Achievements Have Ruined How I Play Games

It‘s almost midnight and I have spent the last hour killing myself over and over and over again. 205M. Too far. 199M. Almost there. 199M again. So close. This continues, the tapping of my space bar sharpening behind the force of frustration with each failed attempt, for dozens of playthroughs.

201M. Fuck, seriously? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Why would they even put this in here? It doesn’t take any skill, it’s complete luck.

I am not having fun, quite the opposite in fact, but I stick with it. Getting a score of exactly 200m will unlock the last 15G achievement I need in Jetpack Joyride.

This is how I play video games now.

***

While I sit here typing this sentence, my gamerscore sits at 122,595G. By the time you read this, it will be higher. I am an achievement hunter, or in less-polite company, an achievement whore. And it’s ruining video games.

I don’t remember when exactly I discovered achievements, but I hardly noticed them… at first. Then I got curious, started looking up achievement lists online, watched my gamerscore slowly rise as I’d loosely follow those lists from game to game. It was casual, innocent even.


I am an achievement hunter, or in less-polite company, an achievement whore. And it’s ruining video games.


Soon, I started seeing articles about achievements, whispering in my ear about games with quick 1000Gs that could be unlocked with minimal effort. I do know that, like a lot of people, my first true act of achievement whoring was in Avatar: The Burning Earth, where you could unlock every achievement in five minutes just by pressing B over and over again. For a few months prior I had fought it, not wanting to sully my gamertag with such an easy score, but finally I caved.

I was hooked.

What followed was a Requiem for a Dream-style downward spiral into achievement whoring hell. Boosting matches online, changing gameplay sliders in sports games, reloading saves to farm for kills, I did it all. No genre was safe from my addiction, no game too bad or too embarrassing to feed my hunger. When I bought a new game, I wouldn’t play it right away. I’d run to the computer to my favourite achievement websites to find out which achievements were missable and which ones I should be working to complete first.

It’s gotten to the point where I can’t play a game without at least looking at its achievement list. But now the Xbox One is coming, with achievements that carry across multiple games and can be added post-launch by the developers, and I know that I can’t keep going on this way.


No genre was safe from my addiction, no game too bad or too embarrassing to feed my hunger.


I need to reflect on what got me here, on how I let it slip out of control.

I need to change.

***

I never got the fourth bottle in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the one you earn by riding around Hyrule Field shooting big Poes with arrows from horseback. The big Poes would always disappear too quickly, and my aim was never very good, so I left it alone and went along my way. I already had three bottles anyways, why did I need another one?

Back before I discovered achievements, I played games because I liked them. I didn’t care that I had left certain games half-finished, or didn’t get X number of headshots with a certain weapon. If a game was fun, I played it. If it wasn’t, I stopped. So simple.


That fourth bottle might have been a lot more tempting if it had had 100Gs attached to it.


Looking back, I wonder if that experience would have been different if there had been achievements to fuel my gaming habits in my younger years. Would I have obsessed over that one chapter I never could unlock in WWF No Mercy’s story mode? Would I have gone back and rented Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey Jr. to earn its achievements, even though I already owned Slugfest? Would I have quit Disney’s Aladdin every time I missed a red jewel until I had collected them all in one sitting?

I’d like to think that my entertainment wouldn’t have been altered, but I’m not so sure. That fourth bottle might have been a lot more tempting if it had had 100Gs attached to it.

***

Despite my earlier gaming innocence, and like any proper psychological abnormality, there were signs that I was ripe for achievement whoring at a young age.

When I was in elementary school, my dad and I engaged in a serious war fought on the battlefield of Minesweeper’s top-times board. My dad was subtle -- he wouldn’t say anything when he beat my time, but would leave his name on the leaderboard for me to discover on my own.

When I beat him, I was less subtle -- I called him at work in the middle of the day. What’s that Dad, you’re in the middle of a big project? No problem, I just wanted to let you know that I got 111 seconds on expert!

Yes, I still remember that 111 seconds was the time that knocked him off of the leaderboard. It’s also the first time I can remember that a game became more about playing and beating it -- it became about a number. And I found numbers quite easy to obsess over.

