collecting guns and blood).

Whereas games with an engaging story or quality gameplay are popular with everyone.

(incidentally, I don't think we're "hard-wired" to behave like this - it seems much more likely to be cultural - we still try to turn little girls into wives and mothers, and little boys into bigger boys (with jobs) - and as I said at the start, lots of generalising in there so there are plenty of people who are exceptions (especially as we're trying to move a bit more towards equality of the sexes, which changes the way we raise our kids))

TheMadDoctorsCat:
you'd think that it would be immensely satisfying to finally accomplish something you'd worked so hard at, but all I felt when I finally did it was a profound emptiness

There's a reason that "May all your dreams come true" is a curse; we're goal driven to the point that having no goal to strive for is like being bereft.

("May all your dreams, but one, come true" is the corresponding blessing)

How universal are these impulses? Because I'm finding it strange they've never had a hold on me. I'll not even swerve for a collectible that has no benefit and if collectibles aren't inherently fun to gather (by being tied into interesting challenged) I'll only bother if I really want the reward, and even then will resent it.

clarissa:

I am a person who dodged over 300 lightning bolts just to get Lulu`s last weapon on Thunder Plains.
Waste of time? Maybe. After all, I am playing a game.

I'm a massive Final Fantasy fan and even I gave up on that one. I commend you good sir!

clarissa:

dastardly:

The urge to collect speaks to our old hunter-gatherer roots. You didn't know when your next meal was, so you grabbed anything food-like you could carry. This later developed into making sure you had a worthy collection of weapons and tools, so that you'd be better prepared to handle any given problem that crops up. And then we, as mankind, became collectors of knowledge, so that we'd be equipped for any problem or puzzle that might stand in our way. (This is to say that our innate curiosity or desire to learn may be directly linked to this collection instinct.)

Very nice comparison. You went deep into the roots and your arguments make sense.
My only question is: this hunter heritage is often more remarkable on men, because in these old times you are speaking of (sorry if I misunderstood) men were the only hunters, right? Women generally stayed "home".

After your reply, I am thinking about how come I have this strong colletor sense...

The men were the primary hunters, yes, but the women were the primary gatherers very often. Foraging for wild vegetables, fruits, and the like. They were still an integral part of the hunter-gatherer experience.

I think you've raised another interesting side-issue about the gender differences prevalent in collecting styles. A lot of the women I know that collect things do so in a casual, passive way--my fiancÚ buys faerie figurines when she sees them, but almost never seeks them out. In other words, she gathers faeries. This tendency may come from the nurturing instincts still present in females, which revolved around establishing and maintaining a "home base" while raising the offspring.

Men, on the other hand, tend to more aggressively collect things. They'll trade, search, and go after the rare or missing pieces for their collections. In other words, they'll hunt to collect. The collection is simultaneous with a sense of achievement when they "catch" the piece they were looking for. We'll also "show off" our collections more often than a lot of women (who admire and care for their collections more introspectively), as these represent trophies signifying those achievements.

(Of course, in other more patriarchal animal societies, the male doesn't do the hunting. Such is the case with lions. But people do often forget that the male lion's job is to fend of other male lions, so he's doing some rough work himself.)

I'm speaking in very broad generalities here, but I think these are common enough to be considered valid (though not universally binding)...

Soylent Dave:

Chris Davies:
Don't be too concerned if you find yourself constantly hunting for collectibles and achievements while you're gaming - that's just the way you're wired.

I don't think it's just a human urge to collect things; I think a big part of it is the difference between men and women (or boys and girls to be more accurate). I'm going to generalise now, so feel free to be an exception.

Boys tend to want to collect and own things, and boy's toys are definitely designed with this in mind. They're usually a variety of very similar toys from a large range, that the boy will want to own as many of as he can (whether he's "gotta catch 'em all" or just building an army of Transformers, the same principle applies).

A lot of the "nerdier" hobbies are also "boy's hobbies" - train spotting, stamp collecting, tabletop wargaming - and they all involve an awful lot of collecting stuff. They often involve collecting things that don't really matter to the collector - I'm sure plenty of you have owned toys that you didn't really like, but fitted in with your toy collection. Or have mp3s of songs you don't like (and skip every time they show up on shuffle), but deleting them would mean you had *gasp!* fewer tracks in what is basically your mp3 collection.

Even non-nerdy, but traditionally boyish hobbies involve collections - football cards & stickers, getting each year's kit for your favourite sports team etc.

And I can't think of any tabletop wargamer who doesn't have at least one entirely unpainted, unassembled army lying around somewhere - something he's collected, but clearly isn't important enough for him to do anything with.

