“Is it my turn to talk? Alright cool. H…hi, everyone, my name’s Michael, and I’m a reformed achievement addict.”
Achievement addicts, or as they’re sometimes pejoratively known, “score-whores”, are people who obsessively seek out achievements in games, usually on the Xbox line of consoles. Some people who had it way worse than me would buy crappy games purely on the knowledge that they offered easy achievements.
For me, it wasn’t like that, though. Generally speaking, I only played the games I wanted to play, with the exception of some free advergames (I show my relatively high Doritos Crash Course score in shame, although that game kinda wasn’t awful). For me, getting achievements was a way to show mastery of a game, to show appreciation. It was a measure of how much of that game I had truly explored.
I’ve since broken out of my achievement hunting habit, thanks to two reasons. One, I started playing on consoles with, frankly, worse achievement architectures, such as my PS4, as well as on Steam. Two, I realized that most achievement lists were poorly designed, and did not comprise a full representation of a game’s contents, and thus, their value to me decreased.
Looking back over my achievement list, I have quite a few regrets. Grinding out the multiplayer in Bioshock 2 and Red Faction Guerilla was maddening. Looking at the achievement lists for the first 3 Gears of War games still gives me haunting flashbacks. But there were other games whose achievements actually probably led to me having more fun.
Take, for example, “The One Free Bullet” from Half Life 2: Episode 1. This achievement required you to beat the entire episode using only a single bullet, which had to be used to unlock a gate near the beginning of the game. This forces you to play the entire game using the Gravity Gun, the crowbar, and explosives, which is actually quite a bit of fun. And while carrying that little garden gnome around Half Life 2: Episode 2 was terrible, give me a bit more of a robust inventory system, and three friends, and I had a blast doing the exact same thing for “Guardin’ Gnome” in Left 4 Dead 2.
In fact, looking over my achievements, all the ones I really look back at with fondness are the ones that forced me, or at least encouraged me, to mix up my playstyles. Looking over the Fallout: New Vegas achievements reminds me how a subset of those achievements inspired me to play my favorite character: Carl, the brutish Legionnaire who liked hitting stuff with clubs and gambling. Halo 3 ODST was a lot more fun on Legendary, I mode I normally never play, but did for the achievement. Trying to engineer situations for “Flippin’ Crazy” and “Global Impact” in Crackdown had me maximizing all of those games’ systems.
This, I think, is the real power of achievements. By simply existing, they can imply a way of playing the game that isn’t obvious in the game, and serve as a nice way of signposting these strategies without having something extremely obvious in the game (“Try killing those guys without shooting!” a random NPC screams). Since they’re not in the game, players don’t miss out on mechanical benefits for not doing them, they’re just little suggestions, little nudges towards an idea.