What Have I Achieved?
The current generation of gaming has brought many new elements to the table of our rich and diverse medium—HD, 3D, motion controls, online, etc—but out of the lot the most I find confounding is the inclusion of achievements and trophies for every game. It’s confounding because my rational self knows that they’re nothing more than deliberate attempts to put more hours into a game than I typically would as well as give me a reason not to trade in a title after I’ve beaten it. However, the rest of me can’t help but feel compelled to unlock them for just about every game in my library. They’re the gaming equivalent of salt-laden, fatty potato chips. I know they’re empty calories and bad for me, but I still stuff them in my face regardless.
During the early days of the Xbox 360, Achievements weren’t nearly as plentiful nor cleverly-titled as they are now. Compare the achievements of launch titles to those of today. Most only came with about a dozen and they were standard requirements like ‘beat the game on hard’ or something equally pedestrian. Flash-forward to now and you have ones that require you to find every trinket, do every side-quest, or do something completely insane like shoot every single enemy in the game on hard mode without missing. How times have changed.
Still, there are plenty of these that are totally lazy. The majority of them are tied into completing the main story and require little thought. You’re merely being rewarded for playing the game, not exactly a huge hurdle to jump over. These are typically the ‘Hidden Trophies/Achievements’ that give no clue how to unlock them as they would otherwise spoil important elements of the plot.
The funny thing is there’s typically no tangible benefit to chasing down achievements or trophies. They feed into one’s gamerscore, and you can compare the ones you’ve unlocked to your friends, but at the end of the day you’re not getting anything for your efforts. Maybe you’ve unlocked a new article of clothing for your Xbox Avatar or accumulated a high enough score to qualify for a handful of Microsoft Points, but those are rare cases.
The only possible explanation I can come up with for my behavior is that achievements tap into the completionist that dwells deep within me. It may be true that I’ve beaten a game so thoroughly it calls into question why I even have it around anymore, but if I haven’t unlocked every trophy, can I really say to myself that I’ve done everything that there is to do in the game? And even if I do get rid of that game, the uncompleted trophies will merely taunt me. Daring me to pick up where I left off, not for any rational reason, but only to say that I did.
To date, the only game I’ve gotten every single achievement for has been Batman: Arkham Asylum. BioShock comes in at a very close second, but I just can’t seem to find that last audio log. Why I managed to only complete the achievements for Arkham Asylum is pretty simple: it’s a terrific game that I kept coming back to, and it had such an engaging world that I wanted to explore every nook and cranny until there was no stone unturned. None of the achievements were chores, and each one was tied to progression within the game, tying them to rewards and unlocks in the game itself.
There’s more to an achievement than just thinking up some clever title or asking players to do something they wouldn’t normally do. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of telling gamers they have to obtain every magical item in alphabetic order, under two minutes, all while patting their head and rubbing their belly. That’s busywork, even if there are some players that will actually go to such ridiculous lengths. At that point, I feel no qualms about saying “screw it” and never picking up the game again once I beat it.
A question that comes to my mind is why even have achievements and trophies embedded in all of our games? Why is it a requirement? One of my pet theories is that for all the complaining players have done over how easy games supposedly now are compared to their predecessors that developers needed to give them some difficult tasks to complete in order to make them happy. They’re not required for game progression and can be done at the player’s leisure, when they do have a firm grasp of the game’s mechanics and are ready to tackle on even greater challenges.
All I know is that I have a virtual shelf that’s a reminder of how little time I’ve spent with some games and far too long with others. Games that I’ve only played for a day are cataloged by how laughably few achievements I’ve unlocked, sometimes none at all depending. Then I look at the others I have spent nearly all of my free time with—Fallout 3, Batman: Arkham City, Red Dead Redemption—and have come so very close to obtaining nearly every achievement. Everything I’ve done and yet to do is laid bare before me and the rest of the gaming world every time I log in. To borrow a passage from the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!