This is why videogames which are frustrating, or just plain shit, but provide unlockables or achievements (or some other such collectable) are still bought and persevered with by men - we're willing to put up with quite a lot to see our collections (of games, of gamerscore, of bonus tat for TF2...) increase.

Girls on the other hand, while they do get targeted with certain toys that could be (and sometimes are) collected (My Little Pony = Transformers for Girls) don't tend to exhibit the same behaviour.

Instead they tend to focus on a few toys that they really enjoy, and lavish a lot of attention on them - this does involve buying accessories and so on for the toy (so the toy company still wins), but they don't tend to amass the same vast collections of similar crap that boys end up with (and that mums aren't allowed to throw away).

Which probably explains why girls just aren't (generally) as interested in those "nerdy" hobbies - they're about collecting things, which girls haven't been engineered into obsessing over (when and if they discover there's a point to the hobby beyond collecting things, like playing games or painting models or whathaveyou, girls are much more likely to be interested).

This would also explain why videogames targeted at women rarely succeed (developers seem to think girls like collecting ponies and rainbows instead of collecting guns and blood).

Whereas games with an engaging story or quality gameplay are popular with everyone.

(incidentally, I don't think we're "hard-wired" to behave like this - it seems much more likely to be cultural - we still try to turn little girls into wives and mothers, and little boys into bigger boys (with jobs) - and as I said at the start, lots of generalising in there so there are plenty of people who are exceptions (especially as we're trying to move a bit more towards equality of the sexes, which changes the way we raise our kids))

TheMadDoctorsCat:
you'd think that it would be immensely satisfying to finally accomplish something you'd worked so hard at, but all I felt when I finally did it was a profound emptiness

There's a reason that "May all your dreams come true" is a curse; we're goal driven to the point that having no goal to strive for is like being bereft.

("May all your dreams, but one, come true" is the corresponding blessing)

I think you might be overlooking the collecting instincts of women because they look different than those of men. But I believe they are clearly there, just exhibited differently. See my post just above for a comparison of who I think they differ, and let me know what you think...

dastardly:
I think you might be overlooking the collecting instincts of women because they look different than those of men. But I believe they are clearly there, just exhibited differently. See my post just above for a comparison of who I think they differ, and let me know what you think...

Interesting... but I have difficulty believing that our urge to collect ties directly into our hunter-gatherer roots.

Firstly because, as the primary hunters, men would be less inclined to collect things for the sake of collecting them (rather than more so).

Secondly because existing primitive societies on Earth (not that there are too many left!) don't do much in the way of collecting and storing things for the future - hunter-gathering is very much a 'live in the moment' way of existence (which is why it ultimately gets supplanted by agriculture)

I think our current urge to collect and own things is a more modern cultural imperative - I'm not going to lay the blame at the feet of capitalism (that'd be far too easy!), but we do live in a society where we're brought up to believe that 'owning stuff' is really quite important.

But it is also notable that in most species it's the male who does the mating displays - we tend to think of women as being more colourful (and thus making more of a 'display', wearing makeup etc.), but collecting and displaying a load of tat could well be seen as part of attracting a mate ("I'm so successful I had time to collect all this matching shit when most males have to worry about food and shelter"). This theory does fall down a bit when you realise that women are rarely impressed with stamp-collecting...

-

You are definitely right to point out that women do have an urge to collect things; I think I did intend to say something about that (but obviously I didn't do it properly).

What I should really have emphasised is that men (boys) tend towards collecting things for the sake of collecting them (or for the sake of making their collection bigger). Women & girls tend collect things that they are going to use or appreciate directly.

So a man will collect toy soldiers he doesn't particularly like, or buy games he doesn't have time to play (and keep them, unopened, on his shelf for weeks - I'm sure many of us have done this), because a big part of his reason for collecting them is increasing the size of his collection (and the sense of achievement that brings).

A woman on the other hand may still end up with a large collection of something (the most obvious stereotypes being clothes or shoes), but it's more likely to be something she'll make use of directly - even if it's just the once. And, as you point out, a woman is much more likely to 'care' for the things in her collection (as items, rather than as an achievement).

Soylent Dave:
- snip -

What I believe is happening here is that you're mixing up the explanation for the instinct and behavior with the particular subject upon which the behavior is performed. It's not about what good stamp collections are--that's a separate issue--it's about why this person feels the need to collect anything. The "why" of a particular subject is usually a product of environment, upbringing, or chance, and is largely immaterial.

Our instinct to collect stems from the fact that, in our hunter/gatherer days, we didn't know when or if we'd find another meal. Take what you can carry and hold onto it. Hunt the big animal and use it for as long as you can. Acquisition is the instinct. (Showing these off as trophies does, as you indicated, stem from the mating game.)

