205M. Too far.
199M. Almost there.
199M again. So close.
This continues, the tapping of my space bar sharpening behind the force of frustration with each failed attempt, for dozens of playthroughs.
201M. Fuck, seriously? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Why would they even put this in here? It doesn’t take any skill, it’s complete luck.
I am not having fun, quite the opposite in fact, but I stick with it. Getting a score of exactly 200 meters will unlock the last 15G achievement I need in Jetpack Joyride.
This is how I play video games now.
While I sit here typing this sentence, my Gamerscore sits at 122,595G. By the time you read this, it will be higher. I am an achievement hunter, or in less-polite company, an achievement whore. And it’s ruining video games.
I don’t remember when exactly I discovered achievements, but I hardly noticed them… at first. Then I got curious, started looking up achievement lists online, watched my Gamerscore slowly rise as I’d loosely follow those lists from game to game. It was casual, innocent even.
Soon, I started seeing articles about achievements, whispering in my ear about games with quick 1000Gs that could be unlocked with minimal effort. I do know that, like a lot of people, my first true act of achievement whoring was in Avatar: The Burning Earth, where you could unlock every achievement in five minutes just by pressing B over and over again. For a few months prior I had fought it, not wanting to sully my gamertag with such an easy score, but finally I caved.
I was hooked.
What followed was a Requiem for a Dream-style downward spiral into achievement whoring hell. Boosting matches online, changing gameplay sliders in sports games, reloading saves to farm for kills, I did it all. No genre was safe from my addiction, no game too bad or too embarrassing to feed my hunger. When I bought a new game, I wouldn’t play it right away. I’d run to the computer to my favorite achievement websites to find out which achievements were missable and which ones I should be working to complete first.
It’s gotten to the point where I can’t play a game without at least looking at its achievement list. But now the Xbox One is coming, with achievements that carry across multiple games and can be added post-launch by the developers, and I know that I can’t keep going on this way.
I need to reflect on what got me here, on how I let it slip out of control.
I need to change.
I never got the fourth bottle in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the one you earn by riding around Hyrule Field shooting big Poes with arrows from horseback. The big Poes would always disappear too quickly, and my aim was never very good, so I left it alone and went along my way. I already had three bottles anyways, why did I need another one?
Back before I discovered achievements, I played games because I liked them. I didn’t care that I had left certain games half-finished, or didn’t get X number of headshots with a certain weapon. If a game was fun, I played it. If it wasn’t, I stopped. So simple.
Looking back, I wonder if that experience would have been different if there had been achievements to fuel my gaming habits in my younger years. Would I have obsessed over that one chapter I never could unlock in WWF No Mercy’s story mode? Would I have gone back and rented Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey Jr. to earn its achievements, even though I already owned Slugfest? Would I have quit Disney’s Aladdin every time I missed a red jewel until I had collected them all in one sitting?
I’d like to think that my entertainment wouldn’t have been altered, but I’m not so sure. That fourth bottle might have been a lot more tempting if it had had 100Gs attached to it.
Despite my earlier gaming innocence, and like any proper psychological abnormality, there were signs that I was ripe for achievement whoring at a young age.
When I was in elementary school, my dad and I engaged in a serious war fought on the battlefield of Minesweeper’s top-times board. My dad was subtle – he wouldn’t say anything when he beat my time, but would leave his name on the leaderboard for me to discover on my own. When I beat him, I was less subtle – I called him at work in the middle of the day. What’s that Dad, you’re in the middle of a big project? No problem, I just wanted to let you know that I got 111 seconds on expert!
Yes, I still remember that 111 seconds was the time that knocked him off of the leaderboard. It’s also the first time I can remember that a game became more about playing and beating it – it became about a number. And I found numbers quite easy to obsess over
There have been several low points in my achievement whoring career.
For a two-year stretch, my Gamefly queue was dedicated to nothing except children’s games and four-year-old sports titles that could be burned through in a couple of days for a quick 1000Gs. If it was a movie tie-in or had LEGO or an adorable Pixar character on the box, you better believe that I was playing it.
During one session, I needed to intercept a pass for a touchdown in NCAA Football, and I recruited my fiancée to help. “Wait, you have to hit A to select the play, then A to hike the ball, THEN B to throw to the receiver that I’m covering. Got it?” I’m certain that this experience has single-handedly kept her away from playing a co-op game with me ever since.
I also had to explain to my fiancée why it’s perfectly acceptable for a grown man to play Hannah Montana because you can max out its achievements in just a few hours. The arguments, surprisingly, are not as persuasive as you’d expect them to be.
Skyrim is one of my favorite games of this console generation, but I still have to fight a seething resentment every time I play it for one achievement that glitched on two successive playthroughs and cost me 100% completion.
And now, finally, here I am, committing suicide en masse in Jetpack Joyride when I could be doing something – literally anything – else.
My problem isn’t just that I obsess over achievements, although that doesn’t help. Rather, my problem is that achievement hunting has fundamentally changed the way I approach and play games. I still love gaming, but often times, once I’ve played the fun out of a game, I’m still left with a sizeable list of achievements that have me doing something I could care less about save for the corresponding Gamerscore boost. Hours of playtime that could be used to play something new – something fun – get consumed with monotonous task-managing, all in the name of increasing a number that has no actual value. And if a game has a dreaded missable achievement, I’ll play in rigid paranoia until it unlocks, knowing that my chance at 100% is still intact.
This is a problem. The first step is admitting that you have a problem.
My road to recovery started, ironically enough, with an achievement list – the cut-and-pasted MLB 2K13 list that was a carbon copy of 2K12’s list. To me, there was no clearer indication that this game would be a woeful retread of the previous year’s model and, stuck with no new baseball game to play alongside the actual season, I popped in my original Xbox copy of MVP Baseball 2004 instead.
Backwards-compatible Xbox games have no achievements, despite the achievement-hunting community’s cries for Microsoft to put them in retroactively. So for the first time in quite some time, I just gamed, never looking at an achievement list or worrying about what I needed to unlock, and it felt good. Really good.
It’s a small step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless. Part of me worries that the Xbox One will suck me back in with its platform-wide achievements, but as long as I stay diligent, I think I’ll be ok.
The other day, I missed an achievement in Tomb Raider by forgetting to talk to one of my crewmates until it was too late to go back, and I’m ok with that.
I think they call that acceptance.