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The Wii U and Achievement Culture

1:2624/11/2012Posted by Charles Etheridge-NunnNo Comments

Last week I heard confirmation that the Wii U isn’t getting a universal achievement system and I felt sad. It was a shame, but then I realised the surprise in that feeling. It’s not like achievements do anything other than assign an arbitrary score to activities in video games. That’s it. So what’s the problem?

Achievement Culture is a thing now, it’s part of our gaming community, and railing against it won’t help, so I’ll bypass my initial disdain from years ago and go onto acceptance of it, after all, even iOS has achievements now. So now why have achievements become so prevalent? Why have I gone from not caring to feeling that it’s a missed opportunity the Wii U isn’t using the achievements?

While it’s possible to feel annoyed that achievements quantify enjoyment, there are a lot of good uses for them. I still remember first noticing in Dead Rising there was an achievement for running through a crowd of zombies with a parasol, or for bowling them over. They were incentives to try out things you might have otherwise missed, as well as arbitrary rewards for getting a certain way through the game. It’s understood that we tend to drop games without finishing them, given the treadmill of game releases, the time-demand of games (especially AAA games) and the lack of time we have these days. Some games did this poorly, my beloved Dynasty Warriors series tends to have an achievement in each of their games which was, “get all the other achievements” which is just lazy. They also made all the unlock rules secret in Dynasty Warriors 6, which took away some of the pointers for players to explore and play with. I’m sure the ‘need’ to get gamerscore, while annoying to some people, have seen more players complete games or at least get as far as they can before they’re done.

I’m not someone who tries to ‘beat’ games, I’m not like the strange people who take photos of games’ completion screens even now. A coworker and I have recently decided that we’re too old and time-poor to try and get all the achievements for a game. After finishing whatever story mode there is, if he or I have over 500 gamerscore from it, then that’s probably a signifier that we’ve got a good amount of value from the game. Then I can move onto the next one, unless I really feel invested enough in the game to keep going for my own enjoyment.

It’s a weird psychological phenomenon, the ‘need’ to complete achievements, to try and get the most out of something. I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month and my Municipal Leaders have made a punch card achievement system which includes punches for significant word counts reached (10k, 20k, etc), having written 5,000 words in one day, donating to the Office of Letters & Light, going to the social events and so on. The community was ablaze with people desperate to get a punch in every section of their card. It was infectious. It’s not just an Xbox thing or a PS3 thing, it’s a compulsive part of our nature.

For years, many games on Nintendo consoles have had their own achievement systems. Even Pokémon has a ‘medal’ system for different goals met, showing that this isn’t just a third party requirement, but first party games like Pokémon, Wii Sports and even (now I’ve had a go on a demo unit) NintendoLand for the Wii U. They have ways of tracking either arbitrary goals or odd, interesting ones, rewarding experimentation.

So, given that achievements are already present in some form, why do I still have a problem with the Wii U’s lack of global achievement system? Well like the argument for achievements as a whole, it’s an odd one. Whether I still have Dead Rising or not, I have the scars, I have the experiences, and the achievements are a marker that I’ve had them. A reminder that I’ve spent my time hitting zombies with brollies, watching my brother’s shock as he accidentally caved in the skull of a survivor with a sledgehammer. I lived through Dead Rising, and the achievement points are my battle scars. Now I do have Dead Rising still, but I don’t have a vast amount of my Xbox 360 games, mainly as I don’t have much money, time or shelf space. I still have the marks which showed by long career as everything but a mage in Oblivion, how much I rocked out in Rock Band 1 & 2. The total score and who’s got the most gamerscore at something is often seen as a pissing contest, a method of macho posturing, but it’s more than just that now. I can see how far I’ve got in a game I keep meaning to return to, I can remember the wonders and horrors of certain games long lost to me, I can measure how much more Lego Batman 2 to slog through once Lego Fatigue sets in before I feel I’ve spent my Lego load.

These experiences last, at least as long as my console remains alive and active. If I lose my Pokémon Black 2 cartridge, or some cruel scumbag wipes my save, the medals will all be gone, and that’d annoy me. It’s a weird instinct, but with the same idea of internal achievements only, it’s a shame there’s nothing global for the Wii U.

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