When Achievements are a Good Thing

?At first I ridiculed achievements/trophies.  The idea that grown men and women (and, heck anyone over 12 years old) would care about getting these achievements enough to continue playing through their games until they earned them all seemed ludicrous.  Then, I acknowledged it was a fun way to compete with friends in games that are otherwise single player experiences.  In time I came to understand the idea behind achievements, both for compulsive people and regular folks.  From my non-scientific observations, it appears that people who play video games tend to be more likely to be compulsive people.  The video game companies figured this out and then realized that if they created trophies for all kinds of situations in a game, that most people would keep playing until they got all of them.  Perhaps this would keep them from trading in a game long enough that it would kill the market for used games.

I classify achievements into four groups.  The first group of achievements I could do without – achievements for turning on a game, reading the instructions, stomping a goomba.  They just seem patronizing.  There’s some room for them in absurdist games that have a Monty Python sense of humor (eg Space Quest, LucasArts games, etc).  But they don’t belong in regular video games.  Trophies should be acquired for achieving something worth rewarding.  The second group of achievements are the OCD achievements.  These can be fun, but I feel they’re exploitative of the people I mentioned at the end of the first paragraph and for people like me, I’ll usually get them by accident rather than actually trying to find all the blue orbs in the entire game world.  Sometimes they can end up encouraging ridiculous forms of gameplay.  Just as Tim Rogers said he likes to move around the game world as silly as possible (perhaps using the dive button instead of walking), an achievement to stomp 800 goombas could lead to some really interesting gameplay.  The third group is a simple one that’s hard to argue with.  These are achievements for being awesome at the game, but without requiring the strangeness of group two.  For example, an achievement on beating the game at the highest difficulty setting or on completing a level quickly.  Or an achievement for not taking any damage at all.  These are all fitting the true purpose of a trophy.

But my favorite group of achievements, and the ones that inspired this post are achievements that encourage exploring different aspects of the game.  Three games I’ve recently played that incorporate this are Plants vs Zombies, Fat Princess, and Civilization V.  (Of course, all of these also have some of the less desirable ones – Civ V’s achievement for building your second city, for example)  Plants vs Zombies has trophies for beating all of the mini games as well as some trophies for getting a certain streak.  With 99.9% of games I get, I just play through the main game and glance at the mini-games.  But once I had about half of the mini-games completed, this trophy spurred me on to get good enough to defeat all the games.  The same goes with the streak trophies.  I simply wouldn’t have kept trying those levels if I hadn’t gotten so close to the streak amount for the trophy.

Fat Princess kicks things up a notch from PvZ.  The minigame trophy, after all, is not too far off from one of those OCD trophies.  Fat Princess, on the other hand, was the first game which I have praised for the use of achievements and it was teh first time I considered the fact that they might be a positive aspect.  Fat Princess has a bunch of trophies for a certain number of kills as a certain job class.  Without the incentive of those trophies, I wouldn’t have strayed beyond the swordsman.  I briefly played with the others and didn’t find them as fun.  But once I decided to try for the trophies, I had to spend extended amounts of time as each of the different job classes and ended up actually finding the fire magic to be my favorite hat to wear.  Without the achievements I wouldn’t have given it enough of a chance.

Civilization V is in a similar vein as Fat Princess.  It has trophies for winning as each of the leaders and in each of the victory conditions.  In the past, I’ve stuck to just playing as one civilization.  For Civ 2 and Civ 3 that was the Japanese and for Civ 4 it was the Chinese.  Every once in a while, I’d envy Dan for being able to win with any civ and I’d try another, but I think I only played a very small fraction of the many leaders available in Civ 4 and its expansion packs.  And, I almost never went for the domination victory.  I tried it a couple times to prove to myself that I could do it.  I’m usually the turtle while Dan’s the aggressive one.  Usually I went for a cultural victory or a space race victory.  Occasionally I’d go for diplomatic victory or simply having the highest score at the end.  Now I’m actively trying out each of the different victory conditions, leaders, map types, and difficulty levels.

When achievements and trophies add so positively to the experience, it makes it easier to forgive the lazy companies that make the bad types of trophies.

One response to “When Achievements are a Good Thing”

  1. That’s got nothing on the hilariously situational, historic, or just plain clever achievements in Civ V.

    Getting an achievement for discovering Horseback Riding first as Catherine the Great: hilarious.

    Getting an achievement for having three musketeers flanking each other during a kill: clever.

    It’s stuff like this that makes me want to play the game over and over in different ways each time.