***

There have been several low points in my achievement whoring career.

For a two-year stretch, my Gamefly queue was dedicated to nothing but children’s games and four-year-old sports titles that could be burned through in a couple of days for a quick 1000Gs. If it was a movie tie-in or had LEGO or an adorable Pixar character on the box, you better believe that I was playing it.


A game became more about playing and beating it -- it became about a number.


During one session, I needed to intercept a pass for a touchdown in NCAA Football, and I recruited my fiancée to help. “Wait, you have to hit A to select the play, then A to hike the ball, THEN B to throw to the receiver that I’m covering. Got it?” I’m certain that this experience has single-handedly kept her away from playing a co-op game with me ever since.

I also had to explain to my fiancée why it’s perfectly acceptable for a grown man to play Hannah Montana because you can max out its achievements in just a few hours. The arguments, surprisingly, are not as persuasive as you’d expect them to be.

Skyrim is one of my favourite games of this console generation, but I still have to fight a seething resentment every time I play it for one achievement that glitched on two successive playthroughs and cost me 100% completion.

And now, finally, here I am, committing suicide en masse in Jetpack Joyride when I could be doing something -- literally anything -- else.

My problem isn’t just that I obsess over achievements, although that doesn’t help. Rather, my problem is that achievement hunting has fundamentally changed the way I approach and play games. I still love gaming but, often, once I’ve played the fun out of a game I’m still left with a sizeable list of achievements that have me doing something I could care less about save for the corresponding gamerscore boost.


Hours of playtime that could be used to play something new instead get consumed with monotonous task-managing, all in the name of increasing a number that has no actual value.


Hours of playtime that could be used to play something new -- something fun -- instead get consumed with monotonous task-managing, all in the name of increasing a number that has no actual value. And if a game has a dreaded missable achievement, I’ll play in rigid paranoia until it unlocks, knowing that my chance at 100 per cent is still intact.

This is a problem. The first step is admitting that you have a problem.

***

My road to recovery started, ironically enough, with an achievement list -- the cut-and-pasted MLB 2K13 list that was a carbon copy of 2K12’s list. To me, there was no clearer indication that this game would be a woeful retread of the previous year’s model and, stuck with no new baseball game to play alongside the actual season, I popped in my original Xbox copy of MVP Baseball 2004 instead.

Backwards-compatible Xbox games have no achievements, despite the achievement-hunting community’s cries for Microsoft to put them in retroactively. So for the first time in quite some time, I just gamed, never looking at an achievement list or worrying about what I needed to unlock, and it felt good. Really good.

It’s a small step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless. Part of me worries that the Xbox One will suck me back in with its platform-wide achievements, but as long as I stay diligent, I think I’ll be OK.

The other day, I missed an achievement in Tomb Raider by forgetting to talk to one of my crewmates until it was too late to go back, and I’m ok with that.

I think they call that acceptance.


Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Seattle Before8 and the upcoming Manhattan Before8. His work is featured on gidarimedia.com, and he can be reached on Twitter at CGidari. Republished with permission.


Comments

    Good article.

    I notice the same tendency in myself (and try to keep it in check) but nowhere near the extent of the author. Achievements are insideous little things. If I really like a game I'll usually try and clean up a few achievements to get over 90%. If I really, really enjoy a game I'll try to get 100% as a point of pride - but I've probably only done this on New Vegas and Far Cry 3 - and I enjoyed all my time spent in those games anyway.

    However if steam achievements start affecting my steam level I'm probably going to be as screwed as Cameron..

    I'm not too fussed about getting achievements or trophies. Sure, it's nice to get one here and there when you don't expect it, but I rarely, if ever, look at lists to find out what needs to be done to get everything. There have been the odd games, one or two, where I have deliberately got more achievements/trophies than I would have bothered with on a normal play through, but that's only because I've enjoyed those games so much that I wanted to keep playing for a little longer.
    Thinking about it, I don't think I have ever got 100% achievement or trophies on any game.

