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Underachiever

Three issues into my PC Gamer career, I’ve all but adapted to the sights and sounds of being a full-time editor: Logan’s ethereal afternoon howl to summon the benchmarking gods, the larynx-hugging steel of Kristen’s DEADline 4000™ shock collars, and the three-darts-per-second click of the 15-pound belt-fed Nerf Vulcan that we affectionately call “Sasha” and use to defend our cubicles.

It feels like home, but my former life as a freelance reviewer did have its dark appeals. When there’s a steady plastic thud of new releases hitting your doorstep, life feels like a year-long birthday—one spent alone and cakeless in your basement, unwrapping Wii shovelware that erodes your wrist and associated joints in new, innovative ways. But for all the fast games and loose unlockables, one thing I won’t miss are achievements, Microsoft’s integrated metascore that spies my in-game accomplishments to reassure me that I’m a good gamer.

The concept seems reasonable enough: give devs an opportunity to build incentive-driven “tangible” records of player landmarks that gamers can share with friends, and attach a score so they can quantify their gaming cred. In practice, achievements fundamentally reshape how we frame our game experiences by publicizing what should be players’ sovereign, personal gaming moments. Players have a right to immersive, contained gameplay: when I’m creeping down a bulkhead in Dead Space, I don’t need a pop-up letting me know that I’ve dismembered 666 space-ghoul limbs. When I stumble onto one of Portal’s hidden rooms, I don’t need notification that I’ve found another secret area. When I’m staving off a man-sized cry because my favorite lieutenant met his end in Brothers In Arms, I don’t need a branded icon to remind me that I’ve completed chapter four.


Achievements and unlocks are a sneaky way of artificially extending replay

Attaching token achievements to the invested, organic moments that arise in games like BioShock, Half-Life 2, and Fallout 3 compromises immersion. To various degrees, we play to insulate ourselves from the real world, and having a reality-based system measuring your progress invites contexts that influence how you approach playing a game.

Private experiences become public. Having digital bragging rights (like making it through Ravenholm with only the Gravity Gun) auto-conveyed discourages players from fashioning their own standards for accomplishment because they’re already subscribed to a universal set. I’ve got an elaborate fantasy of beating Far Cry 2 McGuyver-style using only a knife, two grenades, and a hang glider—would a console player be as inclined to be inventive, knowing there wasn’t a handful of gamerpoints associated with that effort?

Blizzard’s plan to add achievements across its new releases sets a worrying precedent on our platform, where gamers aren’t under a unified service. The notion of separate sets of Windows Live, Steam, Impulse, and WoW achievements (all connected to different friends lists) should frighten you. Call me an underachiever, but checking off a laundry list of feats doesn’t encourage me to play a game differently—it arbitrarily confines me to someone else’s standards for completion, and it devalues the memorable personal sense of accomplishment players fashion internally.

October 31, 2008

24 comments

  • thejadefalcon - November 12, 2008 3:34 p.m.

    "I’ve got an elaborate fantasy of beating Far Cry 2 McGuyver-style using only a knife, two grenades, and a hang glider—would a console player be as inclined to be inventive, knowing there wasn’t a handful of gamerpoints associated with that effort?" For a start, you spelt MacGyver wrong (sorry, but I've gotten fairly defensive about it since I started rewatching it). Secondly, some console players are inventive, just like PC players can be lazy gits (I have a PC (which doesn't work any more) and a 360). I can just grind my way through some games on a PC, just work for the Achievments on the 360, but I also make radical decisions for the hell of it. For instance, I'm about to begin playing Halo 3 as a pacifist. No guns. Maybe a melee attack (or guns for the Flood), but I'n going to be basing my fun on that on how I deal with my other games. Dead Rising with only orange juice for company (except, possibly, when a boss battle approaches) or Oblivion as a spy from another galaxy who discovers that everyone in Cyrodil wants to kill him, so has to remain hidden at all times (even from civilians). There can be interesting challenges in any game. You just have to be abstract enough to look for them. Pokémon with only your starter Pokémon. Fable II with only your fists (is that possible? I haven't checked).
  • MacGyver1138 - November 3, 2008 7:17 p.m.

    I personally like the Achievements, though I rarely go out of my way to try to get them. It is a welcome little reminder of a job well-done when I get that little *plunk* and see some Gamerscore added. I do wish that the PC could get a unified system, but that's not very realistic. Also, you spelled MacGyver wrong.
  • TrIp13G - November 3, 2008 1:31 a.m.

    @phoenix_wings: There need to be easy achievements, because it's a bit too easy, otherwise. Just take a look at NBA 2K6. That game has five achievements, all of which are fairly easy to get. Even if they weren't easy, it's a disappointment. There should be at least thirty achievements per retail 360 game.
  • djsn1per - November 3, 2008 12:14 a.m.

    Everything in this is spot on i say. Except that there are pro's and con's to everything. Achievements also can make the gamer do things that they didn't know you could do...such as I would never have figured out that I could kick a chicken or shoot a rabbit in Fable 2 if there hadn't been an achievement...so now where ever there is a chicken, it gets punted and it makes me laugh. But I think that achievements just make games more fun when you are trying to accomplish something whether it is materialistic or not :)
  • phoenix_wings - November 2, 2008 7:58 p.m.

