Welcome, welcome one and all, to the offshoot of madness, that which sprung forth from the fires of a series of inquisitary tales called "So I Gotta Know" to form itself into a new, more threatening species known as "So I Gotta Rant!" In this new and unfamiliar-ish world, questions are no longer asked and answered and left alone. No, now, questions are asked, answered, and complained about for all to witness! So step inside if you dare, to a world where someone decided that griping about annoying things could make an engaging reading experience, step inside, friends and strangers, to this world of harsh words and harsher paragraph transitions, brought to you by Venomous Incorporated!
So yesterday I decided to boot up Hitman: Absolution after buying it months ago and never playing it. I decided the first thing I ought to do is see how graphically intensive the game was, because it never hurts to be sure you're not jumping into 15 agonizing frames per second when you first start up a game. So I went in and ran the benchmark tool, and everything was looking good, so I exited out and got ready to play a rousing game of assassination and baldness starring Agent 47 as the assassination and his luxuriously luminescent head as the baldness.
The Baldness always gets top billing.
Then a strange thing happened: down in the corner of my screen, a little message told me "Achievement Unlocked." Evidently by checking to see how well the game would run, the game thought I'd done something noteworthy and decided to share that information with me and the world. "Hey! look over here!" It seemed to say. "You did something worth writing an awful pun and showering you with praise for!" It continued, well past the point that any sane human being should be hearing inanimate status messages speak to them. Well, didn't I feel special that I'd unlocked that achievement?
No. No I didn't. Of all the things I could get an achievement for, checking to make sure my hardware was up to the task of playing the game was not something that I couldn't have accomplished without plenty of practice and time invested into the game. Of course, it's not the worst offender - plenty of games I've played have decided that it's an achievement that you pressed start on the title screen, if you even get that far - bwing! Achievement Unlocked - The Adventure Begins! That's great and all, but I don't really need the game to celebrate the fact that I actually bought it and played it. The developers and publishers should be happy about that fact, sure, but they could find less ridiculous ways to tell me that. More and more I'm seeing pointless, incredibly simple tasks to "achieve" that give me a little message that's supposed to make me feel good about myself. But how can I feel good about doing something that I literally could not have avoided doing if I wanted to play the game?
Before I continue ranting, let's back up a little bit. When achievements were first introduced, there were still plenty of arbitrary ones like "kill 100 peoples" and "cleared chapter 1-1" but they were among various others that might have made you feel like you accomplished something, like an achievement for finding all the hidden goodies in a level or for getting 20 melee kills in a game where melee amounts to wildly flailing about and hoping you hit something enough times to kill it. Some achievements used to have meaning, and certainly, some still do, but they're lost among a sea of "press start for 10G" and "watch opening cinematic for a bronze trophy." This trend probably started around the time achievements and trophies pretty much became "mandatory" but has gotten worse in the following years. Why did developers stop trying with achievements and trophies and just start throwing freebies at gamers for no reason? Who are they even doing this for?
I maked a character!
Achievement hunters. These are people who, for whatever reason, subject themselves to playing games like Yaris and Dora the Explorer in Knee Deep in the Dead (I'm not good at remembering subtitles) just to get "easy achievements." Well, yeah, they're easy, they're pointless, and frankly, they don't need to exists. So why are people so obsessed with them? How does having a gamerscore of 100,000 make you better at games if all the games you played were incredibly easy? How does getting the platinum trophy in Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust make you feel anything other than dead inside? I'll never know, but I do know this - developers have noticed that there are people out there who will play easy or terrible (or terribly easy) games just for the achievements. So rather than actually, you know, make the achievements something you have to literally "achieve" they've decided that it would be easier on themselves and the people playing their terrible game if they awarded them for doing literally everything from starting the game to beating the first enemy to saving their progress. Soon enough, developers of non-terrible games caught on and thought "you know, people just want achievements, they don't care what they're for. Let's just stick them in there any old place!" and a new trend was born...a new trend of shamefully pandering to people who play games for the "rewards" instead of the actual gameplay. I don't know, maybe someone out there actually thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 Bionic Commando game and kept playing because they wanted to know more about Rad Spencer's wife arm, but it's safe to say most of the people who finished that game were critics, because they had to, and achievement hunters, because they wanted those achievements and trophies.
"are you saying I don't stand on my own merits as a game??"
I know this article sounds like I'm damning achievement hunters and developers alike, but it's hard not to with the trend showing no signs of letting up. For every one person who got all the achievements in Revelations 2012 because they couldn't get enough of the incredibly awe-inspiring shoddiness of it all, there were two more people who saw it through because it kept giving them achievements. For every one person who appreciates getting achievements as part of the game, there are two more who gloat about it. Achievements have gone from being a quaint little inclusion to being included solely for the purpose of giving collectors with too much time on their hands something to do and an undeserved sense of accomplishment. There may still be people out there who appreciate the good, hard to get achievements, but that just brings up another point...shouldn't it be time to start calling the difficult, "highest rank on every level in Bayonetta" rewards "achievements" and the pointless, "paused the game once" throwaways something more fitting like "free gamerscore?" It would make a lot more sense to see that than a word that doesn't mean what developers seem to think it means. But until I can petition the president of video games to make such a change, I guess we'll all just have to get used to achieving the possible.
So that was my first little public outburst that I structured to look like semi-professional writing. This started out as another "So I Gotta Know" feature, but after reading over it a couple of times I decided it sounded more like a straight up rant than a fun game of questioning and answering. Anyway, what do you think about achievements in general? Have you long since stopped caring about them? Do you still enjoy them regardless of how difficult they are to get? Are you one of those achievement hunters I complained about and now you're standing outside my door with a pitchfork and a torch? If so, please let me know in the comments so I can go out the window.