Once upon a time, games didn’t have achievements. You played a game, did what you wanted to do, and celebrated when you finished. Maybe you received special in-game rewards for completing a task for finding a hidden area, but that was the extent of it. Then Steam came along, and so did achievements.
Whether achievements are stupid is a matter of opinion. Some gamers ignore them, some gamers complete those they can but don’t get hung up on them, and some gamers always strive for 100% completion. They want every achievement, no matter how long it takes to get them.
Do achievements matter in the grand scheme of things? No. You don’t earn money from completing them. All you might get is a pat on the back from your fellow gamers and bragging rights, but let’s face it, those things are brief. But that doesn’t mean achievements are stupid. They can enhance the gaming experience, when they’re done right.
I have a love/hate relationship with achievements. I’m a goal-oriented person, so when achievements first arrived on the scene, I welcomed them—until I experienced the downside.
Why Achievement’s Aren’t Stupid
You Might Try Things in a Game You Would Have Skipped Otherwise
If you know you’ll get an achievement if you collect a bunch of items, or kill a difficult boss, or explore the farthest corners of a world, you might take the time to do these things, even though it’s not required to finish a game. In other words, achievements can make us experience more of a game than we would have experienced without them.
I’ve definitely done this. In fact, sometimes I’ll read the list of achievements for a game before I start playing it, so that when I come across the point in a game where I can get (or start working on) an achievement, I’ll know. It can be frustrating to finish a game, only to discover you’re missing one or two achievements, and if you’d known beforehand, you would have done whatever was required to get those achievements.
So yeah, achievements can broaden your horizons in a game by making you visit areas or try things out that you wouldn’t have otherwise. I see this as a good thing most of the time, but there are exceptions.
You Might Find Out Stuff About the Game That You Didn’t Know Existed.
This has happened to me. I’ll be partway through a game and think, “Hmm, I wonder what the achievements are.” I check the list and think, “Oh, I didn’t know that if I collect 100 blue thingies, I’ll get an achievement. I’ve seen those in some areas and didn’t realize I can pick them up.”
Achievements might also alert me to areas I haven’t discovered or quests I haven’t found yet, even though I’ve already travelled most of the world. This ties in with trying stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise. Without achievements, I would have finished the game in blissful ignorance, not realizing I’d missed a bunch of stuff.
You Get a Sense of Accomplishment When You Complete Them
I can’t be the only one who gets a bit of a thrill when a notification pops up telling me I’ve received an achievement. Sometimes I wish there was a way to reset achievements, so I can see all those notifications again when I replay a game. I wouldn’t always reset, because some achievements are damn hard to get and I’d only want to do whatever it takes to get them once. But it would be nice to have the option.
Achievements can be a reason to replay a game. Sometimes it’s not possible to get all the achievements in one playthrough. For example, in an RPG with companions, you might not be able to complete all the companion quests in one playthrough.
But this can be a double-edged sword for completionists who don’t feel satisfied unless they’ve received every achievement. They can get caught in a loop of replaying the same game over and over, and I have to think that eventually all the fun is sucked from the game. Life’s too short to play a game if you aren’t having fun.
Why Achievements Are Stupid
Time-Consuming or Really Difficult to Get Achievements
We’ve all come across them: achievements that will require a lot of repetition, or those that seem impossible to get. For example, there might be an achievement for killing 5000 skeletons, but in a typical playthrough, you’ll maybe kill 2000. Do you really want to spend time killing another 3000 skeletons just to get an achievement?
Or maybe you’re playing a hidden object game, and one of the achievements is to finish ten hidden object scenes in a row under 30 seconds. But the game only contains interactive hidden object scenes. This makes it almost impossible to complete them under 30 seconds, unless you research every hidden object scene in advance and move your mouse very quickly without making a single mistake.
When I come across achievements like this, they do feel stupid. It feels like the developers are just being jerks. This is when I tell myself that achievements don’t really matter, and I’d be happier doing something else rather than chasing an achievement, like starting another game.
But I have to admit that because of these unfair or tedious achievements, the satisfaction of finishing a game can be lower because of the achievements I didn’t complete.
You Might Spend Your Time Doing Things You Hate
This is the opposite side of the coin for one of the pros I discussed. I said that you might do stuff you wouldn’t have done otherwise, because there’s an achievement for it. If you have fun, that’s great, but sometimes you won’t. But we can feel compelled to do something that’s tedious just to get an achievement.
When I’m doing something just for the sake of chasing an achievement, achievements do start to feel stupid.
Some Gamers Will Only Buy Games that Have Achievements
Achievements are generally seen as a good thing, which is why stores like Steam and GOG will tell you whether a game has achievements on its sales page. A game with achievements is seen to be offering more value.
But that means that some gamers might miss out on a really great game just because it doesn’t have achievements. I’ll admit that I’ll sometimes buy a game on Steam, rather than on Big Fish, just because the game has achievements on Steam, which I can make public. Though in my defence, it also means that if I uninstall a game, I don’t lose my achievements, which wouldn’t be true for a game that manages its own achievements.
Maybe this isn’t a true con. Maybe there aren’t any gamers out there who would pass on a game because it doesn’t have achievements. If someone wants to buy a specific game because of reviews or whatever, they’ll probably buy it even if it doesn’t have achievements. But if a gamer is browsing for a game and has a choice between a game with achievements and a game without them, I’d wager that most gamers would buy the one with achievements, all other things being equal.
These days, I sometimes prefer a game that doesn’t have achievements. Then I can do what I want without worrying about whether I’ve just screwed something up and won’t be able to get an achievement now, or force myself to do tedious stuff I wouldn’t do otherwise. So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe most gamers would choose the game without achievements. As I said up front, how gamers feel about achievements will be a matter of opinion and differ from gamer to gamer.
Overall, it’s up to the individual gamer as to whether they want to chase achievements and feel unhappy if they don’t get 100% completion, or to just to be happy with whatever achievements they get (even none!).
Achievements can enhance the gaming experience, but they can also make a gamer change the way they play a game in ways that can detract from the fun, which can make achievements, or at least chasing them, feel stupid.