I’ve been playing video games since I was three. My Grandmother had an NES in her house and I eventually picked up a controller to play Super Mario Bros. It obviously took me a long time to get the hang of the game. but I completed it over time. Ever since that game, video games have been a huge part of my life. I would spend hours playing Gauntlet Legends on my Nintendo 64 on long summer days and I always loved getting together with friends on the weekends to have intense Halo 2 matches. Games were always fun to me, but once the Xbox 360 came out, the way I played games changed entirely. Microsoft introduced us to the world of achievements.
Before opening my Xbox 360, the only time I ever strived to achieve something came in the form of the leaderboards that were featured in some of the multiplayer games I played. I never went out of my way to get high up on the leaderboards, but I always tried my best. When I put my first game (Perfect Dark Zero) into the Xbox 360 on launch day, I started playing it like any other game. Eventually I heard a ding!
Achievement unlocked: Completed Super Secret Agent 15G
It was my first achievement. This started my journey to collect achievements. I looked at the 50 achievements that came with Perfect Dark Zero and made it my mission to get the all of them. I failed with that mission, but that didn’t stop me from working hard to get the achievements on the other games that I owned. I also owned Kameo: Elements of Power at launch.
The achievement list mainly consisted of achievements that would be progressively unlocked during the story. Some exceptions included co-op achievements, but the challenging achievements involved getting A ranks. These achievements were extremely hard, but every single time I failed, I reloaded my game to try again. It’s a trend that took over my gaming career. I was obsessed with having achievements.
I wanted people to be able to look at my Gamertag so they could see everything that I’ve done from the moment I bought my Xbox 360 to present day. I studied the lists very carefully just to make sure if certain levels required specific conditions for achievements. I planned my playthrough accordingly and soon enough, I was hooked. I would play on difficulties that I would never touch until after my first playthrough. Some would say that it’s great to play a game that will bring the player a challenge and I agree, but what if that takes away from the fun of the game?
I played Call of Duty 4 when it came out for the first time on Veteran difficulty. One mission actually took me three weeks to complete. I would have easily finished the game on normal or hardened, but I chose Veteran difficulty which gave me trouble throughout the game. So many times I yelled and wanted to throw the controller and for what? They were just numbers that were added to my profile, but they were numbers that made me proud.
Every game that came my way caused me to focus on achievements. I’ll admit to being ashamed at some of the games that I’ve played on my Xbox 360. I’ve played games like Terminator: Salvation, TMNT, King Kong, Night At the Museum 2 and the infamous Avatar: The Burning Earth. I got the achievements for that game in less than a minute. It wasn’t that I wanted to play these games, it was because the achievements were easy. There were okay games like Saw, Wet and Dante’s Inferno that I played because I actually had fun with them so getting the achievements didn’t feel like a chore to me.
There are also skilled based achievements that actually made me proud to say that I’ve unlocked. I got the achievement called The Bladder of Steel Award in Rock Band 2 which requires you to complete the Endless Setlist 2 without pausing or failing. I did that on Expert difficulty as well so it felt like an extra accomplishment. Achievements that require skill have a great satisfaction to them. Completing DMC on Heaven and Hell mode was another satisfying accomplishment as well.
There are times where unlocking an achievement is a good thing, but for the most part, achievements changed how I played games. I no longer played games just to play them. I dove into a video game with only achievements on my mind. There was no joy because achievement hunting was like a job. I always wanted to be ahead of my Xbox Live friends and I made that my mission. First I was 1000 Gamerscore ahead of them, but after a while, I was 80,000 ahead of them. My game playing became worse and worse. It was an addiction.
With all of the insanity that started to happen because of achievements, I wanted to start playing the Wii. Nintendo hadn’t implemented a system like achievements for their console so all the games were just games. People played games on the Wii as they were meant to be played. They were played to be enjoyed and that’s something that I hadn’t experienced in a while because of achievements. This made me wish that Microsoft never invented achievements in the first place.
I missed the days where I would play a game and not reload the it because I didn’t make it through a section without getting hit or because I missed a coin. I used to enjoy venturing further into a game without collecting everything because my own flawed gameplay would make me unprepared for later missions and battles. I loved a challenge, but constantly restarting to complete an achievement isn’t a challenge, it’s a job.
The unfortunate thing was that despite all of my efforts to just play a game, I failed miserably. I played through Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but I felt incomplete. The credits rolled and I sat there and wondered about what exactly I achieved. The ding never happened and I had nothing to show for my hours of gameplay. The realization that achievements meant something hit me. My gaming life in general had been corrupted by Microsoft’s achievement system. I could never play a game unless it had a list of achievements connected to it.
One of my most shameful achievement confessions is the fact that I would complete achievements that required me to die. I hate dying in video games more than anything. There are times when I like beating a game without dying. To me, that’s having a perfect playthrough, but many achievements have ruined my “perfect” games. It’s hard to say that I’ll ever really get better. Every time I start to go cold turkey when it comes to achievements, they suck me back in. I try harder and harder each time, but the result is always the same. I just love the sound of that ding! I like seeing that I “achieved” something even if they’re given to you for pressing start like in The Simpsons Game.
There are so many games that I missed out on because I spent hours and hours on a particular game just to gain the achievements. My days of beating a game and moving on to the next one have been long gone for a while. I’m trying to get better, but it’s going to be a long process and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be “cured” from this achievement curse. My obsession is getting a little better though. When I miss an achievement on a specific level, I just continue on with my game. I’ve said so long to constantly restarting checkpoints to get a certain combo number or quitting to the dashboard just so I can make it across falling platforms without fail for an achievement.
I’ve been going back to games weeks later after completing a game to get achievements. I don’t just waste all my time trying to unlock them all. It’s the first step to recovery and only time will tell if my achievement hunting days are over. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll get better, but Microsoft totally changed my perception of video games. Microsoft is now talking about giving achievements for watching TV. One thing is for sure, I won’t be watching shows I hate just for achievements. That would be an addiction on a whole other level.