A Love Letter to Achievements

The other night, I was talking to my friends about the old days when we used to all play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. We couldn’t help but reminisce on all the old games of search and destroy at 2 in the morning on a school night. I mentioned that Modern Warfare was one of the first game that I was able to 100 percent when I was younger and my friend said, “what a waste of time.” Now I’m not shocked at this response. I often have heard it from people as I proudly proclaim that I perfected a game like Sunset Overdrive. Achieving 100 percent or unlocking all the achievements in a video game is seen as something lesser than just playing the game. The developer challenges are usually seen as something that doesn’t equate to the actual challenge of the game.

Whole brands have sprung up in appreciation for achievement culture. People like the The Completionist on YouTube dive into their own individual journeys as they complete games. Jirard captures the dedication (and insanity) necessary to complete some games. It can be so engaging to follow along on the journey of another person accepting the challenge of trying to perfect a game like Dark Souls. However, I want to talk about the different styles that game completion can take. Completing games can be challenging, frustrating, and even eye opening depending on the genre of game or just how sadistic a game developer was that day.

I remember as the Xbox 360 generation was beginning to get on in its life there was a split in the community as to the purpose of achievements. I was always in the camp that said achievements added value to games and in some instances created a more memorable experience than if those developer challenges were not present in the game. So, I wanted to talk about ways that perfecting games enhanced my experience with specific games and maybe I’ll convince you that perfecting a game is not an entirely pointless endeavor.

Narrative completion

First things first, there are the games that aren’t more difficult by achievements but are more substantial because achievements encourage the player to experience more of the game. Games like Batman: Arkham Asylum will award full achievement score if you just do everything in the game. That might seem like common sense but all games focus their achievements list on different aspects of games. Arkham Asylum wants players to achieve 100 percent by obtaining all the collectibles and achieving full points in score arenas. Collecting all of the patient interviews helps to flesh out all of the characters in the game and unravel two side mysteries as well. The first time I completed the Arkham Asylum, I ignored the Riddler trophies and other collectibles. So, I had no idea I could learn about the history of the island and catch the Riddler in the process when I first brought the Joker’s tyranny to an end. I can promise you I would never have gone back to get all the trophies and riddles, if I had not been encouraged to do so by the achievement system but I am glad I did so.

Achievements make you play the game

Depending on the game, there is a strong chance that I find my play style and refuse to alter it. For most games, you don’t need to change your strategies to succeed. The games were made to be beaten in a variety of ways and don’t hold you to certain methods of playing. Achievements break that philosophy and force you to play more of the game in ways that you might not have done otherwise. Borderlands 2 has achievements specific to each of the characters in the game. The achievements force you to play as each of the 4 core Borderlands 2 characters for a certain amount of time and requires that you complete all the in game challenges as well. In 2019, I finally finished Borderlands 2 and I have to say that my perception of the game after I finished was much different from when I started in 2012.

Gaming on a budget

Achievements and in game challenges can add so much total playtime to your game. I am constantly going back to the Master Chief Collection since there are 700 achievements in the game. There are so many famous ones in the collection like beating the individual games in under 3 hours and finding all the easter eggs that were sprinkled throughout the games. I have nearly a thousand hours in that game because I keep going back and slowly chipping away at the achievements that I don’t have. I wouldn’t have this same motivation to play if I wasn’t being encouraged with some sort of in game challenge.

I recognize not everyone likes having a game that takes years to complete but since I am a big fan of the series, I appreciate the challenges and longevity. Halo MCC says I have over 200 hours across the campaigns. The majority of that time came from learning speed running strategies to get through each of the campaigns in under 3 hours. That might seem like it would be frustrating and annoying but I had so much fun tackling these campaigns that I thought I knew so well and learning new ways to beat them. At this moment, I am planning how to run through the games on LASO, which is one of the few challenges I have left in the game. One day, I promise that I will perfect the collection. It’s the holy grail of my achievement journey right now.

Forces new strategies

Then there are the games that give you an already difficult game and challenges you to do something for little reason other than to prove to yourself that you can. Hollow Knight is one of the most beautiful and challenging games I have played in recent years and part of that challenge comes from its brutal achievement list. One of the achievements requires that you deliver a flower from one side of the map to the other without getting hit. It requires that the player is familiar with the world of Hollow Nest and the best way to navigate it.

However, even if you know how to do it, you still need to do it correctly. The walk across the world is the equivalent of walking to Mordor from the Shire. I have pulled up the map and made paths that were detailed with what enemies and pitfalls I would run into. I live for this planning stage that forces me to stop and look at the game a different way compared to what I had been up until that point. It makes the accomplishment that much more fulfilling and worthwhile when the lead up requires more effort.

Dead Rising might be one of the most infamous examples of what I am trying to explain here. The original Dead Rising had an achievement called 7 day survivor. If you completed this challenge back in the day, you were respected. It had the connotation of being one of the hardest original achievements when the Xbox 360 launched. The achievement required that you survive for 7 days on infinity mode. This challenge requires familiarity with the game and patience. So much patience. Yet it was doable if you were willing to put the time in.

Conclusion

I want to make perfectly clear that what I have said in no way means that someone isn’t a “lesser gamer” just because they do not enjoy achievements or completing games. I only wanted to share the reasons why achievements have been so important to me over the years. And it’s true, some games just aren’t fun to complete. Some games are broken, tedious, or require too much RNG that they are nearly impossible to acquire on purpose. Yet despite this, achievements are still engaging and worthwhile for people like me to pursue and they can offer a much longer game life. I can’t believe that I am still playing some of the games I am but it’s all thanks to achievements.

I hope I convinced someone to try their hand at perfecting their favorite game. It might just give you a different perception of that game.

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