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Monday, 11 February 2013 19:19

The Meaningfulness of Achievements Featured

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A few years ago I was first introduced to the concept of achievements(trophies if you‘re a PlayStation-person) in video-games. I believe it was when I bought my first Xbox 360 (and yes, I say first because as many of us know, some of those 360's weren‘t built to last) that these little badges of honor started mattering to me, for better or worse.

To clarify, achievements are little badges that unlock once some feat or trick has been accomplished in a video-game. These badges are usually visible on a player‘s profile, and usually serve no purpose other than to boost the player‘s electronic ego; bragging rights, if you will. These achievements can be as simple as booting up the game,  beating a certain chapter, or they can become as diabolically hard to do as finishing a boss in under a minute using nothing but the worst weapon in the game.

A lot of people will argue about the validity of achievements. After all, some achievements are so mind-bogglingly simple to get that you have to wonder what they‘re worth in the first place, and, as mentioned above, some are so difficult to manage that you just cannot be bothered to even attempt to achieve...  despite being a huge electronic ego-boost.

Besides the ego-boost, as a gamer, achievements are starting to affect me in another way, and I‘m probably not the only one. This effect occured to me the other day when I was browsing the Steam store on my PC. Some Steam games feature achievements, and others don't. I found the games that featured unlockable achievements more appealing than those that did not feature these rather  meaningless little badges.

I can imagine few situations where friends will browse my Steam game history and take any particular note of my achievements in-game. Likewise, I don‘t suspect that some day in the future I‘ll go over my achievements and remember the effort and skill that went into some of them fondly. But despite that, I still prefer my games to have them. Why is that? A sense of completeness?

I started wondering whether these achievements couldn‘t be made, somehow, more practical. Instead of being a meaningless measure of what you‘ve  achieved in a video-game, why can‘t we tailor them so that upon unlocking, they provide access to bonus material, or provide a slight game-altering effect. As mentioned by our managing editor Ingo in his recent article (Some thoughts on games these days) games used to reward you for being good at them. My most memorable examples of this would be the Mortal Kombat  franchise, which unlocked new characters, skins and other goodies the more you played the game --and, in some cases, how good you were at them. Why can‘t these two things be combined more often? Imagine beating the boss of some game on hard mode. A shiny, new achievement unlocks for your bragging rights, and, as a special reward, you get the  „McGuffin railgun“ (previously unavailable) as a special weapon for you to use when you re-play  the game. It sure as hell beats paying extra for a DLC pack that unlocks content that is already in the game.

I seem to recall Mass Effect doing something like this. I remember a 5% damage bonus with certain weapons after having gotten 500 kills with it, but if we expect it to be the norm that achievements grant us buffs and bonuses, doesn‘t that place an unfair burden on game developers who would all of a sudden need to make special effort to incorporate workable, practical achievements into a game that, perhaps, had no business having them in the first place?

Achievements may mean little, but I seem to want them in my games. It would be great if they started to actually matter.

Arni Odinsson

Contributing Author

 

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