The lights are on
Note: This is an opinion column that ran in the September 2010 issue of Game Informer (the Batman: Arkham City cover. I recently saw on Twitter that game designer Jesse Schell had posted a scan of it on his excellent blog Gamepocalypse Now. I thought it might be nice to post it today to give people a chance to read it in a little easier format. Anyway, hope you think it's interesting, and let me know what you think (and I'm sure you will) -- Matt]
A few months ago, my original Xbox 360 bit the dust, finally succumbing to the dreaded red ring of death. I decided to upgrade to the supposedly better-engineered Elite model. While I was unboxing the new system, I did something that most 360 gamers would find unthinkable. Instead of importing my old Gamertag and Xbox Live account, I got a new 12-month subscription card, booted up the system, and started over from scratch. In a moment, all my gaming history from the last few years was gone, along with my Gamerscore and all of my achievements.
My motivation for starting fresh was a growing dissatisfaction with the endless race to collect achievement points. Achievements have never done much for me, other than occasionally spoil a crucial plot point of a game when I’ve looked into the list of unaccomplished challenges. I’ve never been a completist. Once I’ve finished the game’s main storyline I rarely, if ever, tackle the remaining challenges to unlock alternate costumes or collectibles. A dizzying number of amazing games are released each year – more than anyone can play. I’d rather move on to the next adventure.
More importantly, I don’t care to measure myself against other gamers. It’s a meaningless metric. The leaderboards tout Live users with Gamerscores exceeding 650,000. Compared to that, what does it matter if you have 50,000 or even 200,000 points? More importantly, I expect that many gamers garner those mega-scores by cheating or farming terrible games that are overly generous with achievements. So, congratulations? I don’t believe someone is a better gamer than someone else just because of some number. Anyone who plays games is a gamer – be that game Oblivion or Farmville.
Games are entertainment, and I don’t need to have my free time graded against others. I had a great time playing Red Dead Redemption; I don’t feel bad because I didn’t shoot some arbitrary number of rabbits or unlock a fancy suit for John Marston. I got what I needed out of the experience – fun. Once that’s over, I’m out. Nobody awards me points for watching the DVD extra features or the director’s commentary track on a movie I rented, so why should my gaming choices be any different?
As life becomes busier by the day (by the time you read this, I will be the father of a newborn baby girl), chasing achievements seems like a poor investment of time – especially to prop up a numerical score that would never be impressive anyway. The more life online becomes an endless competition – how many Facebook friends do you have? How many Twitter followers? What’s your Gamerscore? – the more inclined I am to withdraw. I’d rather just play the games I want to play for as long as they hold my interest.
I’m not against achievements. Millions of gamers love them, and I’m all for anything that makes people’s gaming experience more fun. But for me, the time spent trying to chase them doesn’t usually add to my enjoyment of a game. Getting 100 points for completing a boss battle that I was going to finish regardless isn’t really an “achievement” so much as a meaningless pat on the head. If the goal is interesting or enjoyable, chances are I’m going to want to tackle it. If not, no amount of padding to my Gamerscore is enough to make it worthwhile.
If developers want me to complete their extra challenges, make them an interesting, integral part of the experience. I was drawn to the hidden “The Truth” glyphs and the assassin’s tomb challenges in Assassin’s Creed II. Finding them was a joy, because every bit of enigmatic video footage I found drew me deeper into the complex web of intrigue Ubisoft Monteral created between the Templars and Assassins. Each tomb I found delivered fun, fast platforming to the already excellent mix of open-world exploration and combat. They were a welcome change of pace, and something I looked forward to finding. I didn’t care how many points I got for completing them – or if I got any points at all.
To me, gaming is about becoming engrossed in a virtual world and an epic adventure. The little bubbles that pop up onscreen and inform me I’ve been awarded points only serve to break that illusion. A high Gamerscore doesn’t make me a gamer. If I want competition, I can go online and test my skills against others, or better yet, play with friends in any number of amazing co-op games. So go ahead and make fun of my Gamerscore. I’m done with it.The views and opinions expressed on this page are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Game Informer Magazine or its staff