There was a time when the only reward you got for playing game was finishing it, finally getting to that last castle where the princess was located, maybe racking up a high score and putting your initials in (and be honest, how many of you were as mature as me and always entered the initials A.S.S?).
Those times are come and gone and the stakes are higher, yet equally meaningless. These days your worth as a gamer is measured in achievements, trophies and ugly T-shirts and hats for your avatar.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on achievements, I love hearing the little achievement unlocked sound while playing a 360 game, however I don't actively go out of my way to get them. I've played tons of games and own even more and I can't say that I have come close to getting all of the achievements on any of them. PS3 trophies mean even less to me. Even Steam has achievements sometimes numbering in the hundreds for games, I have even less of those.
I'm a firm believer that games should be played for fun and relaxation. If it feels like work, then your doing it wrong and putting myself through the paces of trying to play a game on its highest difficulty with my mediocre skills in the hopes of getting that elusive ding! seems like too much work and not much fun, so I dont bother.
I bought my 360 in late 2007 and by virtue of just playing a lot of different games I've managed to get my gamerscore somewhere around 14,000. This isn't particularly impressive I'm told, but, I wasnt exactly trying to impress anyone.
My kids game quite a bit and my husband is slowly jumping onto the bandwagon of regular gameplay and all of them seem to be a bit too involved with their gamerscores. My daughter brags about having more achievements than me in Fallout 3, My husband would not rest until he could brag to her that he had more achievements than her in general. I just laugh at them and shake my head and say, "yeah well, I have more than both of you combined so STFU. Its not like I can do anything with it."
But what about the other 2 kids? I mean, I mentioned one of them but everyone here games.
The younger two are the reason I'm writing this. For various reasons they both have pretty low gamerscores. My daughter because she doesnt play much and my son because he isnt skilled enough in most games to get achievements.
To me, I don't see the big deal, but to them, they've got this...thing...that he with the highest gamerscore kicks the most ass. Not to mention they want those sweet sweet avatar awards, like the ridiculously ugly "shades of infinity" from the game Lips that no one actually puts on their avatar....cause they're fugly:
So what's happening more and more often in my house is my kids asking me and on occasion my husband to play games under their profiles in order to get more achievements and avatar awards.
Now, understand, I don't mind helping them get through a tough boss or a hard section of a game, hell I don't even mind getting them avatar awards. (currently I'm playing Ilomilo for my son so he can get Ilo and Milo as props for his avatar.) But I do see a problem with them wanting us to get achievements for them. First of all, achievements aren't what playing games is about, at least that shouldnt be what its about. Its about the enjoyment and its also about the satisfaction of figuring out and getting past tougher areas on your own. That's why they are called "achievements" because you achieved these goals. Getting someone else to achieve them for you diminishes both the spirit of the game and the spirit of achievements. My kids along with countless others have fallen into this obsession with watching that number go up and this is a bad trend.
Instead of putting a game in the console and jumping into the action the first thing they do is go check out the list of achievements.
Our Wii gets the least amount of playtime, as it does apparently in most people's houses. Sometimes I wonder, is it because everyone is too lazy to move around while playing? Or is it because there are no achievements.
Yesterday my son was playing his DS and he comes running up to me to show me all the "medals" he had gotten so far in a game and to tell me all about the ones he was missing and how hard they were to get. I ask him what the game was about and he mumbled something about "penguins...do stuff...and...YOU GET MEDALS!!!"
The night before last everyone was playing DJ Hero 2, except me, cause I had a migraine and I was also busy sucking at being stealthy in Deus Ex. For simplicity's sake everyone was playing under my husband's profile. My son was NOT happy with this at all, because he didn't get any achievements or unlock anything. He gave me his wide eyed sad puppy dog face and asked me if I would play under his profile the next day and unlock stuff for him...maybe get him an achievement or two. I can't resist the puppy dog look. He's like a walking Chibi, how can I say no to that mammoth head with big ole brown eyes and skinny little body. I just wanna squish him til he pops. So of course I said, "yeah, I'll do that."
The next day its 2 hours before he comes home from school and I still havent' gotten around to the game, so I drop what I'm doing and log in as him and start scratchin'.
I started playing, things in the game started unlocking, every so often that ding! went off and by the time I left to pick him up he had 6 achievements and I dont know what all unlocked in the game.
He gets in the car and I say "I played for you, got some stuff." His reply "How many achievements did you get? what did you unlock?" Both my daughters turned to him and said "uh, how about a thanks mom?" I said nothing and he says quietly "thanks mom." then adds "what did you get?" I told him I didn't know, I wasnt paying attention, I was just playing. And that's when it hit me, "Why am I encouraging and enabling this?" Of course hypocritical me immediately added "dammit, I got him all this stuff and achievements and I still haven't played under my name and so I have no achievements"
OH MY GOD! I think the achievement whoring is contagious and spreading fast!
Playing the PS3 everyone in my family, myself included has complained about the fact that in co-op games the second player can't sign in and therefore gets no trophies and how unfair that is. But should it really matter? I mean, what do I get besides a whole bunch of electronic trophies? Does it make the game any less fun because I dont get them? Or better because I do?
I remember reading an article long ago about a woman who had an insanely high gamerscore, and she described how she got to that score. Through legitimate gameplay, yes but also by buying and playing games like "High School Musical Sing It" and then holding the mic up to the radio. By buying and playing mediocre games just to get the achievements, and then trading them for other mediocre games with other gamerscore padding people. I can't help but think this incredibly pathetic and also...a little disturbing. Is having a high gamerscore worth all this effort? And how can you be proud of something you didnt even achieve?
Achievements were put into games to encourage gamers to stick it out til the end, to be that motivational sticker you got in grade school. You know, the little foil stars the teachers would put on your test paper when you got an A. A small ego boost, maybe even some bragging rights but, not the end all, be all of gaming.
Achievements fall into that place, the one where competitive sports and activities fall into. That place where you wanna win and you want to point out you won, but you have to be careful not to end up more obsessed with the winning than the doing. Its that bad cliche "its not whether you win or lose its how you play the game".
So how do you counter achievement obsessing? Because lets be honest...How many people that say it, truly believe it isnt about whether you win or lose and who doesn't feel a little superior when they have a higher gamerscore than their friend or sibling? Competition is good, it motivates...Taken too far though, it divides.