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
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
I completely agree with you. One example for me is BioShock 2; as much as I love the game, I didn't have enough motivation in me to replay it just to get a few more acheivements. There are other great games out there to play, and it seems to me that getting acheivements just for the sake of an arbitrary gamerscore is a complete waste of time.
However, if I REALLY love the game, then I might consider getting more of the acheivements, as long as they aren't the kind that make you grind, or just the ridiculously hard ones.
I also have a relatively low gamerscore (about 4600) and I could honestly care less :)
I personally don't mind achievements. I don't let them affect me, so I never go out of my way to get them (except for Borderlands).
Achievement unlocked - Don't give a *** about Xbox 360 or its useless gamerscore
very nice article matt. when i first read this in the issue i couldn't agree more with you. and thinking about it up until now, i still feel the same way.
I love gaming, but I don't love Gamerscore. Ironically, I think achievements are great. Steam is an example for what I like in video game achievements: They are less strict than Xbox 360, so the developers can largely decide how many they want in a game, so each one can be a unique accomplishment that actually makes you feel like you did something. Plants vs. Zombies is one of the best examples of this in my opinion.
you think this is bad you should see my score :/
I agree with you 100% !
If it's a game I truly enjoy, I go my way to collect all of the achievements in them. Yeah, Mass Effect 2 and Halo Reach, baby. Heck I got all of the achievements in Mass Effect 2, even the DLC ones, and I still play it so much. Done my 5th play through soon. Something's wrong with me here...
As i agree with the majority of the article i must say i disagre about the part where they are reffered to as "a meaningless pat on the head."
As i think the actual GS is pointles. I enjoy looking trough the earlier achivements an remenising about the good times i had getting them. They are more like small memorystones in wich you can use to skip accros the pond of gaming.
I really liked this column. As much as I respect guys like Dan and Reiner who go after the high scores, I for one just want to enjoy a game and become immersed in its world, and if I happen to earn some achievements down the road, the better of it. But I don't normally look at lists, the exception to the rule being Civilization V for the simple reason of their is no story and I wanted to see what challenges Firaxis had set forth for us gamers.
This might be the first column I agree with completely.
Awarding points for mandatory plot points does seem silly to me. Save them for when I beat it on legendary or kill streaks.
I almost never try to get achievements either. Only 2 things get me to try.
The one I really like are the one you mentioned assassin's creed, or halo ODST, where I'm trying to solve a side puzzle.
The other I'm sad to say, is where getting the achievement unlocks something for my stupid xbox avatar. I loath the thing, so I tell myself trying for accessories for it is an attempt to hide how lame it really is.
My great thanks to halo for faceless helmet. Now I just need some full body armor. Or better yet a full body mod. I'd seriously try for a full 1000 points on a game if it would change the avatar into a dragon, or full size mecha.
I don't pay attention to mine.
I've been thinking about resetting mine, but I've been playing games for so long, I can't do it yet.
Haha. I love the disclaimer that the views and opinions aren't necessarily those Game Informer or its staff, yet its a staff member whose opinion it is.
i had to do that too twice
Soooo, none of you have not even 1 friend online? That's sad, I have real life friends online, why would I delete my account everytime? This article is nothing but crying and whining over something you suck at.
I dont understand why gamerscore is such a big deal..
gamerscores do seem pointless to some but some people like trying to get acheivements and increase the gamerscores, even if they are part of the plot. Lets say your playing a game and you want to find the hardest acheivement and get it like beating a final boss. You cant say if you did that and you got the acheivement that you would not be proud for yourself even a little. I happen to think gamerscores are pointless but not the acheivements. the acheivements i earn give me confindance when im playing the game im playing
Well, if you want to waste your time like me, and are very serious about gameing, gamerscore can be a good thing. But I agree with the fact that some achievements are wrongly valued!