Notes on the Achievement System

As you may know, the Xbox 360 has a system of “achievements”—little goals that you can complete in games to net you points on your “Gamerscore.” When you kill 100 opponents in ranked matches with a chainsaw in Gears of War, for example, a little message pops up to let you know you’ve received the “It’s a Massacre” achievement. (More example Gears achievements here.) It’s basically the single-player high score system from arcades put into an online context.

I think the achievement system is a clever idea, though I wish I could disable it. It can be distracting to have little messages popping up while I’m trying to kill people with a chainsaw. I’m also unclear still on whether gamerscore has any impact on how you get placed in ranked matches of games like Gears, or whether you only get placed based on your previous experience with that specific game (with less chance of being placed with people you’ve rated poorly). As I’ve said here previously, I’d rather be grouped with other players based on preferred play and conversation style (i.e., not so much swearing and racist/homophobic slurs) than based on score-based rankings.

I’m blogging this now, though, because the variety of player reactions toward the achievement system may offer an interesting glimpse into what people see as the purposes and appeals of video gaming. Raphael van Lierop has started up a conversation spanning several web pages about the pros and cons of the achievement system and Gamerscore, which he calls “the new gaming geek bragging rights, the justification to your peers for all those hours you spent playing Oblivion.” I think it’s particularly interesting how he points out that the achievements are typically weighted toward online play, which you need to spend extra to have access to. See the original forum thread here, which I came upon via Joystiq, via GameSetWatch, via Dearest Copernicus, via IGDA executive director Jason Della Rocca.