Achievement Unlocked:

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If you’ve played any recent videogames you’ve probably noticed that all, or nearly all of them have these things called “Achievements” or “Unlocks.”

Is it just me, or does the entire concept of achievements in a game generally deflate long-term interest in the game? I know it does for me. No matter how amazing a game experience may be, I really don’t want to have to do it 20 times so I can unlock the super-awesome-basically-required item. In fact, by setting up game experiences as predetermined units of “achievement” it pretty much sucks all of the life out of it.

For example, during the Christmas Steam Sale I purchased Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for about $6. I’d never played a Battlefield game before, and so I decided to pick it up. I finished the campaign in one day, then later on went to multiplayer. I actually kind of enjoyed the multiplayer experience, it’s got some interesting ideas that I think have merit (even if the overall gameplay is kind of lame / boring since all the weapons are bullet-based and the accuracy and damage on every weapon is so high that it’s easy to snipe players and kill them with 3-4 shots).
After a few days of playing I managed to unlock all the guns and equipment available in the game. But ever since I finished doing that I haven’t had any motivation to play the game. I essentially “beat” the multiplayer, and there’s nothing left except going for some of the in-game achievements, for example, “Play for a total of 48hrs” or “Kill 200 enemies with land mines” — Those are actually the most depressing, because then if I play the game the way I “want” to, I’m not progressing in most of the achievements that focus on arbitrary tasks. But if I’m playing the game to get the achievements and not how I “want” to, then I’m bored or frustrated.

If BC2 had set things up so most of the items in the game were available from the get-go, would I have remained interested in the game longer? It’s hard to say – To be honest it’s kind of a shallow gameplay experience. But I think if my focus in playing the game had been on intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic rewards I may have stuck with it a bit longer. (Though honestly it’s difficult to say. Particularly because even as a player with ~20 or so hours of experience I often find myself at the top of the scoreboard for my team, just because I do basic things like dropping health packs, ammo boxes, or motion mines. I don’t know why but the average BC2 player is awful at doing anything other than sitting behind cover and taking potshots.)

In the end, when you go with achievements you’re wrapping up something which may seem like an amazing experience into a mechanistic and dull achievement mechanic. Either achievements are worth something, they grant an in-game advantage which makes them required grinding, or they are worth nothing and merely serve to devalue experiences by labeling and quantifying them.

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