Back in the day, achieving something in a game generally meant finishing it or at least defeating a particularly tough end of level boss. For example, when I was a mere whipper snapper spending a few hours in order to defeat Doctor Robotnik multiple times to complete Sonic the Hedgehog was an achievement. During my teenage years, getting to the end of every Playstation and Playstation 2 Final Fantasy game and unlocking all of the special items was an achievement. Of course, I told my friends I had found – for example – Cloud Strife’s Ultima Weapon or defeated Emerald Weapon but that would be the end of the matter. Nowadays, thanks to the wonders of the internet, your friends can observe all of your achievements (or trophies if you’re a PS3 owner) almost as soon as you’ve achieved them. But are some achievements too simple to obtain to deserve the title? Are some too specific and therefore taking something away from the joy of gaming? Or can they add to games? Let’s investigate.
Fallout 3, recently crowned ultimate game of the year at the Golden Joysticks, and one of the most in depth and open ended games of recent years. There are achievements, arguably deserved ones for getting past each story specific mission in the game with a big one at the very end. But the first two achievements the player receives are for getting the Pip-Boy 3000 and taking the G.O.A.T. Now, these are story specific parts of the game yes but it doesn’t exactly take skill to get to this point in the safety of Vault 101. The player is therefore arguably getting rewarded for doing absolutely nothing! Grand Theft Auto IV is an even worse offender when it comes to an easy achievement. The player merely has to watch the opening cut-scene in order to be rewarded with ‘Off The Boat’ If achievements are supposed to reward skill then the ones mentioned above certainly don’t involve much skill from the player at all.
Achievements can also be too specific with Team Fortress 2 demonstrating this particular issue. The Medic achievement ‘Consultant’ is rewarded to the player for healing 10,000 points of their teammate’s health in one life. Now, unless the player and their team mates have God like Team Fortress abilities it’s extremely unlikely the player will achieve this in the general run of play. A player trying to secure this achievement is therefore going to be playing selfishly and going against the team nature of the game. Sure, they’ll heal their team mates but it’s unlikely they’ll venture far from their own spawn point or help with attacks. This is only one example, but there are other ‘selfish’ achievements in Team Fortress 2. However, on the other side of the coin there are various achievements that can only be obtained while working as a team and to be fair, most of the games achievements will eventually be awarded to the player during the ‘natural’ run of play if they are good at the game.
One area in which achievements are arguably good for gaming is that they do increase the longevity of games. Fallout 3 offers achievements to the player for having bad, neutral or good Karma at levels eight, fourteen and twenty – and thirty if Broken Steel is installed. So if the player really wants to be rewarded with all of these they’ll play the game three times and will have to play it in a different way to have the desired Karma. Grand Theft Auto 4 contains achievements for completing various side missions and even offers them for completing certain tasks in multiplayer. The cynic could argue that players shouldn’t have to be rewarded with a little achievement icon for completing a side mission, but if it encourages players to get more out of their games and try new things then what’s the problem?
So are achievements good for gaming? Well, they easily allow the player to show their friends what they’ve accomplished within a game – even if some of these are so simple they don’t actually involve any skill. The achievements themselves aren’t damaging gaming – aside from a few specific examples in multiplayer games – so why not have them in games. They may even encourage players to try new things and extend a titles longevity. And if there’s anything we like in games it’s more bang for our buck. We like you game achievements, you are welcome here!