In our modern society, a lot of our basic material and emotional needs are met, but the instinct to acquire and stockpile is still active in the primitive part of our brain. So, our mind, seeking to appease that instinct, gives it a new "need" to fill. Usually one that's pretty trivial. The subject is just an outlet for the latent instinct, when it doesn't have more pressing things to collect (or when we need a distraction from our perceived inability to collect the more important things sufficiently).

Men collect actively (hunting) to acquire and achieve a stockpile of trophies. Women collect passively (gather) to nurture and appreciate the collection. The subjects are usually trivial, and the choice of those subjects is heavily influenced culturally, but in the end the desire to collect really comes down to something more instinctive. Culture encourages and takes advantage of it, for sure, but the behavior doesn't originate from culture.

dastardly:
Our instinct to collect stems from the fact that, in our hunter/gatherer days, we didn't know when or if we'd find another meal. Take what you can carry and hold onto it.

This is part I disagree with - hunter-gatherers don't stockpile. It's a subsistence level existence that doesn't (typically) provide enough food for the tribe to enable a stockpile - hunter-gatherers live from hand to mouth.

So I can't really so how our beginnings as such would lead directly to a more modern culture where collecting stuff is important.

(especially not when we've been through a lot of other stages of development, many of which do have the acquisition of 'wealth' as an important factor in societal prominence)

Soylent Dave:

dastardly:
Our instinct to collect stems from the fact that, in our hunter/gatherer days, we didn't know when or if we'd find another meal. Take what you can carry and hold onto it.

This is part I disagree with - hunter-gatherers don't stockpile. It's a subsistence level existence that doesn't (typically) provide enough food for the tribe to enable a stockpile - hunter-gatherers live from hand to mouth.

So I can't really so how our beginnings as such would lead directly to a more modern culture where collecting stuff is important.

(especially not when we've been through a lot of other stages of development, many of which do have the acquisition of 'wealth' as an important factor in societal prominence)

It was difficult to stockpile, to be sure. That doesn't mean they didn't try. Also, we don't want to look at just the very earliest stages of this type of society. At this stage, they didn't have ways to preserve foods, but they tended to stay in an area that was populated with food-critters until it was depleted... this is one of the earliest types of stockpiles. They'd seek out and find these herds, which were a ready-made "collection" of foods.

Then, when it was time to move, you'd better believe they didn't leave with empty packs. They'd use the resources to get enough food for the journey (as best they could manage), and probably stockpile some weapons and tools as they developed these technologies. Later on, their agrarian descendants would discover ways to preserve and store food for later, better demonstrating the technique of stockpiling--but certainly not originating the desire to do so.

The desire among hunter-gatherer peoples to get as much as they could was a survival function that developed because it was so hard to get enough to create a stockpile. That's part of why the instinct to "get while you can" is so powerful (which is why we have to feed it substitute "foods" in this day and age).

Those other stages of development you mention are just more complicated and artful expressions of that same basic instinct. When we moved toward specialization, bartering meant you had to stockpile goods in order to have enough to use and trade. When we moved onto currency, that became the thing to collect, as it allowed you to acquire everything else. All of these are the logical extension of 1) the innate desire to acquire and collect and 2) our increasing ability to better fulfill that desire.

This collection instinct was important to us as social creatures from the word "go." Most other animals? They hunt when hungry--especially the solitary types. Social creatures, though, survived better if they had an instinct that told them to gather even when they were not immediately hungry. This helped to provide for themselves and others, who would in turn be working to help the whole group, too. Social creatures have a collection instinct (see: Ants). The absence of widespread, efficient means by which to satisfy that instinct doesn't negate it--it necessitates it.

It's a wise idea, I think, to read this article and keep in mind the Skinner Box episode from Extra Credits last week. Just because it mines some similar territory.

The Random One:
Personally, I think that the worst thing achievements and trophies have done is turning collectibles in an either-or situation. Before it happened, I wouldn't try to pick up all the collectibles, just as much as I could. This way I wouldn't skip tricky collectables, but wouldn't need to go back to pick them up if I missed it. I got 53/100? Cool, I got over half of them. 87/100? Great, I found a lot. 96/100? Wow, that's excellent, I got almost all of them!

Achievements don't care about that. Got 99/100? Yeah well tough look kid. Better comb this drab overworld for a few more hours to see if you get that last collectible. Yeah no thanks. I have better things to do with my time.

I agree. I think, for some people, gamerscores and trophies have altered collecting from a self-satisfying activity ("I found all this game has to offer!") to a competitive goal ("If I collect all these items, it'll show I'm better at this game than Larry!").

