In 2005 the release of the Xbox 360 saw the addition of achievements to the console experience. Not long after Sony followed this up with trophies, and even steam added achievements to their arsenal. While versions of achievements had existed in individual games (skill points in Ratchet and Clank), but Microsoft pushed it to being part of the core gaming experience.
Gamers responded differently to this. Some obsess over having a high percentage of total achievements possible, some just care about score, while others don’t notice achievements at all. My own personal experience with achievements was slow going. At first they were just something there that was nice to unlock, but not really a priority. While it’s safe to say that I have never become obsessed with achievements it has become something that is pretty core to my personal experience. I have found there are some pros and cons to this change in my own gaming experience.
The biggest con has to do with allowing achievements to influence the way I experience the story of a game. Two things have happened since the introduction of achievements. One is I am far more likely to spoil the story for myself before playing a game. While I still try to avoid this, my desire to know the achievement list and how many achievements it’s possible to get with one playthrough of a game means I am more likely to seek out the details of the story of a game. Be it as simple as reading the secret achievements, or as detailed as actually reading a summary of the plot in order to find out when I should be able to unlock certain achievements. The desire to get as many achievements in one play of a game often fights with the need to just sit back and experience the game.
In the same vein of I am likely to spoil the story for myself. achievements can influence the choices I make in games. This does not apply to all games, but can with games like Fallout, Mass Effect, and any other games that come with major choices. Instead of just making the choices I want, I often find myself checking “which choice will get me an achievement if any”. I am less likely to just make the choices that I would make were achievements not a factor.
I am more likely to rush a game. I have started looking at games in terms of how to get achievements less than how do I enjoy the game. Side quests that don’t offer achievements are less likely to be taken on, once I get an achievement I am less likely to put the effort into enjoying that aspect of the game again. The reward of playing is no longer just the reward of playing. I am also much less likely to go back to a game once I have gotten all the achievements.
On the reverse of it influencing my choices being a bad thing, there is a certain pro in achievements influencing my choices. A perfect example of this is Fallout 3 offering achievements for the various karma points. Had that game not had achievements for playing with bad karma I would have never played the game that way. It forced me out of playing the one way I would have and to experience the different things the game offered. It was no longer “save Megaton every single time”, and instead actually seeing how the game was with blowing it up. With games like Mass Effect that give achievements for using powers it forced me to play classes I otherwise wouldn’t have. I didn’t like every single class I played in order to get achievements but it did get me out of my play style box and experience the game a different way. In the case of New Vegas it encouraged me to see all the different endings and experience the choice of factions I wouldn’t have normally sided with.
It encourages my need to challenge myself with games. Sometimes I do like to play easy games, I like to shut down and just enjoy a nice relaxing experience. Other times though I like to give myself a challenge so that I feel like I accomplished something (minor though it may be) when I am gaming. Before achievements I did this with trying to play on harder difficulties, or play with certain weapons. Challenges I gave myself once a game became too easy to really experience something else. Achievements now build that into my game play experience and reward me for it. The choice to play Mass Effect on insanity was definitely a challenge for myself (I am no pro gamer). I did it though for that achievement, and I got that moment of accomplishment. Playing hardcore in New Vegas challenged me to play differently, no longer being able to be a pack rat and having to watch more than just my base line health.
At the End of the Day:
In the end I am not overly obsessed with achievements. I am not going to force myself to keep playing a game I hate, nor will I go for achievements that I have no desire to get. The addition of achievements is mostly worth it. Since I have started becoming more of an achievement hunter I’ve tried gameplay styles I wouldn’t have otherwise, challenged myself to get harder achievements, and seen parts of story that I might not otherwise have seen. I acknowledge that thinking of games more in terms of an achievement list comes with it’s own setbacks to simply enjoying a game. Honestly though I am grateful for achievements when it boils down, the sense of accomplishment is real to me (if no one else), and the fact that it’s made me a more diverse gamer is something I will never regret. Bottom line as long as achievements never become more important to me than the game then I am happy.