Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Wonders and Woes of Achievements

To be completely honest, right from the get go, this article is probably going to be nothing but shit you already know, but I don't care. I've got the writing bug right about now and I need to type, type, and then probably type some more. Judging by the title, you probably already know what I'm going to be harping on about for the rest of the article, but seeing as I've not really decided on a title as I type this, chances are it has nothing to do with achievements (because that's what I'm going to be talking about), so that's for the benefit of all you Future People who are reading this whenever I decide this article is finished. Anyway, Achievements, and the Gamerscore you accumulate by getting them, are a brilliant new breed of the high-scores of old arcade machines, like some kind of giant meta-leaderboard. They have a broader appeal though, because you can show off your Gamerscore in that neat little Gamercard on your profile on Xbox Live, on forums, on Facebook, on your phone and so forth, etcetera. But the real reason they have proven to become such a success (and have been copied wholesale all over the industry) is because they extend a game's lifetime, sometimes by triple if not double.

I've played a fair amount of games for far more hours than I normally would have thanks to the wonders of achievements. Take Mass Effect for instance, one of my favourite games of this generation. I've played it through to completion at least 3 times, and while the game probably did just enough to make me want to play it through thrice, that overwhelming draw of getting achievements probably galvanised me even more, as that particular game's achievements are purposefully integrated to make you play the game, I think, five times all the way through to get that Holy Grail of 1000G. It maybe a bit extreme (the game is roughly about 30 hours long if you do the side-quests, which are necessary to get some of the achievements), but at least it gives you a reward for putting the effort in.

Last generation, we didn't have anything like this. If you completed a game 100% the rewards for doing such a thing were pride in yourself and your gaming ability, but that was kind of it. The games themselves rarely ever rewarded you post 100% completion. Every other game might have given you a cool unlockable, but most of the time it was hardly ever worth the effort. Tell someone else about such an achievement and they either won't care, won't believe you or wonder if you have a life. Now, though, you have proof, and at the same time, reward! We all know just how satisfying it is to hear that "buh-doh" sound effect pop-up (and it not just being your friend signing in), then hitting the guide button and seeing what exactly that achievement was and how it has affected your overall Gamerscore. It truly is a joy. The proof of it, too, is now sitting on your profile, waiting to be shown off to your friends who, at one time, may not have believed you. Again: satisfying! There's not much to be done about those who don't care or wonder if you have a life, though. Balls to 'em, I say!

Well, I would say that, if I didn't agree with them. You see, to me, there is a line. If I'm not enjoying it, I won't do it. In my opinion, games are 1 part competitiveness, 2 parts relaxation, and 3 parts fun for me (unless I'm playing Modern Warfare 2, then relaxation gets thrown out of the door and gets taken over by competitiveness). So if I have to grind through a game, I'll just turn it off and find something else to play, and that includes having to grind through a game to get the achievements. I tried to get through Mass Effect one more time before Christmas to try and get a few more achievements before Mass Effect 2, but I died without saving (a fatal flaw in this game), turned it off and haven't touched it since. It's just not for me. If you do, however, enjoy the grind, then that's cool. Just don't expect me to understand it. Achievements, as good as they are, just don't seem really worth the effort unless you're having fun.

What also doesn't seem like a lot of fun to me is people using exploits in the game to get achievements. Now, this isn't glitching a game or cheating or anything that unsavoury and downright stupid, it's more getting around what needs to be done for an achievement and getting it easily or quickly. Say, for example, if a platform game requires you to jump 100,000 times for an achievement to unlock - some people would actually sit on their arses in front of their consoles tapping away at the A button waiting for that achievement to pop even though that achievement might be perfectly reasonable to acquire just by playing the game normally. That, my friends, not only defeats the point somewhat, can't be fun in the slightest, can't have any real sense of accomplishment to accompany it, but also really sort of puts to the sword the belief that the individual who would do this actually has a life. Just rent a game that has easy achievements; you might actually still have fun doing it, even if the game is crap!

In the end, though, it doesn't really mean much, but a score is something you can be proud of, whether it's 5,000 or 50,000, especially if you you've earned it legitimately. There might be a couple of games that you only played for the easy achievements, but you can disregard that knowing, at the very least, the majority of achievements you've acquired were obtained the hard way the right way!

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