Let's take a game from the past that was significantly panned for being a collectathon: Donkey Kong Country 64. If a version of the game was released today, but had achievements for collecting everything with every character, how many more gamers would be willing to do it?

On the other hand, I appreciate when a game awards you as you progress through finding collectibles. Arkham Asylum was good at this, encouraging you to find stuff but not demanding the absolute highest effort for any recognition. Guess that makes me happier to receive regimented rewards than those that are random.

dastardly:
we don't want to look at just the very earliest stages of this type of society.

I think that's really the part we're disagreeing on - your 'hunter-gatherer' definition is wider than mine is; when I say H-G I'm really using a quite narrow definition.

I will add, though, that

Later on, their agrarian descendants would discover ways to preserve and store food for later, better demonstrating the technique of stockpiling--but certainly not originating the desire to do so.

There are primitive societies on Earth right now who appear to have no desire to stockpile things. These also tend to be cultures where ownership is entirely collective (including of things like 'children'), and where there is either so little food that the idea of creating a stockpile just wouldn't occur, or that there is so much food (compared the size of the tribe) that it's basically stockpiled already - in a 'there's lots of it growing (or living) near the village' way.

and also

When we moved toward specialization, bartering meant you had to stockpile goods in order to have enough to use and trade.

is backwards, I think - the move into agriculture meant that farmers suddenly had a surplus (which probably couldn't be stored for very long); so they created the concept of bartering (for alternative kinds of food, or (later) shiny stuff) in order to do something with the extra food they had.

-

This collection instinct was important to us as social creatures from the word "go." Most other animals? They hunt when hungry--especially the solitary types.

Squirrels and (many) birds are solitary, territorial types. They're also known for stockpiling things (and in the case of certain birds, stockpiling shiny, useless things...).

I do think our society and pack instinct has had an impact on our desire to collect and own stuff, but I don't think it's because we're social creatures. Most herd animals don't collect & stockpile stuff - ants & bees are a bit of an exception; if you treat the nest/hive as a gestalt organism, then they do stockpile a bit like humans do - but then they've stopped being social creatures (and if we treat them as a society, then they're stockpiling resources for the use of others - often at the expense of the individual - which isn't quite the same as collecting them for yourself).

Most herd animals aren't also predators, of course - but while pack hunters will secure a kill and guard it while the pack feeds (sometimes over a few days, which could count as stockpiling, considering wolves haven't invented refrigeration), they're doing so collectively - rather than individually, like humans. And squirrels.

Soylent Dave:
There are primitive societies on Earth right now who appear to have no desire to stockpile things. These also tend to be cultures where ownership is entirely collective (including of things like 'children'), and where there is either so little food that the idea of creating a stockpile just wouldn't occur, or that there is so much food (compared the size of the tribe) that it's basically stockpiled already - in a 'there's lots of it growing (or living) near the village' way.

The key word here is "appear." They appear to have no desire to stockpile things. When viewed through the lens of our culture, yes, there culture appears very different. Speaking to a few rare extremes certainly doesn't disprove the notion that we have an innate desire to acquire things we need (which translates later into a desire to acquire things we don't "need" when our needs are mostly filled).

the move into agriculture meant that farmers suddenly had a surplus (which probably couldn't be stored for very long); so they created the concept of bartering (for alternative kinds of food, or (later) shiny stuff) in order to do something with the extra food they had.

But participation in the barter system made it necessary for someone to specialize so that they could have that stockpile. You can't trade potatoes for potatoes. I'm not arguing what caused the idea of barter. I'm simply saying that as we developed it, having a stockpile became a necessity, in the same way that having a pile of money is necessary now.

As to the animal talk, yeah, we can split hairs and go back and forth for weeks on how some animals this or that. I do see a point where you're experiencing some confusion, though. You draw a distinction between collecting for oneself and collecting for others. I see two behaviors fueled by the same instinct--to acquire beyond the immediately necessary.

I haven't disagreed that our society has shaped how that instinct exhibits itself, but when I talk instinct, I'm talking about instinct--a very basic and automatic response or desire. That instinct is to acquire things we need, feel we need, or will need in the near future. Society has shaped the instinct into something else, but it's there at our core.

If it wasn't, how exactly could society have built so much upon it? Each society changes how it is expressed, but it's there. A society doesn't have to engage in materialistic collection of merchandise in order to be demonstrating the same base instinct as a figurine collector.

We're wired to collect the things we need. We're also wired to prefer order and completeness, which partially explains why one might be so anxious to get that last piece of a collection (though not why they started it).

