I’m going to write an occasional piece about obsessive-compulsive computer gaming. Here’s the first one…
I’m playing through Just Cause 2 again, on a tougher difficulty. This is a phenomenon unique to gaming. Surgeons don’t finish a particularly tricky procedure and then reopen the wound to try again with one hand tied behind their back. Firefighters don’t carry gasoline and matches just in case the first attempt wasn’t challenging enough. But I have ventured back onto the open-world island of Panau, in order to try and release it from the clammy grip of dictatorship. Again. Except this time the grip is tighter. And clammier.
The main thrust of the game is that you – Rico, a mercenary of indistinct Latino lineage who has parachute launchers and grappling hooks welded to his unfeasibly-robust body – have been hired to make contact with a guy in a jungle, and the only way you can do that is by hooking up with three revolutionary factions as they try to wrest power away from the government of Baby Panay – a tubby despot glimpsed only at the end of the game as you stick an assault rifle up his nose.
However, on this second spin through of the game – this time on the difficulty level helpfully labelled “Mercenary” – I’ve decided to go for a wealth-first approach to things. Panau – a sprawling environment of mountains, jungles and deserts, ringed by an immense amount of ocean – is also littered with collectible items which can upgrade weapons and vehicles, and faction items, marked on the map with blue spots.
I decided that before completing any of the story missions, I would really get to grips with these faction items. They take the form of suitcases of “drugs”, mainly found in city locations; aeroplane black boxes, found underwater; and – perhaps most ominously – ceremonial skulls on spikes, located in undergrowth, thickets and on top of mountains.
The challenge arrives when you discover that there are 300 of these bastards, spread over a 20km square map. Oh god, it’s the Riddler trophies from Arkham City all over again.
So, off I dutifully trudge, with the faction leaders’ responses getting repetitive as I pick up another of their bloody faction items. The worst one is the leader of the Ular Boys, Sri Irwan. He speaks in a chirpy, slightly-racist Indian voice and keeps calling me “serdadu”.
“You’ve found another one of our revered skulls, serdadu.”
Yes. Surely these are revered because of where they are, Sri Irwan? I mean, I don’t want to piss on your chips, but collecting them up seems to be the absolute worst thing you’d do with some ancestral skulls planted around an island.
And don’t even get me started on what kind of drug dealer leaves his wares halfway up a pigging skyscraper. You’re lucky that a wandering mercenary with a retractable grappling hook and the ability to produce infinite parachutes from his bottom happened to be passing. I’ve seen the massed ranks of “The Roaches”, another of Panau’s feckless factions, and they look like they’d have trouble climbing the stairs let alone the massive satellite dish of Panau’s Broadcasting Tower.
So after collecting 150 of these items, the game decides to give me an on-screen achievement. And this fires the obsessive part of my brain. Previously, I was doing this just for finance. Now, I’m doing it for glory.
Sri Irwan is still relatively unimpressed. “Soon you will have collected all of the skulls, serdadu.” Yes, I will. Soon.
So I carry on, visiting far-flung corners of Panau – which, incidentally, if it wasn’t so riven with governmental dominance and factional chaos, would make a pretty nice place to go on holiday. I start seeing the white arrows that point the way to collectables when I close my eyes. This is meat and drink to the Obsessive Compulsive Gamer.
Surely when I collect all 300 of these blessed things, I will feel a sense of completion, some sense that my time has not been wasted, that I have done good in the glassy eyes of some revolutionary avatars. I will have Achieved – not in the XBox achievement trophies sense, but in LIFE.
So, after twenty-five hours of gaming I collect all 300 faction items. The final one is a skull, in a wood. There is a genuine sense of anticipation. I walk up to it, collect it…
And nothing happens. Nothing. Sri Irwan doesn’t even call to say “Thanks, serdadu”.
Those bastards. There I am, toiling away in the sun and the rain, diving into oceans, avoiding militia forces, to collect the crap that you can’t even be bothered to find yourself, and upon finishing the task, completing it so that you and your revolutionary buddies will never have to do it again, you don’t even have the simple human kindness to pop round with a box of chocolates and a card? You are awful, awful people who don’t deserve to be liberated.
Still, there are 369 settlements to discover in Panau. Maybe I’ll find a sense of achievement in completing them all.
I will never learn.