Achievements – 360 gamers know them as the gateways to Gamerscore, those little “bleep bloops” you get for accomplishing mundane or extraordinary tasks within games. Whilst Gamerscore itself is nothing more than a cosmetic thing for your gamer profile it does instill a sense of competition and gives you bragging rights towards other gamers, particularly when you crack that insanely difficult achievement for mastering a game on the most brain-sickeningly tough setting whilst going without dying and wearing your underpants wrapped tightly around your oesophagus in order to limit air flow to your cranium.
But with achievements comes a new kind of gamer – the Achievement Whore (RoosterTeeth prefer to replace the latter word with “Hunter”, but this post will deal with several negative aspects of those who pursue achievements – also, saying they’re Hunters makes them sound like a collective of gaming mercenaries). These people take gaming to a whole new level, playing games simply for that little beeping noise, the flashing pop-up that interrupts your cutscene subtitles like Kanye West at the VMAs, and the ego-swelling joy that comes out of completing Halo Reach on Legendary difficulty solo and getting the 300-odd gamerscore that goes with it.
I am an Achievement Whore.
This realisation was brought into sharp relief for me during a recent trip I had to Jindabyne with some gaming colleagues. Upon completing the majority of the ODST campaign on Legendary I found I was left without the achievement for it due to having only half-completed a level I previously thought I’d finished the day before. While my friends were all high-fiving and relaxing their strained thumbs after several hours of repeating that goddamn vehicle section in the final level I was hastily asking them to help me through the one level I was missing 100% on – not for fun, not for shits and giggles, but for that damned achievement I was missing.
In retrospect, I feel quite guilty for that – I believe I detracted from their enjoyment of the game somewhat for my selfish and single-minded obsession with hearing the little noise. And if any of them are reading this, I still owe each of you guys a drink.
Being the competitive and petty person I am I was quite taken with the idea of Gamerscore when I got my Xbox over Christmas – it soon became my aim to complete the majority of my back catalogue of classic 360 games that I’d acquired in the month prior as soon as possible in order to fully reap the sweet rewards of those Achievements as badges of honour I could proudly display on Xbox Live like a young child gleefully showing their friends the gross stitches they just had put on the cut above their eye. I shot through the Halo 3 campaign on Normal for the level Achievements and Skulls, I pelted through Portal to garner the Gold medal bleep-bloops and play-without-dying quest options and I even began doing my best to rocket through the VFX bonanza that is Final Fantasy XIII without stopping to look at the pretty visuals and only-slightly intriguing characters.
It was not until the start of this week, when I hit the 4000 Gamerscore mark thanks to Mass Effect, that I realised something – games were no longer becoming fun and unwinding like they used to on my crappy PC, they were becoming tedious jobs for something that in the end doesn’t matter a damn if you don’t enjoy the game itself.
To this end I leapt back into BioShock, a game I’d been putting off finishing for a while (although my progress on it was laughable to being with) due to the intensely frustrating nature of meticulously obtaining all the elements required to unlock the biggest Gamerscores (and not, even slightly, because the atmosphere in the game is so potent that when I play it after midnight I’m more than a little afraid to go to sleep afterwards), including a fetch quest for audio recordings that I’ll have to start the game again to get anyway. I played for several hours last night after work, not really caring or paying attention to the Achievement pre-requisites that I might come across in gameplay and finding a few quite unexpectedly.
But more than just stumbling over loose Gamerscore like one might trip on hedgehogs escaping from a local zoo, I realised once again that at the end of the day games are supposed to be about fun. They’re there to help you unwind, give you a sense of adventure and a release from the bonds and shackles of real life. If a game is feeling like a second job when you play it, then it isn’t fulfilling the function for which it was originally (and hastily, in some cases) created.
I still love Achievements, and I do still keep an eye out for ways to obtain further bragging rights for the day when I inevitably break into the Xbox Live Gold Subscription scene and find my Gamerscore falls far, far short of the myriad players who’ve been doing it for longer than I’ve been in University. I don’t, however, let it purely run my gameplay and the way I enjoy a game itself. I’m playing games for the games more now, rather than how hard or easy it’ll be to find that little noise.
Tl;dr, there is a time and place for wanting Achievements and wanting good gameplay. I’m learning to take both together.
End of tangent.