We have heard it all before. “They are addictive and take the fun away from a game because all you do is play for Achievements.” Yes this is true, but only for a select few people and it does not reflect on everyone who enjoys achievements in games. You heard right, some people really do play games for nothing. For me, as a gamer, achievements suck all the fun out of a game and totally kill the experience, but that in itself does not mean achievements serve no purpose. When it comes down to it, every gamer has an opinion on achievements, and maybe in this article we can find some middle ground. There are glorious moments when you get an achievement, accomplishing your goal, making it feel like a real achievement. Like for instance there is a certain achievement in Borderlands called: “Vincible” (Kill Crawmerax the Invincible).
For those of you who do not know, Crawmerax is a fully grown Crab Worm in Borderlands. He is one of the most difficult bosses, if not the most time consuming in all of Borderlands. Even when playing in a four-player party, you will have a decent challenge defeating him, and near impossible when playing alone. Fortunately, I managed to kill him alone. This was one of those achievements where skill and cunning was required on my part, as I had to think outside the normal gaming path to overcome him. Once I managed to kill him, it really felt like I achieved something really great, and it was the same feeling I get when I manage to do something difficult in real life. This sort of feeling is what we should get from receiving achievements in games, however there will obviously be a few exceptions. Exceptions being, the comical and cult reference achievements, as they are always good for a laugh or two.
An example of a reference achievement is when you are driving a car at a helicopter in Crackdown 2 and you get the “Yippee-Kai-Yay” achievement, an obvious reference to Die Hard 4. Achievements like these put a smile on my face, but it also makes me wonder about my level of culture at times if I know about references like these. However, we definitely need more of these moments in everyday gaming, because it adds so much more entertainment value to what we are doing. On the flipside, achievements can also be a cheap gimmick. Some developers will add achievements as an afterthought, which will make it seem like they really don’t care. It’s almost as if they only wanted to make an extra few bucks off the achievement whores out there. A good example of this would be the horrid achievements of Avatar: The Last Airbender for the Xbox 360.
In this game you can receive half of the games achievement points in literally two minutes by doing nothing but tapping the “B” button in the tutorial of the game. This is really shameful and one of the reasons why so many people frown upon achievements. Let’s not even discuss those grinding achievements you find in JRPG games. Despite the above, there is also a good side to the whole issue of achievements. Some developers actually think out and plan their achievements properly. An example of such a studio is Lionhead and what they did with Fable 2. Fable 2 is possibly one of the most interesting and refreshing achievement lists that I have seen on the Xbox 360. By merely thinking out and planning their achievements properly, Lionhead added lots to the game without taking up time, whereby they increased the overall experience as well.
Occasionally I will compare my achievements with my gamer friends, with either feelings of pride, shame or amazement. I really don’t care too much about my achievement score, or about achieving a perfect collection, but I have found that if I really enjoy a game I try and get as many achievements as possible, so I can get as much enjoyment out of the game as humanly possible.
[Editorial Note:] This was a article I originally wrote for eGamer.