The topic of achievements on Steam came up in a conversation I was part of recently. I have some seventy games in the Steam library, though I haven’t played them all – some of them came along as part of a package deal, or as a bonus for a charity donation – but I have spent cumulatively hundreds of hours among them. I must have a few dozen achievements logged, though I don’t pay much attention to them and actively try not to. I recognize their usefulness to the Steam and the game developers, but I dislike them myself – they act as a meta-game, reminding the player that they are playing a game, and in general I go for non-competitive world simulations (my Bartle gamer psychology result skews very far towards world explorer), not things with scores, and achievements just further gamify this kind of thing, reminding me that I’m playing a game, reducing my immersion. Imagine if a bell went off when you were reading a book and had turned to page 31, and a pop up exclaimed “ACHIEVEMENT: JOURNEY BEGUN! YOU’VE READ 30 PAGES!,” and after you have finished reading the book, there was a score of 7/10 glowing on the book’s spine as it resided on the shelf, because you hadn’t completed 3 remaining achievements (maybe reading it a second time, reading it backwards, and reading the extra content that is also for sale but that you hadn’t bought yet, and you can’t get the full 10 out of 10 unless you do, when what you want is to enjoy your book) and you get the idea of how perusing my Steam library can feel.
As an example, I have 185 hours in Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and it says “ACHIEVEMENTS: You have unlocked 30/75 (40%)” The Elder Scrolls series doesn’t really feel compatible to me with the notion of achievements – you create a character, and largely play how you want to. I don’t need to see a big 40% grade (a failing grade in many other contexts) every time I enter that world; it’s irrelevant but still carries a “work harder” tone that just makes me enjoy the game a bit less.
My current Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim start screen in Steam.
A further example lies in Just Cause 2, which I have enjoyed mostly because for its helicopters. In the context of the game itself, killing is a necessary evil – the player character, Scorpio, is a CIA operative sent to promote US interests in an South Pacific island nation run by a cruel dictator that recently came to power through a coup. The national militia has orders to find and stop Scorpio, so he gets shot at a lot, and does have to return fire. Scorpio is presented as somewhat conflicted about this, though he is willing to do what it takes to “free” the nation. His superiors inform him that collateral civilian damage and casualties are regrettable but not prohibited. If Scorpio injures a civilian, he utters an apology (usually from a distance that they wouldn’t hear – if they survived, but it shows the character’s mind set). As the player, you can decide some for yourself whether Scorpio actually cares at all, but at least his cause is implied to be just (or, alternatively, he’s doing what he’s just ’cause…). For me personally, I’ve played the game mostly for the helicopters, as JC2 (somewhat bizarrely) has the most fun and engaging helicopter semi-simulation I’ve played so far (it’s not very realistic, but the controls are easy to understand and feel good, and the scenery supplied by their excellent terrain modeling is quite cool, which makes it fun to fly over. The disposable and easily replaced nature of the helicopters reduces stress, yet they still feel at least a little valuable. Yes, this parenthetical is going a bit long). However, every time I start the game:
My current Just Cause 2 start-up screen in Steam.
Among the Steam “achievements” I have remaining to be attained are:
- Unarmed and Dangerous: Kill 50 enemies with melee attacks
- Piñata Party: Kill 5 enemies with melee attacks while they’re suspended with the grappling hook.
- Wrecking Ball: Kill 5 enemies by smashing them with an object tethered to your vehicle with the grappling hook.
These goals are purely sociopathic, and don’t fit with my understanding or enjoyment of the game at all, but they are what the game shows me at start up, even with a progress bar telling me that I haven’t gotten around to having Scorpio committing these virtual atrocities and so my play experience is as yet incomplete (84%), while the game proper disagrees (a bug keeps this from ever saying 100%):
My current Just Cause 2 start screen.
The Steam “achievements” completely unnecessarily temper my enthusiasm for what otherwise was generally a good play experience. Furthermore, I have a firm belief that there is massive potential for interactive simulation to promote (at least) individual well-being and development – intellectual, emotional, and physical – and this stuff is basically the opposite. If there have to be achievements, I would like more like “Bridge Limbo: Fly an airplane under 30 unique bridges in Panau.”
Not an airplane, so I don’t think this was lining up for Bridge Limbo…
Another sunrise seen from the Rowlinson.
Speaking of the 3D monitor, my old Benq mentioned in a previous post is now in my lab, and for my home monitor I traded up to an Asus VG278H 27″, which I am liking.