Achievements & Trophies: Addiction Unlocked
When Microsoft introduced Achievements with the XBox 360, it changed gaming, it changed the way developers made their games and it changed the way we played games. Sure there were games with collectibles, tasks, and a completionist % design to them, but now every game incorporated it. When I first bought a XBox 360 (Elite model in July 2007) I didn’t think much of achievements, when I played and they unlocked I shrugged it off and didn’t think much more. One night while playing through Gears of War online with a friend, he got excited that he unlocked one, I noticed how it meant something to him.
As months went on, I had played a variety of games, I’m usually picking something up new to play every couple of weeks. I had started to notice achievements more, after they’d unlock, I’d pop-up the menu and see what exactly I just accomplished. A few games later, I started looking through the list and seeing what else there was I thought I could possibly do without getting too off-track and wasting too much time. Eventually, it reached a point where I was looking at https://www.xboxachievements.com/ before a game released, or before I rented it at GameFly and seeing if the achievements seemed obnoxious, time-consuming, and possible. If a game required several play throughs, or online specific goals, such as getting a high rank, I would avoid them. I specifically remember being interested in the game Lost Planet by Capcom, but I avoided playing it because it required 4 – 5 playthroughs to get 100%.
My way of playing games entirely shifted. As a kid, sure there were games where I played to 100%, I tried to unlock everything I possibly could in them, but these were usually my favorite games of all time. I can remember some in particular
- Complete 96* Levels in Super Mario World
- Beat Super Metroid in under 3 hrs
- Collect all missiles and energy tanks in Super Metroid
- Collect all heart pieces and swords in A Link to the Past
- Beat A Link to the Past without dying (000 Lives)
- Get 120 Stars in Super Mario 64
- Get 101% in Donkey Kong Country
I don’t however remember putting this kind of dedication into the worse, or lesser titles. But now, with achievements, I was putting that focus and effort into everything, even mediocre games. Once I unlocked an achievement, I couldn’t delete a game from my playlist, and I hated leaving it with a low percentage so I would push through until I reached a number I was happy with. There were also plenty of games I played well past enjoyment, making a second playthrough, or playing after the final boss trying to get higher rankings or getting collectibles.
The way I played games was dictated by achievements, there are a few in particular that stood out.
- Condemned: Criminal Origins – “Gold Melee Master Award” – Complete the entire game only using Melee weapons
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution – “Foxiest of Hounds” & “Pacifist” – Complete the game without setting off an alarm, and without killing anybody
- Mirror’s Edge – “Test of Faith” – Complete the game without shooting any enemies
I was avoiding weapons, or killing enemies based on these achievements. There were other achievements that would say “Get X amount of kills with explosives” or “Get X amount of kills with shotguns” Often I would stick to a weapon until I unlocked the achievement, then switch to the next, but it wasn’t a natural mix of weapons and not at all how I would play if there were no achievements at all. These kind of objectives to reach “100%” was nothing like what older games had.
Achievements were frustrating, and stressful. Almost every game with varying difficulty levels would include an achievement linked to them, so very often I was playing games on their hardest difficulties. The hardest difficulties are usually not how a game is intended to be played, and often don’t have very good balance or AI. “Harder” usually just means the players HP is lower and the enemies HP is higher. This would lead to some areas becoming annoyingly “cheap” to complete while on these harder difficulties. There were a lot of glitched achievements too, sometimes you would go through a whole process only to find out it was being tracked incorrectly and didn’t unlock. The worst would be when I would be a few hours into a game, and realize I missed something and there was no way to go back and re-do it all. Why in the hell was I putting myself through this misery.
Before I would play a game, I often wouldn’t only look at the achievement list, I would start looking at guides/roadmaps for the easiest path. Spoilers associated with Achievements didn’t matter, I had to know what was coming, or what I was doing. I would create documents or checklists for tracking. It was crazy, the past time of playing a game had become full on task management.
During this generation XBox 360 was my main console, I got a PS3 in late 2011 but only played a couple of games on it and never cared about Trophies. When the next generation of systems came in 2013, there was a choice to be made between XBox One and Playstation 4. With my achievement addiction, I’m sure Microsoft bet on me cherishing my Gamerscore and to keep it growing. In my time playing 360 from July 2007 and October 2013, I racked up 76k points. But then, surprisingly I got a Playstation 4 for a variety of reasons, and refusing to let Achievements make this decision for me.
So November 2013 I had abandoned the Achievement system and left the XBox ecosystem, and now I was properly introduced and paying attention to Sony’s Trophy system. For the most part it was the same thing, with new advancements and stat tracking for this new generation. I was now pretty well aware of how much control the Achievements had over me, I told myself I woudn’t get pulled into Trophies, but I definitely did. I never got pulled in as deep as I did with Achievements, but I still managed to let it control my play styles. Between November 2013 – Early 2017 I was able to reach level 14 status and unlocked over 1700 Trophies, including 9 Platinums. As embarrassing as this is now, at the time I was proud to see I had the highest Trophy score out of all my friends, even those that primarily played PS3 the generation before.
At my core as a gamer, I’m a Nintendo fan, I’ve gotten every system of theirs at launch since the Nintendo 64 (1996) and every handheld at launch since Game Boy Advance (2001). So naturally, I bought the Switch when it released, and initially I was disappointed that they didn’t include an Achievement system, but now I’m so thankful that there isn’t. As I spent time playing through Breath of the Wild, I loved having the freedom to not worry myself with Achievements or Trophies, I could play the way that I wanted. I did still manage to try to complete Shrines and collect seeds, it was natural, more Shrines extended my health bar or stamina meter in the game and seeds expanded my inventory system. These affected gameplay, these were in-game rewards. I never did 100% the game, maybe one day I’ll go back when I feel like running through the world for fun. Super Mario Odyssey found me collecting Moons after the final boss fight, but it’s because I wanted to unlock the hidden world and have more fun with the game. Other games, I completed them and moved on. But every game I played how I wanted to play it, I felt free and back in control.
I know my story sounds pathetic, but this is how these Achievement/Trophy systems are designed, they’re intended to keep you playing when there’s nothing else to do, it gives a “cheap” replay value to the games (some worse than others). They’re designed to keep you hooked into the consoles ecosystem, dedicated to your score. They’re designed to keep you competitive with your friends in games that aren’t intended to be competitive. When I would get pissed off at a game, while I’m stuck with a particular weapon I didn’t prefer on a difficulty level that beyond frustratingly cheap, I would wonder if this was worth it, and be well aware I was not having an optimal or enjoyable time. Fortunately, I was eventually able to walk away. I can now play XBox or Playstation games and no longer concern myself with Achievements or Trophies. I now realize how much it ruined my gaming experiences to let them get in my head and control my play style, it was a damper on my hobby. If you aren’t concerned or affected by Achievements/Trophies, than that is great, but if you are an Achievement or Trophy hunter, I hope you take the time to evaluate how you play, and if it’s how you really enjoy playing.