You’re at work, just sitting there. You’re trying to focus, but something is eating away at you. Your co-workers have asked you if something is wrong, and you shrug them off insisting you’re okay. Trying to stay awake, you once again pull up that webpage detailing exactly how to get that one last achievement that kept you up till 3 AM the night before. “I’ve done everything right! What am I missing here?” You mumble under your breath and try to find out where that final collectible is.
Achievement hunters, you know this feeling all too well. Gamers who ignore these seemingly useless-yet-still-weirdly-addicting prospects, have still likely come across this feeling one time or another. No matter what it takes, you want to get every single achievement. It can be any game – A sprawling, endless RPG like The Witcher 3, or an addicting puzzle game like Peggle 2, it doesn’t matter.
Why is this the case? We know that these glorified pop-ups have no physical value, but I think that it is important to note that they definitely have value in other ways.
Think about the earlier eras of gaming, before achievements existed. You could get everything done in a game, get that in-game progress tracker to one-hundred-percent, and then it would be put back on the shelf. You had no record of it whether for yourself to look back on, or to brag to your friends with. You knew you did it, and for some people that was more than enough. But for those who wanted something more, a memorandum of their accomplishments, there was nothing there for them. Maybe a gamer wanted recognition for going above and beyond, a virtual commendation for leveling that third character to max level. If the gamer doesn’t care about these over-arching rewards, they can act like they don’t exist. But for those who wanted something more, there wasn’t much they could do.
With the release of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the way we play video games changed forever. Accomplishing a normal task in a video game now yields extra rewards, a “ding” we have learned to associate with success over the years. Nowadays we get achievements or trophies for our in-game tasks. Sony and Microsoft decided to gamify the act of playing a video game, and since their target audience is already into, well, playing games, this idea worked out pretty well for them.
If we take achievements at face value, they really don’t seem to mean much. They all add up to an apparently useless total score. But if we take a closer look at them, we can see that they really aren’t that meaningless after all. Achievements allow gamers to show off their accomplishments to their friends as well as keep a record for themselves, they invite friends and anonymous players alike to collaborate in order to solve problems, and they implore players to game in ways they normally wouldn’t have.
Humans, and more specifically friends, are very competitive. In a time where the social aspects of gaming are bigger than ever, it makes sense that achievements jump onto the social sensation as well. Comparing gamerscore has been a feature on Xbox Live for as long as these points have existed, and how cool is it to check your friends list and see that you beat Halo 5 on Legendary while they only beat it on normal? What a pleb am I right? Beating a friend at something always feels good, and now they have the incentive to play more of their favorite games, but with an additional motive, to beat you back.
While beating friends is great fun, there is no dismissing the sensation of fighting back to back in a co-op experience with that same buddy you just destroyed in your weekly 1v1. While you’re at it, you two see that there is an achievement to explore that high level dungeon on the hardest difficulty. Embarking on this journey, your hour long catch-up session turns into a six hour long adventure, fighting tooth and nail to eliminate each and every enemy before finally emerging dreary-eyed and successful on the other side. Not only did you two have a great bonding experience to remember for a long time coming, but you also got that sweet sweet one-hundred gamerscore achievement.
You have just completed Dishonored, a game that you really enjoyed, and you’re a bit sad to see that there is not much else to offer. Then you take a look at the achievement list. You see only two of these bad boys left to unlock, and read that they challenge you to play through the game not killing anyone, as well as without being seen by an enemy NPC. You decide to embark on one of the most difficult endeavors in your gaming career. Will it be taxing? Yes, but it will allow you to see one of your favorite games in a whole new light, as well as a great challenge for your problem solving skills.
While they don’t have much value at first glance, achievements are an incredible and creative way to help gamers find whole new experiences out of their favorite games. They promote social interactions between players and encourage creativity in order to solve an issue. Hell, there are whole websites designed around unlocking these challenges, so people are certainly finding value in them.
Let us know how achievements have altered your gaming experience below.