In Pursuit of the Perfect Million: The Case for Achievements

Hello, my name is Dave and I’m an achievement whore. Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I didn’t buy King Kong in order to get the easiest 1,000 points available on the Xbox, but on the other hand I’ll go out of my way to get achievements if I’m enjoying a game. When implemented correctly by the developer, achievements are an excellent way of extending a game’s replayability and increasing the fun of the game.

Achievements Are Great

When achievements are handled correctly, they allow the player to play games longer or in different and interesting ways. Two of my favorite games of this generation have been Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. These games were terrific without achievements, but the gameplay in both was extended by their existence. I spent an extra 10 to 20 hours on both games, completing side missions. Achievements can also encourage you to play games in different ways. Both Left 4 Dead games did an excellent job in this regard in that hunting for achievements was both fun and rewarding. I know that I wouldn’t have tried as hard to beat those campaigns on expert if the achievement reward wasn’t there.

Who’s That in First? Oh, Right, It’s Me!

Achievements in individual games are one thing, but your overall Gamerscore when compared against your friends is where the real bragging rights come in. I’m currently in first among my friends with a cool 7,000-point lead over Chas, but that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the 2,000 points he gained on me in the last few months. That desire to stay in first is one of the reasons I enjoy getting achievements so much.

Achievements can be handled poorly, too. Anyone who bought and played through King Kong wasn’t doing so because they enjoyed King Kong. That game sucked. Hard. Some games just handle achievements poorly in that their achievements are too hard or are just not any fun to try to get. Beating the Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11 is next to impossible, and you get only 25 points if you do. While I rarely play a game that I’m not enjoying just to get achievement points, the difficulty can turn me off from powering through and playing the game longer. Other games practically hand them over as soon as you buy it. Pac Man Championship Edition, as great a game as it is, gave me the full 200 points within an hour of playing.

Sure, I’ve Had My Darker Moments

I’m not immune to doing stupid things for achievements. I’d love to say that I didn’t download and beat Doritos’ first free game, Dash of Destruction, because it gave me a free and easy 200 points. When I’m on the fence about buying a game, the desire to increase my achievement score can sway me. Microsoft is, of course, laughing all the way to the bank with this. Every game I buy for the dumbest of reasons (to increase a useless score) puts money in their pockets.

It’s the Little Something Extra That Matters

I’ve had some pretty memorable moments  gaming solo or with others that revolve around achievements. When my  friends and I were attempting to get our achievements for beating the Left 4 Dead levels without taking damage, there were some tense moments. As the level would end, we’d shout, “Did you get it? Did you get it?” and when the achievement would ding it felt a lot like hitting a big shot in a basketball game. Those moments wouldn’t be possible without the achievement system.

The Unattainable Achievement

When I first got an Xbox back on launch in 2005, one of the first games I downloaded was Geometry Wars. I took to it immediately. It looked brilliant in HD, and the gameplay was simple at first but incredibly complex and difficult the more you played. To this day I have not been able to complete the entire set of achievements. There is one–Survived 1,000,000–that has been painfully close but as of today unachievable. I have played this game for hundreds of hours, but the fact that I still think I can have a perfect run and achieve this score is the reason I continue to go back to the game time and again. In preparation for this article I tried for this achievement again and got closer than I ever have:  750,000. One of these days I’ll get it, and it will be my biggest achievement since beating Mike Tyson by TKO.

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