Achievement Unlocked! Title Reader- 20 Points

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-unlocked-bigachievement 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:



One way that achievements are used is to prolong gameplay past the built in content.  A countless number of games have aangry-birds-fan-achievements-30-600x453wards 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 zelda stabjust 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?

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  3 comments for “Achievement Unlocked! Title Reader- 20 Points

  1. peterguerber
    February 28, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Honestly, I’m not too fond of achievements, but like any gamer I do have some completionist in me. I do agree with you about how an advantage of achievements is that they encourage you to fully explore the game world. For example, Limbo has the hidden eggs located somewhere off the very linear path. Not only does this encourage you to check everywhere, it also can test your skill in the game. Otherwise, achievements just seem like a waste of space, especially the story related ones; I don’t need someone letting me know that I just finished the chapter when it was something I had to do anyway. I also hate the achievements when you have to do a certain action that serves no purpose to the game itself, like several achievements from the Assassin’s Creed games. My point is that an in-game achievement should be something that adds to the experience of the game without defining it.

  2. Haley
    February 28, 2013 at 2:58 am

    I think you’re hitting on two related points here, one more overt and one more subtle: the first is a question of narrative integrity, and the second has to do with the nature of play.

    When you describe your experience playing Zela as contrasted to games that include achievements, what I hear is that the game’s challenges create a narrative arc that feels like it has integrity and wholeness. The lack of achievements (or trophies, for us Playstation owners) means the narrative experience stands alone and isn’t interrupted by elements that constantly remind you of the nature of the medium you’re interacting with; instead of being told “you’re playing a game!” you feel like you are experiencing a story. That raises some interesting points about the nature of gaming, at least to me. I think games can do storytelling (the epic journey of the Zelda titles), to use Prof. Whalen’s and Ian Bogost’s phrasing, and they can also do gameplay (points/scores, objectives, teaching you how to play). The best games incorporate both, and let each of those elements build onto one another. But in your opinion, for a game to do storytelling well, the way the game does gameplay should be subtle.

    Interestingly, this seems to conflict with Huizinga’s idea of the ludic, especially as it relates to the magic circle. Your magic circle is broken when gameplay elements, such as achievements, assert themselves–perhaps you feel that such elements detract from the “secludedness” or “limitedness” of the game. Suddenly you are focused not on the free, imaginative and extraordinary nature of the play you are engaged in, but the rules and mechanics of the game.

    I’m not sure every player would agree with your assessment, and I’m just about positive that not everyone will agree with my commentary. I’m certainly not trying to present absolutes here, but I believe these ideas have some merit. Am I on the right track? Maybe? How else can we think about gaming elements like achievements using terms/concepts we’ve discussed in class? Should we spend some time defining those “extra-narrative” elements, maybe?

  3. Kip Casper
    February 28, 2013 at 3:09 am

    Overall I agree. Achievements need to be done properly. There are really two kinds: ones that enhance the gameplay, and ones you grind for, that are time based. Both have their value.

    Team Fortress 2 is a good example of both. Some achievements will just keep track of how much damage you’ve done since you began playing (e.g. backstab 1000 enemies), and they do have value of their own. It can be viewed as a badge of pride, a milestone like that shows you must have some mastery of the spy’s mechanics.

    Others create interesting challenges. For those who don’t know, the Spy has the ability to both cloak and disguise himself as any class in the game. However, cloak is limited and enemies can see through disguises if they’re careful. Some of the Spy’s achievements include backstabbing the person you’re disguised as (a ballsy move), backstabbing a disguised enemy, and other feats.

    The games are given more length through achievements. The challenges give players unique things to try, while the ones based on pure numbers help players feel like they’ve mastered the game.

    Now, done clumsily achievements can ruin everything (Achievement Unlocked – You Beat A Level!), but I would still argue achievements are a happy invention.

    I’m still waiting for the achievement for beating X-Men arcade with a Guitar Hero controller.

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