I’ve Never Truly Achieved Anything

38,220. Thirty-eight thousand, two hundred and twenty. That’s how many achievement points I’ve unlocked since first owning an Xbox 360 some five or six years ago. During my wild university days, I’d end up hearing that ‘plink’ sound to the tune of over a thousand points a month. I was by no means a collector, and I never found myself particularly compelled to do everything or sing “gotta max ‘em all!” when trying to hunt down some of the more elusive trials, but I would still revel in the satisfaction of an achievement well-earned. Hi, I’m Edward Price. I can’t remember the last time I earned achievement points, but I couldn’t be happier.

When we look back on the console generations of yore and discuss both their greatest and worst moments, part of me hopes that we’ll see earning achievement points as the latter. For all we know it was probably made with the most humble of intentions, but over the years it became a frightening juggernaut that, to this day still ensnares and traps my friends, causing them to suffer in the name of their hobby.

That’s the only name for it. What else do you call battling through the same dreary piece of software for the fourth time in a row in order to earn a paltry ten points, if not suffering? I’ve never seen potential enjoyment turn into a hellish nightmare quicker than when achievement points are added to the mix; their allure alone is all it takes to hold your fun hostage.

One of the worst parts for me is that, for all intents and purposes, I wasn’t even a particularly good achievement hunter. A couple of XBLA titles aside, I think the only two games I ever maxed on my Gamertag were Spider-Man: Web of Shadows and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Even then, Square-Enix eventually released the Missing Link DLC, so I can’t even accurately claim that I maxed it. Imagine the ignominy of the only retail title you’ve ever maxed being Web of sodding Shadows. I loved that game, but still, come on.

Instead, I found that as long as I completed a certain percentage of the achievements, I’d be happy playing it. If I couldn’t get around six-hundred points in a single play-through, or at least grab them with relative ease, then I probably wouldn’t bother. There were plenty of titles that I genuinely liked the look of, right up until I did a little research and saw how difficult it’d be to get more than half of the points on offer. I was actively denying myself potentially amazing experiences purely on the basis that I’d not be able to get enough points from them.

Even if they passed the test, those same bloody ‘plink’-inducing tasks would end up actively diminishing all the fun I could have been having had I chosen not to care about the whole damn system. There was a nice challenge in trying to do Bioshock 2 on hard mode without Vita-Chambers, and completing Half Life 2: Episode One using only one bullet, but then there were the more irritating challenges, like trying to beat Gears of War on Insane, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on Veteran (don’t forget ‘Mile High Club’!), or carrying that garden gnome to the end of Half Life 2: Episode Two.

For every achievement that rewarded you for experimentation – like Portal‘s one for making a puzzle impossible to complete – there’d be one like Left 4 Dead‘s ‘Safety First’, which would be locked off from you if a single bullet so much as grazed one of your team-mates. I don’t see how it’s fair to punish me if my allies keep getting in the way of my shotgun blasts. For most recovering addicts, there’s always a specific tale or wake-up call they’ll recite when they tell you why they finally decided to try and kick the habit. It could be waking up in a jail cell with no recollection of how they got there, or it could be that time they woke up hungover on the hard shoulder of a motorway. In my case, it was Rock Band.

Before a long-awaited meet-up between friends, one of us had the bright idea of lugging up their kit in the name of providing us all with a fun party game we could play occasionally, should we ever tire of that type of human contact that revolves around having to actually talk to each other. So it was that after a while, some of us chose to adjourn to what was jokingly dubbed “The Rock Band Tent”, but little were we to know that that was when the humour would soon start to fade.

One of the more contentious aspects of the game, circa release, was that if you wanted to play all of the songs with your friends, then you’d have to unlock them yourself in the career mode. If you and your friends wanted to pretend to be Queens of the Stone Age or Foo Fighters, then you’d have to slowly chip away at lowly venues playing songs by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Garbage ad nauseam until the game deigned to relinquish the tracks you actually wanted to play.

However, it was this exact ploy through which we all became indoctrinated. All it took was for resident achievement hound, Richie, to reason that we could get some extra points in if we stuck with the mode after we’d unlocked the songs we wanted, and from that moment we were prevented from properly seeing anyone else for the rest of the weekend. That’s not to say that Richie forced us to stay through a mixture of rope, knives and stunning threats about genitals, because he didn’t; we’d all vastly underestimated the scope of the task ahead, and just how much it would corrupt our very souls.

