In Defense of Achievements
Here’s a comment I just made on http://danielprimed.com/ about achievements. It’s by no means a well-edited or fleshed out article, but it’s fairly comprehensive. I’ve written this elsewhere, and I’m tired of retyping it every time I feel the need to do some blogosphere intervention. Now I can just copy paste!
I get attacked enough by Bogost and my fellow researchers that I’ve developed a standard line on why I like achievements:
1. Some of them, much like Daniel mentions for this game, come along with unlockables that justify going along with the sometimes absurd lengths it takes to achieve them (my favorites for this one are the armor pieces in Halo 3 and the stats bonuses awarded by achievements in Mass Effect).
2. The other strength is that they increase replay valuable and encourage alternate playings. The best example of this are the 99 achievements for The Orange Box. Most obvious among these is the one that requires you to beat Ravenholm using only the gravity gun. The designers have littered the stage with sawblades and other sharp objects, and it really is more fun to try to play through just using Valve’s physics toy (there are some parts where the objects on the ground are greatly outnumbered by the faster headcrap zombies).
Ian claims that this is lazy design – i.e. we’re not giving gamers good enough reason in-game to play a certain way so we’re giving them an artificial incentive to do it. I don’t find this to be true – often it’s a matter of gamers simply min-maxing their experience in order to beat a game using the path of least resistance. This isn’t a design limitation – it doesn’t make sense to require all players of different skill levels to play a game the exact same way (my beliefs here come from a post on GamerHate about the way he designed a level of Warcraft 3 to be playable by all players despite being designed originally as a level requiring perfection in a single winnable strategy).
3. Gamerscore is a good way to keep tabs on people and what they are playing. So when a professor or blogger writes about a game (this doesn’t work for journalists who get beta builds that might not have cheevos enabled), I always check their Gamerscore to see if they’ve even beaten the game. Sometimes they haven’t (my favorite was a professor who hadn’t beaten even half of Braid before writing about it). Also, if somebody whose ideas you respect have gone out of their way to unlock everything, it usually means you should check out the game right away.
4. Gamerscore is a good way to build teams for cooperative play online. I don’t have the time schedule to join an online guild that meets regularly to play. So I have to play games like L4D in pickup groups. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I want to play this game on Expert. In order to beat the scenarios on Expert, everybody needs to be pretty damn good at the game (especially when it comes to saving each other and not shooting each other). So you’ll get into these lobbies and ask “have you ever tried this on Expert?” Somebody will say yes, then you look at their gamer score and see that they haven’t even survived the level on any difficulty before: this is not someone you want on your team unless you really enjoy wasting four hours of your life inevitably shouting at them to stick with you, help you, or stop shooting you.
5. Finally, whenever I want to write about a game I always talk to a few achievement addicts. They know about every easter egg, every alternate route or play style, every exploit and glitch. It saves a lot of time mining forums for incorrect information.
As far as the cred goes: it varies depending on who you talk to. Some people, like me, have standards. I don’t play games that I don’t want to just for the achievements (Avatar being the exception to this personal rule). And I don’t boost with people to get online achievements. So my 45k, in my eyes, is more respectable than another 45k littered with children’s games and sports games.
What I’m getting is that there’s no objective value to them for all people. They’re a tool that can be implemented or ignored when it makes sense to do so. Making fun of them wholesale (with crap Flash games making fun of the most poorly designed achievements) or letting Gamerscore dominate your life don’t make sense.
I used to play Final Fantasy games on the SNES and find every little secret possible. It was more than satisfying enough to know that I did it, without being able to prove it to others online. It’s just icing on the cake that other people can see the games I’ve gotten 100% on now.