The human fascination with excellence is truly a strange phenomenon. Create something to compete over and the competitors will appear. For example, parents with disruptive children often implement a "star system", where good behaviour is rewarded with a star on a wall chart. The rewards for these stars, if they exist at all, are often ill-defined. Yet the stars become an end in themselves. Siblings compete among themselves in order to acquire them. It seems to be something inherent in human mentality.
Of course, this pursuit of being the best now finds itself manifested in the video games industry. Create a high scores board, and people will compete to get on it. It's the motivation behind any return visit to an arcade game. It's what drives endless games of Tetris. It's tempting, objectively speaking, to dismiss it as pointless. But to do so is (literally) to miss the whole point and completely underestimate the inate desire to "be the best" that pervades the human psyche. Anyone who thinks that humanity has now transcended instinctive behaviour, and is entirely a creature of rationality, need only look at me playing Tetris at 3am to be convinced otherwise.
Now, why am I writing all this? Well, some of you may be aware of an extremely addictive little game known as Dope Wars. Playing this has been a mind-absorbing (and mind-destroying) pastime of mine for some time now. As those of you familiar with the game will know, there is a large element of luck involved. You can play fantastically and still lose resoundingly. The only way to get the highest scores is to play and play and play; giving 100% each time and probably only being rewarded once in twenty or so games. The flip side of this is that when you do finally succeed, and turn in a good score, it's a fabulous feeling of satisfaction. That massive hit is what keeps its many fans coming back.
So then. This morning. It's 2AM. I've played around fifty games already, making a couple of reasonable scores. I'm almost exhausted enough to sleep. It's the "one last game" phenomenon at work; a perfect example. I start it up. The game is set to run for thirty days. Off I go. Good first day. Good second day. Great third day. Get lucky on the fourth. And so it continues. By day 20, I've already surpassed my previous highscore. It's looking good. I could coast from here, and still enter my own highscores board at #1. But I've got my sights set on higher things. I want to start making in-roads on the global tables, as maintained on the Dope Wars website. Okay. Day 23. I take a big risk, buying in 130 units of cocaine.
I'm tired. I enter that stage where everything seems very distant. I have the pleasant buzzing of my PC fan in my ears, and Jurassic 5 are being quietly impressive. "Stretch like elastic, live and on plastic." I've heard those lyrics a thousand times already. There's nothing new going on.
Day 30. "It's your last day. Better off-load your stash." suggests the game, helpfully. There's a major coke bust. I now have the most valuable commodity in the game, and I have it in spades. I make about $12 million on the deal.
I say "fucking hell" out loud. The bank balance reads $59 million.
On to the Dope Wars website. Sign in. Everything still feeling a little blurry - tiredness plus adrenaline. A strange combination indeed. Enter the encrypted code to submit my score. Check on the tables. There it is. Top score in the world today. (At the time of writing, it still is). The 48th highest score by a UK player yet. In the top 400 scores ever.
Now I see what this "pursuit of excellence" business is all about. Time for bed.