As the hours passed, other people would pop into the tent, ask how we were doing, maybe stay and join in for a song or two before leaving, and that would be the last we’d see of them until we needed food or sustenance. At some point we’d long stopped truly enjoying ourselves, we were just in it for the ever-elusive ‘Hall of Fame’ achievement. Somewhere in-between that we’d played that cover of Aerosmith’s Train Kept A Rollin’ so many times that I’m pretty sure we gave Richie some hitherto unseen variation of PTSD.

Eventually, we all admitted that we probably weren’t going to finish our quest and chose to take a rest… only a couple of hours before the weekend was over. We’d spent so long trying to achieve rock super-stardom that we’d almost totally neglected everyone else there. We’d travelled endless hours to see our friends, only to abandon them for virtual fame and groupies. If ever there was a realisation to set you on the virtual smack, this was it.

I wish I could tell you that’s where the story ended, I really do. Unfortunately, our self-imposed task to scoop as many achievements from Rock Band as possible didn’t end there. The next time we all gathered together, I was once again lost to the cause. It took until the third such event for us to realise the error of our ways. Even then, it was only because we’d been sweating ourselves sexy in that tent for what felt like five hours, of endlessly playing that sodding Aerosmith cover before emerging, only to reveal that, despite our endless toil, we’d only collected ten whole achievement points. I’d travelled over nine hours each way and almost failed to catch up with some of the coolest people I knew for ten sodding achievement points. If ever there was a breaking point, that was it.

I’d love to tell you that from that point, I chose to forego all achievements forever, never again condemning myself to hours of misery just to collect a few measly extra points, but that’s not entirely the reason why. Truth be told, the final straw was getting Markuz to build me a new desktop for gaming. Once I’d crossed back over to the PC gamer status I occupied in my youth, the draw of the whole points system started to wash away and allow me to mentally cleanse myself of the whole torrid affair.

It still threatens to pop up every now and again, what with that Games For Windows Live thing ensuring that my Batman: Arkham City play-through would also give me points for my Gamertag, as well as a few others, but now the tendrils have been painfully removed, I’m extremely hesitant about putting myself in a situation where they can ever sink themselves back in. Yeah, Steam has its own set of achievements and those bloody trading cards, but there’s no real reward for the former and I don’t understand the latter – nor do I want to, just in case I get addicted to that instead. There’s remarkably less incentive to go achievement crazy when the only result is that your overall completion percentage for that game goes up. Besides, no-one else can really see it, so what’s the point?

The best part is, now that I no longer have a compulsion to be a completionist, I find myself actually enjoying the act of playing games a hell of a lot more. It’s remarkably less stressful, and I no longer dread the thought of loading up certain games, because I now know I can play them however I want to, not in a way that will grant me the optimum amount of achievement points. It’s remarkably Zen. If anything, I’m almost glad that I was so enamoured with the bloody things for so long, because it’s allowed me to truly appreciate the freedom I have as a result.

That being said, if you’re up for a round of Rock Band, then I’m in. I’ve heard that that train kept a rollin’ all night long…

Last five articles by Edward



  1. Stu Stu says:

    I ended up somewhere in the 130k realm when I ditched the X360 for the PS4. I thought that my achievement hunting days were done. I’d already set myself a rule on the 360 that I wasn’t going to buy any more bargain bucket games I would never have otherwise looked at just because they had a 2/10 difficulty rating for maxing the game on single-player – I think that happened after maxing Hannah Montana and getting that “WTF am I doing?!” moment.

    Sadly, I found myself beginning to slip back into it on the PS4, maxing Contrast, Knack, Lego Marvel, Thief and others. However there are some annoying PS3 games on my gamertag from when I borrowed some of the exclusives from mates but, never considering that I’d move to Sony, barely scratched the trophy list. Add to that entirely disappointing games like Bound By Flame, which is so painful to play I’m not even sure I can make one run through, let alone a second on the highest difficulty. Finally there is my old nemesis, multiplayer, which usually guarantees it won’t get maxed unless I can do everything in offline bot mode.

    I’m hoping sanity sets in quickly and I return to the path of just enjoying games, not trying to amass a large score or playing games that have no real interest for me. It’s nice to see that I’m not alone in feeling achievements were a double-edged sword.

  2. Tim Tim says:

    Even though I was never an “addict” as such, I did go through a few years where I would try to max out as many games as possible. The novelty has long worn off now though. I have a glance at the points on offer and usually try to unlock as many as I can without going too far out of my way (collecting hundreds of nondescript collectables is a definite no), but otherwise it’s only the games I love the most I’ll try to unlock (nearly) every Achievement or Trophy for.

  3. [...] urge to whore has influenced my gaming choices. So why am I telling you this? Well, in the light of Ed’s recent look at the world of non-whoring, I figured I’d better explain what it’s like as a hardcore [...]

Leave a Comment