If you have an Xbox 360, do you care about your Gamerscore?
If you don't have an Xbox 360, this video game console has a new system not seen previously in video game systems. It has a system-wide system of tracking Achievements from game to game. An Achievement is a kind of trophy given for accomplishing a certain feat in a game, and it comes with an icon, a name, a description, and a point value of one Gamerscore or more. Every Xbox 360 game has at least 1000 Gamerscore total (some have more), and each game can have up to 99 Achievements. Some games are more generous, with huge rewards for finishing the game and certain milestones, while others are more conservative, instead offering dozens of Achievements for finding various secrets in the game.
Most people earn their Gamerscore by playing games, but others cheat to raise theirs. You can give somebody you trust your username and password, and they can "recover" your profile to their Xbox and earn you achievements; usually they do this for Microsoft Points (the currency on Xbox Live, which costs $1 for every 80 points) or other online currency. Some do it for free. When they're done, you recover your profile back, and, if you're smart, change your password back. I have never done this, I've only heard. There are also various hacks which will raise your Gamerscore exponentially. One, as I understand it, figures out the total possible Gamerscore one could have if one bought every single Xbox 360 game and unlocked every Achievement for each one - something like a quarter-million points.
However, Microsoft not only disapproves of Gamerscore manipulation and outright hacking, but they will reset your Gamerscore if they catch you at it. They will also revoke your online privileges, even if you're paid up a full year in advance. In the worst cases, they will blacklist your entire Xbox, so if you had, say, six accounts paid up for a year in advance (a cost of $300) you would not be able to play online, and you wouldn't be able to recover any of that money.
The thing is, do we care enough about Gamerscore that this is such a big deal that we approve of Microsoft cheating people out of their money? More importantly, how do we feel about Microsoft having that level of control? Mind you, these people are not (necessarily) cheating in online matches. They're simply raising a score, which hurts nobody at all. You cannot buy anything with Gamerscore; it's worthless except, maybe, for bragging rights. But if you have a quarter-million Gamerscore, is that really worth bragging about? I would say anything over 100,000 is evidence of manipulation of some kind. I would say that a Gamerscore of 25,000 or more belongs to somebody who has absolutely no life. My wife's brother has about 13,000, he's had his Xbox 360 for three years, and he hasn't had a job in that time. His girlfriend had a good job, and was able to support his gaming habit while he (read: his friends and family) looked after the kids. He has that plan with Blockbuster where, for $22 a month, you can rent one game at a time for as long as you like. He rents a game, plays it until he beats it, and then returns it for the next game. He doesn't seek all 1000 (or more) Gamerscore from a game, but he does complete the main objectives, which get him between 40% and 75% of the total Gamerscore.
I have about 2900 Gamerscore; Jen has close to 2200. And we've had ours nearly a year and a half. I would not care if Microsoft reset my Gamerscore. It means nothing to me. Sure, it's nice to get the Achievements, and it's extra nice when they're worth more (like 50, as opposed to 10), but it's never more fun than actually earning the Achievements. If I wanted to jack up my Gamerscore, I could rent Avatar: The Last Airbender (a fighting game); I understand it's not only possible, but very easy, to rack up 1000 Gamerscore inside of about five minutes from the start of the game. But I don't want that game on my profile; I don't want it known that I was willing to put a stupid game from a stupid franchise on my Gamertag's profile just to raise my Gamerscore. I'd rather earn fewer points by playing games I'm proud to have on my record. Not that I've never played a stupid game; Dash of Destruction is a free Arcade game sponsored by Doritos worth 200 or 250 Gamerscore. I got it for Jen to help her catch up, but it actually looked fun, so I played it until it wasn't. I got some points from it, but nowhere near the total. Jen got all the Achievements but one, so she got more from it than I did. And that's fine, she wants a higher score, but she mostly sticks to games with "Guitar" and "Band" in the title. I've played through The Orange Box and Oblivion, and those games hand out Gamerscore like candy. Assassins Creed and Mass Effect were also both good for Gamerscore, but they bored me, so I stopped playing them. Grand Theft Auto IV is a little more conservative, still gives Gamerscore, but not as much as the others; it bored me as well, so I put it down. I am going to strive for all 1250 Gamerscore associated with Oblivion, but not because I need the score to stroke my ego, but because I love the game and want to get everything out of it. But I'm also doing things that don't get me Gamerscore, too; I'm going for 100% completion, which just happens to result in getting 1250/1250 along the way.
So that brings us back to Microsoft. How comfortable are we with Microsoft policing video games? Sure, crack down on people cheating in online matches. I'm fine with that. If people want to cheat, though, don't take away their access if they want to pay. Just create a new Gamerzone (e.g. Pro, Recreation, Underground, Family) called Cheaters, or perhaps Hackers, and lock them in it. Make a new option in the profile called "Play with cheaters?" and set it to NO by default. Cheaters would thus only be able to play with other Cheaters, and with those brave souls who enabled play with cheaters (which is what their friends would have to do to play with them). Sure, crack down on people putting offensive language in their profile. I'm fine with that, too. The Xbox 360 is a family-friendly console, and people actively undermining that are threatening Microsoft's financial situation. Sure, crack down on people modifying their Xbox to play copied games. I am fine with that as well. Video games cost millions of dollars to develop, just like films. I do not agree that Microsoft should be able to remotely kill an Xbox 360, if their employee they laid off can be believed, but Verizon does something similar with their phones, they can remotely disable a phone's ability to charge its battery, forcing you to buy a new phone. That ain't just crazy talk, either, they did it to me in 2004. I couldn't afford a new phone, either, and they said they'd rather I just cancel my service than let me continue charging the battery until I could. So I guess when you're at the top, you can set the rules like that. But Microsoft's video game competitor, Sony, is no better. Sony put a nasty computer virus on music CDs with the understanding that anyone who puts a CD into their computer is probably intent on distributing it online. Meanwhile, thousands of people, perhaps millions, downloaded the album on BitTorrent and other networks, courtesy of Linux users who were unaffected by the virus, which affected Windows and Mac OS systems only. Playing by the rules is no safe harbor either; users who updated to Microsoft's new Dashboard for the Xbox 360 last November were blocked from Xbox Live for up to three weeks if they were not part of Microsoft's beta team. Too bad the download and the installation didn't say that. Whoops. Not to mention the whole Verizon thing, or fans of music on Sony's BMG label who just wanted to play music on their computer that they'd bought legally.
So again, how important is Gamerscore that it's worth making such a big deal out of?