    For me, if an achievement ties in to my view of what a 100% complete file is, then I will inadvertently achieve it. If it is something outside the usual scope of a game then I usually let it go begging.
    Take Darksiders for example. I played it once through on easy collecting things as I got to them, finishing the game in a reasonable time played. I then went back and bumped it up to max difficulty then played through exploring every nook and cranny, collecting all the pickups, powerups and hidden items the game had to offer, not because the achievement list said I should, but because I believe in having a 100% complete on hardest difficulty setting file on most games I play and enjoy (enjoy being key). Upon completing the game like this, I was left with something like 95-97% complete, I was fine with that.

    Some games that require you to do weird things for amusement sake that just happen to offer an achievement are also often tasks that I will complete, Portal 2, taking the "end" before meeting up with GlaDOS or killing myself when Wheatley tells me to because they are funny moments.

    If a game tells me to kill enemy x with object y, or beat the game without gear, or fight certain mobs together or (insert random WoW heroic raid achievement here) then it can go procreate with itself.

    Good article. I don't play games often, and that's probably because every time I do I feel like I need to accomplish everything. All the tasks, all the side quests, explore everything, talk to everyone, and I get bored. Maybe if I just followed the main storyline I'd give myself an opportunity to enjoy the game...

    201M. Fuck, seriously? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.

    Wow...

    Anyway. I don't bother in achievements. Most developers put them in there because they feel that they 'must' do so - like every other game. Some are either too easy (not necessarily an achievement) and some are just ridiculously hard.

    Last edited 01/06/13 2:24 pm

    Just practice some... I dunno.... will power? Not sure if that's the right term in this context... When GTA 4 on PS3 got the update to include trophies I realised that chasing them all down wasn't worth it.

    Due to time constraints I rarely play through games more than once, and to get the GTA 4 trophies you had to start a new game after the update. I was about 75% through the story, so there was no way I was starting again just for some trophies that no one else gives a shit about. I guess that set my precedent for achievements going forward: fuck 'em.

    Last edited 01/06/13 2:59 pm

    I used to be obsessed with achievements until the online ones killed it for me. I had 100% on Halo: Reach until a new map pack came out and I just couldn't be bothered chasing down these achievements which rely on luck more than anything. It's not fun and boosting them seems a little pointless. I still try to get 100% on games I really like but only if is actually an enjoyable process.

    I hope you can get clean of your addition. i feel that the idea of achievements have changed a little too much over the years. i remember back in GTA:SA where your "achievements" actually unlocked something associated with the game play, such as finishing the flight school with all gold medals will give you the harrier jet, or collecting all the horse shoes will unlock the weapons outside your casino. i miss these as they would be incentive enough for me to spend hours flying around Las Venturas in a jet pack looking for all 100 horse shoes..

    These are the kinds of achievements i'm going to invest my time into unlocking, otherwise i'm happy to forgo the extra effort just for bragging rights/sense of achievement.

    I think achievements have lost their way a little bit. They had so much potential to be badges of honor for achieving actual feats. Nowadays it feels a bit more like tactics to push players into new modes/experiences or just participation awards. There's fewer and fewer achievements awarded for actually achieving something.

    Good examples are things like "complete an FPS level without firing a gun" or "get 5 headshots in a row". I'm over things like "customize your character's appearance". A terrible achievement is stuff like in Gears of War Judgement which requires you to finish a level with all 5 players wearing a custom skin that can only be obtained by purchasing DLC. This isn't an achievement by any definition, it's an incentive to purchase something.

    I want more achievements and less participation awards. I want more badges on honor and less incentives to try our different gametypes.

      Really, I think they're just a way to "Socialise" single player games, and as flags for that cancer of game design: metrics collection. Socialise, as in "HOLY SHIT, TIMMY KILLED FIVE SAND WORMS I WANT TO KILL FIVE SAND WORMS I'D BETTER BUY THE PACK THAT LETS ME KILL FIVE SAND WORMS!" - basically adding peer pressure to single player.

      The things like "Five headshots" is a way of tracking how easy it has been for players to get said headshots, so that the developers don't have to do any sort of actual thinking about gaming for the (inevitable) sequel.

