When it was announced that the Xbox 360 would implement an achievement system, many gamers groaned at the idea. Sure, it might add more replayability to a game, but if the achievements don’t mean anything, what is the point of going after them in the first place? Achievements may have seemed silly at first, but now they’ve taken on a life of their own. Several websites exist just for the purpose of helping gamers learn how to unlock achievements easier. There are also several message boards where players can get together and grind out several of the harder, online achievements. A similar community exists for PlayStation Trophies. However, are all of these trophies and achievements actually hurting the games we play? Are we, as gamers, missing out on the actual game we are playing based on the amount of time put towards gaining achievements?
I have to admit, I am a bit of an achievement junkie. Before I begin any game, I always check the achievement list to see what achievements I may potentially miss along the way. I have also, in the past, chosen a game to play based on whether or not it has an easy achievement list. One of the “Holy Grail” games on the Xbox 360 is the game based on Avatar: The Last Airbender. This game is only popular because you can get all of the achievements in literally 5 minutes. I’ve known people who put the game into their GameFly queue, received the game two days later, unlocked all the achievements, and then immediately sent the game right back.
That time could have been spent playing a better game as opposed to wasting time on a terrible one. A vast group of gamers will put hours and hours into terrible games just for the achievement points. Unlike the Avatar game, some bad games require hours and hours of effort just to get the maximum amount of achievements. Also, some gamers may avoid games that aren’t constantly giving them a Freudian level of instant gratification through achievements. Gamers want to feel like they are accomplishing something during the entirety of a game, so constant achievements may make a difference between buying and not buying a game. This not only hurts gamers, but also those making the games. Game designers may dumb down achievements if there is a risk people won’t buy their game based solely on achievements.
I realised that achievements might actually be hurting video games on two distinct occasions. The first occasion was when I was playing Dead Rising over Spring Break shortly after I got a 360. The achievement I was going for was called Zombie Genocider. To unlock this achievement, you had to kill 53, 594 zombies in a short amount of time and in one play-through This was no easy feat. I spent a good six hours doing the same zombie killing routine over and over just for the achievement. What was my reward? 20 gamerpoints and an in-game weapon unlocked. Also, I wasted six hours of my Spring Break.
The other occasion I realized something might be off, was when I was collecting the audio diaries for the achievement in Bioshock. Bioshock is one of the most innovative games to come out this generation, yet I was more focused on hunting down collectibles instead of actually playing the game. About half-way through, I realised how stupid I was being and went ahead and actually started experiencing the game. I just wonder how many people don’t realise this though, and miss out on many fun aspects of a game just for the sake of getting an achievement. I also realized how conditioned I was to getting achievements when I started playing older system games. I was playing Super Punch-Out at a friend’s house and was confused as to why I wasn’t unlocking any achievements for beating the different opponents. It took me a moment to realize that there was, in fact, a time before achievements existed.
While I have outlined the potential bad that achievements may have caused, they have done some things right. Achievements as a whole have added a level of replayability to many games. Instead of playing through a game once, you can go back through it on a harder difficulty and unlock different achievements. Several games (like the Gears of War series) don’t even offer the hardest difficulty setting until after you’ve already beaten it once. I know that I have gotten several playthroughs from the Gears games just because of the variety of the achievements offered (co-op achievements, difficulty achievements, etc).
Many games often implement achievements to get gamers to play their online mode. While Call of Duty and Halo are going to get online play no matter what, several games have to wine-and-dine players to try out the online mode (games based on movies often fall into this category). A game could have a terrible online mode, but as long as there is something to be gained from at least checking it out, gamers may be more inclined to. I mentioned earlier that some gamers may miss out on a gaming experience if too much time is spent on achievements, however, it could be argued that they also encourage players to have a more full and well-rounded experience. My friend pointed out that while he was playing Assassins Creed 3, he would have missed a ton of side-missions had he not looked through the trophies list. While gamers may just breeze through the main story mode of a game, achievements may entice them to explore outside the main storyline, rewarding them in the process. It also makes designing those levels worth it for the game designer. They are going to be less likely to make innovative levels if there is a chance a gamer may never see that level.
Achievements also encourage friendly competition between gamers; that’s why the “Compare Games” tab was created on Xbox Live. There is no greater feeling than trash-talking your friend in a friendly manner about how you unlocked an achievement that they were unable to get. Achievements can also promote co-operation as well. One of the best games (and one with fun achievements) is Left 4 Dead, a game where teamwork is absolutely necessary for survival. The game forces you to cooperate, but it’s nice to know that you are being rewarded for it through achievements as well. The only downside to having friends to compete against, is that you might be a little upset when the Xbox makes the achievement noise, but you realise it’s only because a friend has signed on.
To conclude, whether you hate, love, or are completely indifferent to achievements, the fact remains that they are seemingly here to stay. What do you think? Are achievements/trophies hurting games or are they just a natural evolution of games?
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