Despite the insurmountable backlash that Microsoft is currently taking up the backside, there is a reason why their fans have become so enamored with their Xbox 360 consoles and it’s something that no previous consoles have done and something that Sony’s PlayStation 3 literally made a carbon copy out of—achievements and gamerscores.
Before the age of today’s generation of gaming, I’ve never saw myself play through any title over again after I have successfully gone through and beat it, because doing so was enough to merit my satisfaction. From my understanding, that’s how everyone felt about gaming during the Clinton years, that beating the game meant that you were boss. My friends were always waiting a while to get a newly released game and I’d boast on my having gotten to the last stage because I spent so much time on them. Even when games didn’t hold my interest long enough, I remained determined to see to it that it had been played through so long as it had a beginning and an end. I was getting my money’s worth. Of course it made the experience seem a lot shorter given the amount of hours spent bum rushing through stages on Super Mario World or unlocking every wrestler on Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain, but it gave me a great sense of pride knowing that I had the willpower and ability to complete those tasks.
All finished games were either sold or traded away to a friends, family and acquaintances. With the exception of a few franchises that deserved such attention, most games never came across as having any replay value nor having any value of being played through twice.
Then the Xbox 360 came to light and changed my entire structure of playing games and the reason why I play them. When the Gamerscore system became implemented in Xbox 360 games in 2005, I knew that this would further playtime with games, simply because it was designed to help gamers go above beyond reaching the end credits. With each and every title, Xbox 360 achievements brought three enhancements to gaming: a greater sense of accomplishment, a longer sense of gameplay and an added edge of competition between friends.
Everyday, people who work at an office or in retail are often given tasks to fulfill on a daily basis only to be shunned away without an act of recognition or thanks for completing those tasks. With the idea of achievements alone, Microsoft was light years ahead of the crowd when it came to giving gamers that “good job” feeling after executing a goal. Achievements that take little to no effort are a given, but gamers can really feel a sense of pride in the work of unlocking an achievement that takes time, effort and skill. Plus, it’s only natural that they be granted a pat on the back via a two second blip sound followed by a witty catch phrase that appears on the bottom of the screen. When the same thing happens again and again, it’s addictive. Constant recognition for completing tasks in the game is a great feeling—it’s more than just a number, it’s the resilient reminders about our accomplishments and how they are being heavily valued is what counts.
With the demand for sandbox, role-playing and first person shooting games, IPs already come equipped with story modes, side quests, mini-games and time trials that serves as a full plate for many gamers to take time to wade through. Achievements and trophies serve as an extra layer, which is perfectly fine for both developers, publishers and gamers who want to ensure that every game is getting the best attention and highest hype as possible. They also give gamers reason for doing any type of exploration rather than just playing through the main arcs. Square-Enix devs put their heart and soul into the rare weapons and armor that you can obtain for your character. For some gamers, those accessories would be passed up if there weren’t any locked achievement attached to them and I’d like to think that this is how gaming really used to be. If there was something extra that needed attention, gamers had a choice of whether or not to explore them. Now those choices are a little more tempting. I’m a firm believer of admiring the intricacies of a game that gamers payed $60 for, and Microsoft made a smart move in making sure that gamers spend their time enjoying these games in a full-fledge manner in exchange for a higher Gamerscore.
It’s true that numbers set in a ranking system are mysteriously notorious for pushing someone’s urge to aim higher than others. Long before anyone could fathom a Microsoft company-made gaming console, arcade cabinets around the world thrived on using “high score” charts that allowed for the spirit of competition. However, gamers who use their Gamerscore as a means to feel superior over their friends are acting the same as they would if they had scored the highest on a particular Ms. Pac-Man cabinet located at their nearest shopping mall. Personally, Gamerscores are a symbolism for growth and experience. Though completing each achievement may be fun, the fact that I still have so many unlocks to fulfill chronologically shows my endurance and the amount of games that I’ve played over a long period of time. I can compare my score with others, which help me get an incentive of whether or not they can help me play through a particular game should I ever be stuck on some level without a strategy guide.
My outside-of-the-box perspective unfortunately doesn’t hold a general consensus concerning achievements and trophies. There are gamers who have an unhealthy obsession with the mechanism, just like Cameron Gidari who wrote on Kotaku the other day about how his need for completing every achievement imaginable ruins most of his gaming experiences. Hassling through achievement lists and being boiled up to the point of frustration trying to conquer them is something that I’m sure resonates with a few million Xbox 360 users, but it doesn’t have to be that way—especially for games that you wouldn’t otherwise find yourself engaging with in the first place. I never once completed all achievements for a single game because I saw it as an add-on to completing various tidbits of the game rather than it being a requirement. Someday, I want to achieve this goal with a game that I truly love, but I’m fine with just completing the game in the process and I think it would be favorable for those who have a disruptive relationship with achievements to take this route.
In addition to reaching in-game goals, promoting the spirit of competition and getting the most replay value of our games, the sole purpose of achievements and trophies is to strengthen our philosophy in how we choose excel in all other aspects of life. When we make an A+ on a test or when we get that big promotion at work, that’s an achievement. What Microsoft has taught us as gamers is that our hard work in defeating the final boss is awesome, but we should also channel this energy into what we go through each day, outside of our bedrooms and away from the TV.
Let’s hope that Microsoft hasn’t strayed from this line of thinking as well, as achievements for just watching TV may very well throw this analogy out of the water. What good is an achievement if you’re aren’t doing anything productive to attain it? Only time and an E3 conference will tell.