Hollow achievements

My current PC is an award that I got in 2004, and immediately upon receiving it I had to update the graphics card and hard drive because they were really unacceptable for playing games. Since then I have been using this PC without further upgrades. Naturally, in the meantime it has become impossible to play the latest games on it, even though it runs all other applications that I need just fine. This year I had to decide whether to trash it and get a new one, or keep it on and buy a console. I decided to buy an XBox360, as it meant that I could get away with spending 400 euros instead of 2000. I will probably get a new PC in a year or two, but for now I’m set.

There are quite a few differences between PC games and console games, but I am not going to discuss them all since the Internet is probably awash with people extolling the virtues of one above the other. Personally, I feel that there are games that are more suitable to play on a PC, and there are games that are more suitable to play on a console. My preference, in general, is PC games, but as I do not have that much time to play video games anymore I am quite content to stick with the few good XBox360 games for the coming two years.

One thing that struck me as a fun extra on XBox360 games are the so-called “achievements”. For those who are not used to console games: achievements are certain events that you can make happen in a game, which lead to some sort of medal of recognition on your central XBox account. For example, a game might award achievements when major elements of the game’s story are encountered. But there are usually also ‘secret’ achievements, for things that do not necessarily happen in a game, but which are a bit special or difficult to pull off and therefore deserve recognition.

I think achievements can add an extra level of fun to a game, as they may form a treasure hunt. On the main screen you can see how many achievements for a game you managed to get, and how many are still open. Some games use this extremely well. For example, in Fable 2 you not only get achievements for reaching the main story stages, but also for fun things like ‘getting married to two different people simultaneously’ (the bigamist), ‘kicking a chicken over a long distance’ (the chicken kicker), and ‘wearing all black clothes and having hair dyed black’ (the goth).

However, I think that there are also games of which the designers did not grasp the purpose of achievements, namely adding to the fun. They add achievements which simply take a whole lot of boredom to get. For instance, in the game Blue Dragon, the five heroes can earn ranks in eight different classes. The classes have a functional maximum of 30-50 levels (after this, no more bonusses are gained), but can go up to level 99. As is common in a role-playing game, one would normally train each hero in one or two different classes, and indeed, in Blue Dragon this would make a party suitable to win the game with. But the designers felt it necessary to add an achievement that states that you should have all your characters level all eight classes up to level 99! Getting this achievement would easily add another 60 hours to gameplay, and it would just be all boring gameplay!

On the Internet you can find explanations on how you can get this achievement in about 30 hours with some smart work. Frankly, I have no idea why someone would bother with it, but evidently many players do. I am almost angry at the designers, not for making this achievement so hard to get (I could not care less about getting it), but because they have effectively wasted so many gaming hours which could have been spent on work, study, family, friends, household chores, or just plain simple old entertainment.

I do pity gamers who spend all that valuable time getting such an achievement.

Did I say “achievement”? Underachievement more like.

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