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How In-Game Report Cards Ruin Games, and (Probably) Lives

In games with a million fun things to do, why encourage players to fixate on the stuff they hate?
courtesy Microsoft

I spent a decent portion of this past weekend watching the 24 Hours of Le Mans and, afterwards, was finally moved to install Forza 6: Apex on my PC. It's a teaser-version of the full Forza, but it scratched an itch for lavish and detailed auto racing action. I was having a great time, right up until Car Bowling.

"Rob, what's Car Bowling?" you might ask.

Well, it's the kind of wacky hijinks that Forza 6 apparently feels obligated to get up to with its licensed Top Gear test track, and until you can make your car say something racist that's really the only way a game like Forza can evoke the Top Gear / Grand Tour experience. So we get Car Bowling, in which you drift a car around a track, trying to hit as many formations of giant candle-pins as you possibly can.


It's a throwaway game mode, a light bit of fun that gives me something to do with a car I'd likely otherwise never play: a Ford F-150 pickup. And maybe it would be fun, except for one thing: the God damn medals.

See, if you rack up enough points going car-bowling, you get more medals and, really, can I truly claim to have completed a challenge if I've only won two out of the three medals available? The answer is, of course, "Who cares, it's just a game and there's tons of other stuff to do with it?" But even after years of therapy and many dark nights of the soul, I am apparently unable to let this shit go. Like Marty McFly, I see a challenge in which I have no stake as some kind of referendum on my value as a person.

So around and around we go, drunkenly reeling around the track in an effort to knock over more pins, faster. And somewhere along the way, I start to hate Forza 6, just like I eventually hate every other racing game. Because I always end up playing the stuff I enjoy for about a tenth the amount of time I pour into the garbage that I hate. Racing GT cars around Sebring in the pitch dark? Mixing it up with tuner cars on a rain-soaked Brands Hatch? No no, that stuff is too much fun and I'm too good at it. I need to figure out how to make this fucking pickup truck fishtail down an entire straight. For the rest of my life, apparently. Or at least until I lose all positive associations with Forza and, like Gran Turismo, GRID, and SHIFT before it, I send it straight to hell with a click of the uninstall button.

It's too bad. It's a good game. They all are. But in games that present themselves as sort of variety packs of gameplay, with each different mode charged with grading and assessing me, I inevitably get to work poisoning the experience for myself in an effort to develop mastery at things I fundamentally do not care about. All because there's a gold star at the end, something that says I excelled at something meaningless.

Does this happen for anyone else? Does a game giving you a score sheet or a report card at the end of a level or mission activate some awful, compulsive corner of your personality? Why?

And if you do know what I'm talking about, and have somehow overcome it… please teach me your ways and help me escape from this hell.

But do it in our forums, please!