Last night, I was up late playing the new Bethesda Softworks game Starfield. As I logged off, I decided to check my achievement progress in the game. I looked over the largely incomplete list all adorned with small images and descriptions relating to the tasks that I still needed to do in the game. The rest of the night, one thought plagued my mind: "Why?" Why do we care about these little badges of honor, and how were they started?
Achievements in video games. New Media: Storytelling in Literature, Films, and Games. (2016, October 28). https://worldsofwordcraft.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/achievements-in-video-games/
A Brief History of Achievements
It's been largely accepted that achievements started around the 1980s with Activision providing fabric patches to players who sent in a photo of their high scores. Achieving a score of 6 seconds in Dragster and sending a photo of the screen would result in a patch saying: "World Class Dragster Club." This would be furthered in the 1990s with Assembly Line's puzzle game E-Motion which provided a list of secret bonuses a player could try and achieve. Small objectives like completing a level without rotating, or even failing certain levels. This trend would continue up until 2005, where, as most people know, Microsoft debuted the Xbox 360 and changed the achievement system completely with Gamerscore.
Gamerscore changed the scene by allowing a platform wide system for developers to allocate 1000 points of Gamerscore to achievements for players to collect as they played their game. This would total up in a cumulative score that would be displayed on players profiles. Shortly after in 2007, Steam debuted their own achievement system for their games as well. And again in 2008, Sony would included Trophy functionality in the launch of the PlayStation 3. With these introductions, achievements would become a mainstay in Gaming, but it also completely transformed it.
Mike Nelson, X. W. E. (2022, May 31). June xbox update - reveal secret achievements anywhere you play on xbox . Xbox Wire. https://news.xbox.com/en-us/2022/05/31/june-xbox-update/
The Completionist Mindset
At its heart, gaming is a journey. For many, it's a thrilling chase of skill, strategy, and narrative unraveling. But with the advent of achievements, a new dimension of the journey emerged — the allure of completion. The chase was no longer just about the endgame but about getting your money's worth from a title. This shift in mindset has been so influential that it's carved out its own niche in the gaming world: the completionists.
But what is it about achievements that stokes the flames of this obsessive pursuit? For starters, it's the tantalizing prospect of uncovering every hidden gem a game has to offer. Every secret corner, every side quest, every Easter egg — a true completionist revels in the discovery, feeling a sense of satisfaction in mastering a game inside out.
Furthermore, achievements play brilliantly to our innate human desire for accomplishment. Every notification, every ding, every badge unlocked acts as positive reinforcement. It’s a pat on the back, a silent nod of acknowledgment from the developers saying, "Well done. You've truly explored the world we've crafted." In a sense, it's not just about game mastery but about a deeper bond with the gaming universe, connecting on a level that casual gamers might not always experience.
As achievements carved out their place in gaming history, they did more than just offer extra tasks — they subtly reshaped how many approach games. No longer was it sufficient to just "beat the game"; now, for many, the real challenge lay in obtaining that elusive 100% completion rate, that ultimate badge of gaming dedication.
But as with any passion, the completionist mindset comes with its share of challenges and debates. Some argue that the obsession over achievements might detract from the pure enjoyment of a game, turning it into a task-oriented grind. Others believe it provides depth and longevity to titles that might otherwise have a shorter shelf life. Some also believe this has impacted games themselves, as more games focus on the completionist mindset, they may include frivolous tasks for players to do or incredibly challenging battles for players to fight simply for the idea of giving the player more to do. Forgoing the idea of quality over quantity.
As the gaming landscape continues to evolve, the role and impact of achievements will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion and introspection. But one thing remains certain: the completionist mindset, fueled by the allure of achievements, has left an indelible mark on the gaming world, and it's here to stay.
McMahon, A. (2019, June 26). How achievements and trophies changed gaming. The Nerd Stash. https://thenerdstash.com/achievements-trophies/
Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, July 14). Achievement (video games). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achievement_(video_games)#:~:text=The%20game%20E%2DMotion%20on,called%20these%20%22secret%20bonuses%22. Hon, A. (n.d.). How gameplay achievements took over the video game industry - fast company. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90786023/how-achievements-took-over-the-video-game-industry
Cover Image: Wheeler, C. (2023, January 12). Are video game achievements good?. Rock Paper Shotgun. https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/are-video-game-achievements-good