Friday, June 11, 2010

Achievement Unlocked: Confession

I get a lot of grief for preferring to play all of my games on the 360. When I confess this to fellow gamers, they instantly start lecturing me about the many games I am missing on the Wii or how the graphics on the PS3 provide an infinitely better experience. When I came back to gaming a few years ago following a long hiatus it was via the 360. Things had changed dramatically since my PS2 heyday-instead of having a small machine that offered strictly a gaming experience, I now had a console that offered a connection and a community. And it offered something else, something controversial and potentially shameful in some ‘serious’ gaming circles-Gamerscore. Ah yes, almost every conversation I have about my 360 preference ends with ‘You’re just doing it for the achievements.’ But so what? Why is that idea so prone to negativity? Is there a way to be an achievement addict and have a better gaming experience? I believe so, and I am here to stand proud and suggest that yes, in some ways it can be about the achievements, and not for the associated negative connotations, but for positive ones instead.

Achievements are added by game developers and function as a sort of ‘checklist of completion’. Many of them are associated with attaining a particular character level, finishing a chapter, or completing the game. Some give Gamerscore for eliminating or collecting a certain number of something, whether it be a certain number of kills by shotgun or the gathering of feathers hidden throughout Italy. But my favorites are the extraneous achievements that reward the player for moving outside of the narrative quest and as a result, add to the experience the developers would like us to have. And if you are a completionist like me, having a well developed list of motivators is not only great for my own personal sense of accomplishment, but also helps me feel as though I have explored the game in its entirety. For example, I played an adorable little game called Mini Ninjas last winter. One of the achievements was to eliminate ten enemies as a boar (Boardom-10G). I may not have made it one of my goals to even use the spirit form to become a boar otherwise, but tusking ninjas to death turned out to be pretty entertaining. Silly and almost useless to the narrative, but fun nonetheless. A few of the LEGO Star Wars games reward you for using one character to break apart another such as using Anakin to destroy Vader (Undecided-10G), and one encouraging you to break up tiny LEGO Jar Jar 20 times (Crowd Pleaser-20G). And many games use their achievement list to insert some humor in unexpected places. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Simpsons-You Pushed Start: Easiest achievement…ever. A funny homage to the show and a great way to start the game (even if the game wasn’t great at all). There was also a 0G achievement for dying a certain number of times in a row-like the mean spirited ribbing of a friend. Guitar Hero II had something similar with the Long Road Ahead reward for failing a song on Easy mode. Rewards for failure-awesome!
Fable 2-The Party Animal & Pied Piper: Being rewarded for getting villagers drunk and then making them dance is pretty hilarious. Kind of like being a wicked puppet master in the name of hedonism. Also, Fable 2 gave you 5G for dying all of your clothes and hair black with The Goth. Apparently, Lionhead Studios was very upset with everyone for not changing their clothes enough in Fable 2, so I imagine we will see more of these type of achievements in Fable 3.
Bully-Skidmark & Over the Rainbow: As a bully, it is very important to give the less fortunate their fair share of wedgies, and this achievement encouraged the player to let those underpants bind! Fifty people felt the pinch of my superiority. Less understandably, as a bully it is also important to make out 20 times with boys around campus. I giggled every time I seduced one of the closeted jocks.
Assassin’s Creed 2-Red Light Addict: I paid courtesans 5000 dollars to escort me around. That’s right, 5000. I could have paid the thieves or just waited for traveling groups of people to blend with, but I chose the ladies instead. I’d like to believe they smelled nicer.
Borderlands-You’re on a Boat! & A Sucker is Born Every Minute: Borderlands was chock full of humor, so it was unsurprising that a few of the achievements were tongue in cheek. You get You’re on a Boat for heading off the beaten path and getting in a boat. Then you get off the boat. Hooray for you! And it’s unlikely you can even hear the phrase without singing it, too. In the last of the DLC, the Crimson Armory, there is a Roadside Attraction called the World’s Largest Bullet. The bullet is right in front of you, can’t miss it. Yet there is still a collection box next to the door that is willing to take a ton of money from you if you are willing to pay it. Nothing happens. You are a sucker. Congratulations.

Ultimately, choosing a gaming console based only the rewards it gives you would seem to defeat the purpose of playing the game. Then you aren’t enjoying the journey any longer, you are focused solely on the praise. Along those lines I don’t think anyone is really ‘doing it for the achievements’, but I do think that placing specific goal-oriented achievements in games that take a player out of the linear quest actually enhances the gaming experience and adds an extra feeling of accomplishment. Being a completionist, I have often extended the playtime of many well-loved games by thoroughly exhausting the Achievement checklist (to the best of my ability). And to me, that is worth being called an Achievement Whore.

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