I can recall the days when the goals of games were simple: defeat the final boss, get the highest score, beat your friend so you can emasculate him. Now in modern games we’ve seen the rise of a new objective, the collection of achievements. These achievements have become like the participation trophies that you hand out to all the kids who weren’t good enough to actually win anything. One no longer has to conquer some monumental task of significance for acknowledgement but anything from as small as starting the game to dressing your player in a particular article of clothing have become worthy of praise.
This trend has not gone unnoticed. In fact the game “Achievement Unlocked” parodies the achievement system by making it the entire goal of the game. In the game you play as an elephant in a single room. It mocks the system by awarding the player an achievement for essentially every action taken no matter how seemingly insignificant. Achievements include: pre-loading the game, clicking the start button, and playing the game. By the time you start the game you will have already earned six achievements. You can Play “Achievement Unlocked” here: http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/474371
One way that achievements are used is to prolong gameplay past the built in content. A countless number of games have awards for playing for a certain amount of time. Angry Birds for example utilizes this tactic by notifying the player once they’ve played for 5, 10, 15, etc. hours. I find this strategy particularly lazy, especially for games where the amount of time necessary to complete a game is significantly less than the time necessary for the last achievement. The completionist in me enjoys knowing that I have completed and unlocked every nook and cranny of a game before I move on from it. I don’t particularly feel the need to sit around for another 90 hours in a game it took 10 hours to complete just so I can earn those five extra achievement points. If a game is going to give awards for time played, then it should be limited to arcade style games where high scores are the goal, or match up with the amount of time a standard gamer would take to complete said game.
One benefit that the inclusion of achievements provides is the incentive to pursue alternative paths or to explore the game in greater depth. For example, in the game “Unmanned” you play through one day in the life of a drone pilot. Throughout the game you make decisions such as the type of responses you give when engaged in dialogue. Providing a sequence of proper responses results in a specific outcome accompanied by achievement medals at the end of each chapter. At the end of the game, it totals up the amount of medals you achieved out of the total possible. “Unmanned” creates a story conducive to a variety of interpretations. By utilizing a medal system they encourage the gamer to seek out all of the possibilities.
Now lets compare this trend to a game where an achievement system is not utilized. Take any Zelda game for example. When I start any game in the series I feel daunted by the epic journey that awaits me. The first few areas and dungeons go slowly. Figuring out the game mechanics and also gaining confidence in the world are necessary for progression. After a while I get into the groove of things and can tear threw a dungeon in a few hours every afternoon. By the time I get to the end and defeat the final boss, in most cases Ganon/Ganondorf, I look back on my journey and feel this overwhelming sense of accomplishment. The dungeons that I had beaten just days ago seem so distant in time and space as if I had actually walked from the snowy mountains to the desert and then back to hyrule. It is that final moment at the journey’s completion that makes all of the time spent figuring out puzzles, finding a bosses weak spot, and exploring the world worth it. To add achievements to a game like this would cheapen the payoff at the end as well as the overall experience. We can imagine this game without these awards because the series has been around for so long without them. So that makes me raise the question: How much better and memorable would many other modern games be today if we just enjoyed them for their content and not for some award system tacked onto them to add incentives?