It’s no new observation that Pokemon is a pretty fucked up concept when you think about it. Capturing wild animals with the ability to shoot lasers and manipulate the fabric of reality, and a demonstrable degree of self-aware intelligence, then forcing them into a cock fighting league which, like football in the UK, appears to be the basis for an entire culture. Although that analogy would only work if English footballers were hired as assistants in virtually every industry and spent a lot of time in grassy areas dogpiling unsuspecting passers-by.
So that’s one reason why I said that Pokemon is a game for mad people. The other reason is that it’s one of the few games I can think of that’s specifically designed for 100-percenters, which is another word for mad people.
There are many reasons why people play video games, this is another reason why it’s a much more interesting form of media than most. I mean, you could watch The Piano and Lethal Weapon 4 in the same cinema but there’s little common ground to be had between Wii Sports enthusiasts and Street Fighter 4 leaguers. Some people play games to socialize, the weirdoes. Some play to get through a story. Some like to explore a new world, some like to build a character to be the strongest they possibly can be.
And then there are the 100-percenters, whose driving motivation is to collect everything in the game there is to collect in order to max out the completion percentage, and for no other reason. They’re kind of like the World of Warcraft players who fight to have the biggest numbers, except with a clearer upper limit and without the slim justification that comes of competing against other human beings.
Now, most sidequests in games have a good reason to do them. They might end up providing you with a special powerful weapon or item that you can’t get a hold of anywhere else, like getting the Nemesis weapon in Cave Story. They might end up giving you an extra or alternative ending, like finding all the health upgrades in Prince of Persia Warrior Within. They might just make you lots of in-game money to spend on treats or act as a source of experience points if nothing else. All of these are good sidequests that have a right to exist.
But what I’m talking about are the quests that only exist for their own sake, the ones that appeal only to those mad 100-percenter types. The classic example would be the gold skulltulas in Zelda: Ocarina of Time. That does have a reward, namely a bigger wallet. And Zelda games always tend to have a massive, bulbous arse hanging under them in which you can only hold an embarrassingly wee amount of rupees and you have to start leaving treasure where you found it because you came into the magical dungeon without your roomy tights. But the gold skulltulas are scattered all over the game world, and by the time you have collected them all it’ll be near the end, when most of the issues a bigger wallet could have solved will have long since passed. Anyone who went out of their way to find all the skulltulas, knowing the reward or lack of same, is a 100 percenter, and therefore mad.
Staying with the same series, Zelda Wind Waker had a curious example. Its psychotic 100-percenter quest was to take a photo of every character, monster and boss in the game and take them to a guy who makes them into figurines. Now, the camera you had could only store three photos at a time, and the figurine guy was on an isolated island in a game notorious for its lengthy travel time. On top of that, some characters, especially bosses, would offer extremely few opportunities to take a happy snap, and you’d only know if the photo you took was actually usable once you gave it to the guy. While you did get some reward, in that you could then closely examine the figurine from all angles if you’re that into video game visual design and each one would get a bit of extra flavour text, it’s scant compensation for the equivalent of working several full-time shifts as a design consultant.
Quests for mad 100 percenters seem to be more common in Japanese games, whose audience have been known to be more tolerant of games that feel like work (this is the country that brought us the Harvest Moon franchise), but the West can’t be completely cleared – the example that springs to mind is the entire notion of “achievements” and the people who would pull out their teeth with a piece of cheesewire if they were promised an achievement for it. The specific game I’m thinking of right now is Assassin’s Creed and its sidequest of collecting hidden Templar flags around the cities for the sole benefit of getting an achievement at the end. And many gamers rightly said that that mechanic could fuck right off.
So the conclusion I reached in playing Pokemon is that it’s a game specifically for the mad 100-percenters. After all, it’s right there in the tagline. Why, exactly, do we “gotta catch ’em all”? Would the consequences be so terrible if we skimped on a few of the six hundred and however many there are now? And that’s just the Pokemon themselves, there’s all sorts of other varieties of collect-a-thon within the game to stimulate those OCD tendencies, like gathering surveys.
But I know what you’re wondering. “What’s your point, Yahtzee? You acknowledge that different people play games for different reasons, can’t you just leave the 100-percenters to their fun?” But here is the devastating point I’m leading up to: 100-percenters are not having fun.
I know some 100-percenters. I’ve seen them ply their trade. I’ve discussed the issue with them. And none of them, not one, could tell me that they were genuinely enjoying themselves as they treaded and re-treaded the in-game worlds for days on end. They were not trying to complete the bullshit quest because doing so would make them feel good. They did it so that they would stop feeling bad about leaving an assigned task unfinished. These people are mildly obsessive, and if they’re wasting their allotted fun times on things that are not fun, then we need to help them, not exploit them.
And that’s why Pokemon is evil. Not only is it shameless in its exploitation of mad people, but instead of apologizing, they add another 150 things for them to collect every few years. That’s like watching an insane man trying to count the grains of sand on a beach, and instead of picking him up and taking him to a place where he can be safe and warm, you empty another truckful of sand on his head and tell him he missed a spot.
But I propose a system to help these unfortunates. All we have to do is train them to expect appropriate rewards from their bullshit tasks and reject those that don’t offer them. So if you know someone who’s forcing themselves through a 100-percenter bullshit quest, give them prizes. Maybe for every 25% they attain, let them motorboat your or your sister’s titties. And when they do reach 100, give them oral sex. Come on, fellers, it won’t kill you. And the added bonus if you do is that once they’ve been cured of their mental illness you might just have a new best friend.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.