Saturday, January 15, 2011

Life After Achievements

Last week, I knew that I finally overcame my addiction to Xbox Achievements. Achievements, which have often been the object of my scorn, have still managed to invade hours and hours of my gaming time – until now. I have often complained about their frivolous nature, citing both that they often diminish enjoyment of a game when sought, and also that they offer no tangible reward. However, no matter how much I had to say about how they offer nothing substantial to the gaming community, I still always found myself browsing my gamer profile on Xbox Live, and setting aside blocks of time to complete many of their challenges.
I am proud to say that I’m finally over Achievements, and they hold no bearing over my gaming-related pursuits. Last week, I was playing Halo: Reach online with some friends, and I unlocked an achievement. Having raided the “big tower” on the Ascension remake in a game of team Slayer, and put two of my opponents out of their misery, the addictive “bloop” cued and the notification popped up on the bottom of my screen, but something was amiss this time: the Achievement was unfamiliar, and I had no idea what it pertained to. Being in the heat of battle, I waited until the end of the game to check out the description.

“Both Barrels: Noble 1: Earned a Double Kill with the shotgun in multiplayer Matchmaking”

The anomaly of the situation immediately stood out to me, as I have been a scavenger for achievements for about three years, but over the next few days it really sunk in that I no longer care for achievements or Gamerscore. “Both Barrels” may have been the first achievement I’ve ever unlocked that, when the notification popped up, I had no clue as to the description of it. The unlock date is January 5th, 2011, and the Noble Map Pack, and the accompanying new achievements, have been available since mid-November. This implies that I played Xbox for a solid month and a half and didn’t browse my achievement catalog, nor did I check out the new achievements when I played Reach between the time of the map pack’s release and the fifth of January.
It may sound odd, as most addictions require conscious and significant efforts, but kicking Achievements came upon me unwittingly. I have done some reflecting on the feelings that have accompanied this period that has been free of Achievement-related urges.
Playing Nintendo DS has been awesome. Pokémon, The World Ends With You, Kirby’s Canvas Curse, Super Mario Brothers, Metroid Zero Mission... my handheld gaming passion is back in full-swing. Sad as it may seem, one of the reasons that I completely ceased playing DS is because I was always thinking, “This isn’t doing anything for my gamerscore,” and then I would quit playing the game because the challenges I was completing were not being catalogued in my record of video-game related conquests, the Gamerscore. I remember playing Link to the Past on Game Boy Advance and trudging through it as though it were an obligation rather than a privilege, simply because my Gamerscore would remain the same throughout the adventure.
As fun as DS games were, and as often as I would see DS reviews and previews online and think, “I’d sure love to try that game out,” I would often pass the DS shelves in stores without making any considerations as to when I would purchase and/or play them. Those days are over, and I’m 45 hours deep in Pokémon Pearl and totally enamored with The World Ends With You. I take my DS onto campus every day, and often play in between classes.
Playing games on my friends’ consoles is also less like pulling teeth, and more like it was before this generation of consoles. I am very much more likely to agree to play on a friend’s system without insisting on playing on my system, under my own profile. Playing Super Smash Brothers with my friends is fun and competitive like it always has been, and always should be.
Also, at the end of Christmas break, upon my return to school I purchased a Wii, along with Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and MadWorld; both of which are games I have long wanted to play. I just finished the second full dungeon, and never passed a thought of my neglected Xbox Gamerscore.
I have blogged about Achievements, Trophies, and their influence on gaming choices, how they affect play time, the industry and gaming culture at large. Achievements are stand-ins for cool content that could be unlocked for skilled and dedicated players, and they are also the nicotine in the veins of a gamer that keeps us coming back again and again to boost the arbitrary number representing our Gamerscore.

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