    I agree with the article. I understand that some people need to be assured that they're good gamers, but trophies and achievements need to be a little more...worthwhile? Or at least harder to get. I don't want a trophy for getting through a level, and then another one for completing the game, that would render all other trophies & achievements useless. For example in Dead Space there are trophies and achievements you can get depending on how many audio-logs you get. It would be a good trophy if the audio logs weren't so easy to find. You can blow off the limbs of 1000 enemies--that's a trophy worth showing off.
  • oreomonkey - November 1, 2008 5:22 p.m.

    its like complaining that Call of Duty is too good instead of complaining that there is no map editor
  • oreomonkey - November 1, 2008 5:21 p.m.

    yah ummm and why are u complaining over achievements when they are just an extra thing added to games.... maybe start complaining about what games dont have, instead of what they do have
  • TrIp13G - November 1, 2008 4:07 a.m.

    I like them. They don't intrude on the 360, in fact you can turn off all notifications if you feel that way. Of course, this will also turn off friend notifications, but if you're going for immersion, Hell it's a necessity.
  • EvilNinjaSquibidyflop - November 1, 2008 12:42 a.m.

    I absolutely agree with the last part. There should only be ONE achievement system for PC, even if it has to be standalone. But, I don't think achievements make you play games a certain way. Games are meant to be played until they lose all novelty value, right? Only the aptly-named "achievement whores" are supposedly confined to playing a certain way. Sorry if this was too long.
  • thejadefalcon - November 12, 2008 3:35 p.m.

    Sorry, hadn't read all the comments and didn't notice the other Mac fan post.
  • TyLanol - November 6, 2008 4:37 p.m.

    Achievements, unlocks and trophies for online FPS multiplayer games are rubbish! People always seem to find a way to cheat or grief their way to the top, which ends up minimizing the honest work of others anyway, so get rid of it. I play video games because I desire to be entertained and have fun, I don't need more work. I just spent 8 hours at work, where I'm evaluated and scrutinized, why would I want that to carry over into a video game?
  • teapotking - November 3, 2008 10:32 a.m.

    i agree that some games like oblivion really don't need any achievments to make them great, i have at least 7 charachters on oblivion, and i'm still not bored of it. and as for other games, how can you say achievments reduce the amount of fun you can get from a game? if you want immersion, go play bioshock or dead space, or even halflife 2 in the dark and turn the notifications off. but personally i enjoy playing a game like halo or the orange box and doing whatever it takes to chase down every last achievment. multiplayer achievments may be easy to cheat at, but when you think about the fact that not everyone in the world is willing to cheat for overkill and two-for-one (i still haven't got them!) and that some people (like me) actually enjoy playing the game properly, online or not, and the sense of accomplishment you feel when you get that achievment you've spent the last 6 hours trying desperateley to get (for me some of the veteran difficulty levels in COD4).
  • vic88 - November 3, 2008 5:53 a.m.

    achievements and trophies are good for single player, not so much for multiplayer
  • TrIp13G - November 3, 2008 1:34 a.m.

    Besides, if a game is truly good, you shouldn't need achievements to keep you playing. I've seen a lot of people arguing this point, and I have an example. I played Oblivion and got every achievement, including those for the Shivering Isles. I'm now playing through it a second time as a different character and class. Another example is Max Payne. I've played that game I don't know how many times, but every time I come back to it, it's still fun to me.
  • bioshocker - November 3, 2008 12:38 a.m.

    I absolutly love the achievment system but I agree with what was said about immersion in a game. Sometimes you'll be in an incredibly tense moment then "bleep bloop" oh I'm back in the real world. Is there a setting to hide that fact you've unlocked an acheivment? If not ther should be.
  • TastyCakesMcgee - November 2, 2008 6:51 p.m.

    Almost every person that I know that play TF2, (I am appart of many groups so it is like 300 or something) is completely bloody in love with the achievements and updated that Valve offers. If you are playing a game like TF2, ya there needs to be achievements because it is an online shooter. The maps never change unless someone has modded them, the weapons never change, and the objectives never change depending on what server you are on. It would be terribly boring if there weren't achievements, and even more so if those achievements didn't help you get different weapons. I agree with a lot of this aritical, but really, don't use something like to express your personal oppnion. I really don't care.
  • oRaNGhaZe - November 2, 2008 6:44 p.m.

    i love acheivments, and i heard on the nex xbox that you can unlock accessories for your avatar through them, that would be badass to unlock like a plasmid arm from bioshock or something
  • jimsondanet - November 2, 2008 10:25 a.m.

    i dont see what the big deal is about. i know the achievements iv accumulated in fable are cheap, easy to accuire(in most part) and hollow but im a competetive person and look forward to seeing how i stand amongnst the millions. that dosent mean however that i will be checking off a list of fickle crap to do. attention whores are losers.
  • MP5-PRO333 - November 2, 2008 1:47 a.m.

    the ps3 now has a trophy system now and i am one to go for the trophys, only like 15 games or so right now hav trophies, and i actually bought a game mostly for the trophies
  • Basketcase676 - November 1, 2008 10:49 a.m.

    It really depends on the game your playing, like you said with such games as bioshock,half life 2 etc. the pop-ups can be annoying. Then again as wud03 said, achievements can be quite liberating too, for games with achievements for online multiplayer, dont you have to get immersed in the game to get those achievements?

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