What If… Achievements Never Existed?

on June 25, 2010 2:28 PM

What If... Achievements Never Existed?

Come close and listen well, for we at Dualshockers have dived into the furthest reaches of time and space to bring you exclusive access to the WORLD OF FUTURE PAST. We have stolen a drunken wizard’s magic eight ball so that YOU can witness an un-history that never was! Terrible futures lie in wait…if you dare.

BEHOLD THE IMPOSSIBILITIES:

What if…Halo Reach was an iPad exclusive?

What if…the Xbox 360 was sparred from  Final Fantasy XIII?

What if…the Wii hadn’t started a mad rush to shoehorn motion control into every console?

What if…Sega’s colossal business blunders hadn’t cost them their place in the console business?

What if…Our beloved plumber Mario never existed to define the platformer?

What if…Achievements never marginally increased the time we wasted beating video games?

These and many more dreadful futures await you, grimly fascinating non-sequiturs like a J.J. Abrams show that spends three seasons before introducing the plot.

Alas, or rather fortunately, none of these pasts will become our future present. All will remain safely in the crystal ball of our editor, lest we cause the fanboys among our readers heart attacks.

But hopefully these cautionary tells will serve as a warning for gaming’s future.

So without further buildup:

WHAT IF….

What If... Achievements Never Existed?

ACHIEVEMENTS NEVER EXISTED?

This future looks pretty much the same, actually. Possibly the only practical use has been a handy way of making sure journalists are actually playing the games they review.

Of all of the terrible futures we’ve promised, this one is terrible only in its banality. Who cares, really, about a future with no achievement points?

The very concept of achievements is an exercise in pointlessness. But you know, that might one of the strangest things about them. Most video games drops rewards on players left and right for the most trivial accomplishments. And these are “real” rewards: weapons and lives and magical doodads. What, exactly, is the point of working hard for points and trophies?

Let’s put it in simple terms: it’s no coincidence that achievements and their ilk arose in the first console generation where internet connectivity was standard and near-mandatory across the board.

Wait a mintue, it looks like the crystal ball has malfunctioned! It looks like it’s going to be impossible to see a present without achievments, because the concept is as old as the arcade. It’s even older than videogames. Back before videogames, when pinball was the rage, high scores were there.

The main reason for high scores was to get people to keep coming back and playing. Beating a game is one thing, but getting the high score is another thing entirely. A lot of games need to be played in a totally different manner to get a lasting spot on the top ten.

But high scores also solved a very different problem. Arcades are supposed to be social places, for huge groups of people, but the average aracade game only goes up to 4 players at the very best.

High scores make it possible for competition on even 1 player games. Despite stereotyping to the contrary, gaming is a social thing.

Some achievements are there to keep players playing or challenge them to do well. My personal favorites are the kind that ask you to do something cool and wacky you wouldn’t normally do–like carry a garden gnome from the start of the game to the end and put in a rocket.

But games have always had stuff like this. The real idea of achievements–that they’re public and graded by difficulty–is founded in the same logic that gave arcades high scores. It’s bragging rights. It’s a conversation starter. Revel in their pointlessness. achievements aren’t just there to squeeze out gameplay, they’re there to bring us together. The future without achievements is a slightly less redundant future, but perhaps also a slightly less social one.

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Andrew Vanden Bossche has gotten through life on the strength of his tremendously long and unspellable last names. He also majored in English and creative writing, and is now a student of journalism. His three favorite games are Ico, Half-Life, and The Final Fantasy Legend.
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