        You don't need achievements at all to track player's behaviours in games. Most games track a wide range of data, some games track every single shot fired and every single death.

    Overall i do like achievements but i don't let them get in the way too often. I also turn my notifications off when playing games i want to get immersed in, for example i'm currently playing Bioshock Infinite with no achievement notifications. I will admit however i am a completionist and usually aim in the end to get them all but if the game doesn't hold my interest i never do!

    I hate achievements, them popping up on the screen ruins immersion and I really don't give a shit. If I could turn them off I would in a heartbeat.

      You can turn the notifications off :D

      http://www.giantbomb.com/xbox-360/3045-20/forums/is-it-possible-to-turn-off-achievement-alerts-380304/

        Except I play games on PC and would never own an Xbox.

          like half the pc games out there don't have achievements these days, try again

            He plays on PC and the link doesn't tell how to turn off notifications for PC
            So it wasn't helpful

            That leaves the other half that do. Try again.

    I have the ability to figure when I'm having fun on my own. I don't need achievements for that.

    I also have to ability to not give a flying fornication about what everyone thinks about my playing of a game. If I've had a good experience, I'll tell you. If I want to know if you've had a good experience, I'll ask.

    But, of course, according to the developers: every single gamer out there is so functionally retarded they can't tell when they're having fun, or how they're meant to have that fun. If it weren't for achievements and their constant, Pavlovian reinforcement, they'd stop spending money on games and go out and chuck rocks at trees instead. Silly, stupid gamers.

    I always check for missable trophies/achievements as soon as the disc loads.

    Im kinda the opposite of this i started playing games young and played them for fun but when achievements came out i ignored them at first then during a game i really liked Darksiders i saw the achievement list and figured i would give it a shot. Spent the next couple of days getting through most of them before getting too angry at the game and giving up on the 100% and havn't looked but at achievements since i only look when i get one to see what it was for. I was lucky to realise that gaming is meant to be fun not about the "achievements" most of which are just useless things that don't give anything in return.

    My experience playing Metal Gear Solid 4:

    1) spend a week or two solidly (lol) grinding the game's every nook and cranny to unlock achievements and Big Boss camo (and copious related iPod tracks).
    2) Finally... Done... The hard work is over... NOW I can have FUN!
    3) Burnt out man. :(

    Last edited 01/06/13 9:55 pm

    I've always said this. I've got little to no accomplishments in achievements and that's all I have to stand by. Achievements have ruined games in my belief, more time spent thinking up dumb titles than fixing a game, and relying on day 1 patches.

    Last edited 02/06/13 10:37 am

    I'm not sure how it ruins it - If you don't like it - don't do it. Choice is simple and all up to yourself...

    Simple as that

    Jessh, no wonder people think gamers are idiots, clearly they are if this article is anything to go by.

    I'm the same.

    Have a genuine love/hate relationship with achievements/trophies.

    When done properly, and are within reach, they are fantastic and a great way to keep coming back to a game you love. When not done properly, they just make you hate life sometimes. Really glad Nintendo doesn't use them.

    I enjoy my Nintendo games more as a result.

    I've only 100%-ed one game: Assassin's Creed II and that was some real hard work (I sat next to the PC across from the TV with a map showing where to search for the feathers!) I needed the feathers before getting the cape, and then the last few cheevos were skill based (like sweep 5 guards off their feet or kill ten guards in sequence without getting touched - that one was hard!!) I enjoyed it though, it gave me a reason to appreciate all the work that had gone into those cities.

    It's not the achievements fault you play differently. It's your own.

    Turn off notifications, for realz. Once you do that - trust me - it becomes much easier to start forgetting about the lure of achievements. I still like to go for some now and then, but they don't hold me in thrall like they used to. You can do it, man.

    I enjoy my game on my 1st PT no matter what
    and then go for trophies and i only trophy I really care about is the "Platinum"
    i will stop if it gets too tedious

    I don't really care for achievements or gamer-scores, but I would like some sort of recognition that I have clocked a game and on what date. It would be nice to go through all the games I completed and also see which ones I did not, sort of like a gaming diary.

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