Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Achievements: Earned or Entitled?

Often you'll come across the following type of comments in a discussion about a particular game's achievements/trophies (I'm primarily a 360 gamer, so forgive me if/when I fail to mention trophies when I mention achievements):

Gamer A: “WHAT?!? Beat the game on the hardest difficulty without dying (or any other difficult feat)? What kind of stupid achievement is THAT? How do they expect me to earn that? That's fucking STUPID! Most people won't get that! Why would they make an achievement that's so hard to unlock?"

Gamer B: “Well, shouldn't the people who do that get rewarded for it? I mean, if someone develops the skills/takes the time to do it, why shouldn't they be rewarded? They did something awesome! They actually achieved something.”

This sort of comment reveals the dichotomy in thinking that takes place. Achievements, to some gamers, are something that should be earned, and awarded to people who complete difficult feats, which consequently means that some/many may go unclaimed, while to others, they are something that they feel entitled to. This entitlement doesn't entirely negate the concepts of earning and effort, but in the end, these gamers feel that each and every achievement/trophy should be 'doable' by the average gamer's standards.

These gamers want dangling carrots, cajoling them to finish the game, and perhaps accomplish a few minor feats along the way. What they don't want are monumentally difficult challenges being awarded an achievement. That just leaves 'unfinished' games on their profile....

Now, I don't know what side of the argument you fall on, but I can tell you that I fall on the latter side of it. Achievements should be difficult. They should be earned, not handed out like candy. I mean, it's right in the name!


Games that give out points for pressing start at the main menu (Simpsons movie game), or completing the training mode (many games from many genres; most recently Mortal Kombat), in my opinion, are wasting valuable opportunities to really challenge the player to do something truly worthy of earning an achievement or a trophy. They devalue them when they hand them out for doing basically nothing, and this effect is even stronger when the point value of an achievement is similar to that of another one that is ten times higher to attain.

Now, despite me falling on that side of the debate, I have to say, I also, in a way, sort of agree with the other side at times. At the very least, I can sympathize and I understand where they are coming from. I mean, there really is something rewarding about unlocking an achievement every 30 minutes to an hour or so, as you make your way through a game. It's a nice little Pavlovian trick, and it's an effective one. Everyone gets a tiny bit excited when that achievement unlocked bubble pops up, and so, a game that broke this model in order to offer achievements that were all really and truly deserving of their namesake would feel, well, a bit, I don't know....deficient.

I also know the feeling of being 1 or 2 achievements away from getting the 1000/1000 points, but knowing you likely never will, because that last achievement is something that's out of your reach, either due to a lack of skills, a lack of time, or some combination of the two. I mean, take GRAW for example. One of the achievements was to be number one on the multiplayer leaderboards (Quake 4 had an achievement like this as well). Like....come on. How in the blue fuck am I supposed to attain that one? That's an achievement that 99% of the players are guaranteed not to acquire....ever.

On the other hand, however, some players will work so hard, and be so good, that they will become the world leaderboards champion, at least for a time. And what else is worthy of a little reward, especially one called an achievement, if not that? Should that not merit an achievement? Do you really think it's fair that they don't get recognized for that?

One achievement that drew a lot of heat upon the game's release was the SMASH TV achievement awarded for beating the entire game without continuing. At first, I was one of them. I mean, what the fuck? Do they not know how fucking hard that is to do? I knew I would never have that one, and that was a bit annoying for a minute or two, until I stopped myself with a question: Wait, am I entitled to get every achievement a game has to offer or something? If not, then what the hell was I bitching about? I mean, some gamers were able to pull that off, at least back in the arcade days, so if someone is able to replicate that old arcade feat of skill, shouldn’t that merit, at the very least, an achievement?

Should gamers who achieve the supremely difficult tasks in a game, like the 1cc shmup playthrough, be rewarded for their efforts, or find themselves ignored in favour of the gamer who “fired 1000 bullets” or something equally devoid of a skill requirement?

Should achievements be used as a Pavlovian dangling carrot? Or should they live up to their name and actually require an achievement to have been completed before unlocking and rewarding the enterprising gamer with that oh so satisfying “bloop!” sound, and a random quantity of meaningless, arbitrary points?

What do you, the reader, think? Achievements: Should they be earned, or are gamers entitled to them?


  1. I agree with Gamer B. Gamer A is a whiny baby. If you don't have to work for them they are useless. If you don't think a really, really hard accomplishment deserves recognition, you're missing the point and don't understand the word achieve.

  2. It seems as though we agree, for the most part.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Gamer A is being rather ridiculous. You earn the achievements by accomplishing something, whatever that may be. Should somebody be like "What? To make a billion dollars I have to invent/create something that millions of people are going to want, and then learn how to run a business effectively to keep at it (etc)? That's ridiculous!!" >.> Seriously...

    Furthermore, these are VIDEO GAMES. If someone doesn't feel they "completed" a game just because they haven't earned every single achievement, that's absurd. One could just as easily say "I haven't stepped on every single tile, facing every single direction, so I haven't completed the game." Or some other arbitrary standard.

    All I got to say to Gamer A is perhaps they shouldn't be playing video games then.

    Personally I see achievements as a bonus for playing. If I earn one, then "yay, cool!" if not, whatever. I like to keep them a surprise for the most part, so they just randomly pop up. Rather than looking at them as "things to do" I look at them as a "kudos" for something I've done.

  4. Today's top story: A young man names Gamer A has died. His distraught father confirmed that Gamer A's head exploded after reading a comment on an internet blog.

    We'll have more on this story later. BAck to you, plastic man.


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