So, in summary:

Instinct: provides the root cause for collecting behavior
Society: shapes and alters the expression of that behavior

You seem to assign the lot of it to society, and that's what confuses me so.

Only thing is, if you are collecting physical things in real life, there's the chance that you might posses something that only a very few people, or perhaps nobody else, has collected.

With these games, you are collecting the same stuff that thousands of other people are. There's something that feels very sad and unfulfilling when you really think about it.

ItsAPaul:
I specifically try NOT to get achievements, unless they're like the ones in Fallout and you'll end up getting them anyway.

Why?

Chris Davies:
For some, the satisfaction comes from experimenting with arranging, re-arranging, and classifying parts of a-big-world-out-there

This is exactly what I do, but I don't think it's to fill some kind of disorganization or control void in my life. I spend hours every week (at a conservative guess, probably an hour a day) "organizing" in World of Warcraft - playing with the guildbank, auctioning items, analyzing which items go to which characters I know - but my real life is almost even more frighteningly stratified and organized, if it's possible for such effort to be scarier in real life than in pixels.

Also, a slightly different type of collecting than you discussed, but with regards to the type of hoarding that's possible in games like Oblivion... I'm the worst hoarder in the world, in those games. Every one of my houses is immaculately arranged, accounting for hundreds of hours of both "acquisition" and futzing with the crappy physics system... but in real life, I have really very few possessions (about an eighth of the wardrobe/shoes/handbags/makeup/jewelry of my other female friends - even the nerdy ones) and prefer to own little of real/monetary value. Tech items and books are the exception; I have quite a few books and I enjoy having a high-quality computer/phone/ipod/what-have-you, but I don't spend absurdly on those either.

So... analyze me. Why do I collect in games, but not real life?

Edit: I guess I should use a different word than "hoarding" to describe the kind of behavior I mean. Even in games, I prefer nothing to be out of place or just "sitting around", and prefer my character to be as lightly laden as possible. It's not the hoarding behavior you see on those awful, vomit-inducing tv shows, it's just that I'm compelled to find one of everything and display them attractively and in an organized fashion throughout the game. My real life mirrors the latter part - despite not having very much stuff, I prefer "a place for everything, and everything in its place", and when everything is, it needs to look nice, too.

dastardly:

Instinct: provides the root cause for collecting behavior
Society: shapes and alters the expression of that behavior

You seem to assign the lot of it to society, and that's what confuses me so.

(Sorry about the delay in replying)

While I do agree that a lot of the reason we want to get things in the first place is down to instinct (ego and id, psychologically speaking), I do see the fact that there are human cultures that don't allow the id free rein as meaningful.

In which case, I think one of the driving forces of society is probably environment, rather than just our instincts - this then builds into a certain model of society which exaggerates the environmental conditions for future generations.

So in our society, we've pretty much always had spare, but still limited, resources (in fact the nature of European culture is 'you have lots of food for some of the year and bugger all for some of the year; so you have to stockpile if you want to live) - so we built a society where 'having lots of stuff' was important (and brought status). This is reflected on a smaller scale by our desire to collect.

In other cultures, where there has either been incredibly scarce resources or incredibly abundant resources (year-round), they haven't attached status or power to owning things - so the society they've built (or did build in the case of cultures we happily obliterated through the use of flags and smallpox), developed along completely different lines - and the people who live in it simply don't want to to collect and own things.

It's bizarre, but the fact that there are human cultures where, say, eating your fill is all you ever want (and the idea of having spare food is a truly ridiculous concept) I think shows that it can't - or at least can't just - be a driving, instinctive force within humans to collect and own things.

Rather, I think it's a combination of our environment and our psychology (instinct).

I'm not saying that instinct isn't relevant in human psychology; I'm just saying that I don't think it's the most important part of this bit (although of course our instincts have shaped our reaction to our environment, so there's definitely a fair old bit of overlap there)

Soylent Dave:
- snip -

I think we're getting closer to agreement here, really. I'm certainly not one of those that's a pure "humans act on genetics and instinct" robo-human. One of our defining features as a species is our ability to consciously recognize and suppress raw, instinctive desires. It's one reason we don't just poop on the sidewalk, as a for instance.

I just think that in this case, an "instinct to acquire" acts as a seed of this behavior. It's certainly not the comprehensive explanation. As a teacher, I firmly, firmly believe that environment plays a far more enormous role in our development than genetics or instinct could ever hope to. I just think that there is an instinct in us for this. It doesn't drag us down the path, or perhaps even lead us down the path. But I believe it points us down the path, increasing the likelihood we'll tend in that direction.

 

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