Summer has arrived, ladies and gentlemen! Exams have finished, university work is out of the way and now you can bring to fruition your best laid plans. You can finally go about getting that beach-body, you can collapse from intoxication somewhere off the coast of the Mediterranean Ocean, maybe even read a book or two. But once you’ve stopped lying to yourself, you can resign to the easier, cheaper and infinitely more awesome reality; you will spend a large proportion of your summer, inside, playing video games.
With many of the bigger releases from popular game franchises being left until after September, you will inevitably find yourself re-playing some of your older games, completing quests and most importantly: achievement hunting. The completionist aspect of gaming is not entirely new, whether it’s collecting all the golden skulltulas in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, collecting all the balloons in Diddy Kong Racing, or even discovering every secret area in DOOM, gamers have always had a penchant for achieving everything a game has to offer. Many of these extra objectives have little-to-no bearing on the main campaign of a game (who ever used the Biggoron sword anyway?) but we are drawn to them nonetheless. Today, the picture is similar, games almost always have extra objectives and side-quests to embark upon that are entirely separate from the main focus of the game, but the rewards for completing them are more significant, and not just in the game itself; this brings me to achievements.
We love achievements, we really do, which goes some way to explain why gamers are so worried that the Nintendo Wii U will not have a consistent ‘achievement’ system across the platform, and that the single biggest turn-off for most gamers when it comes to Playstation’s arcade games is a lack of trophies. The real question is, why do we love achievements and trophies so much? The answer, simplified, is twofold.
Firstly, there is competition; proudly exclaiming to your peers that you have, at last, shot every single pigeon in Liberty City (whatever they might say about the ordeal) absolutely does make you better than them, comparing achievements is modern man’s form of comparing animal heads or battle scars. This comparison is made easier through online interactions. Before even becoming someone’s friend, you can see what someone’s gamerscore is, which games they have played, and which achievements they have on said games. Your gamerscore and your collection of achievements/trophies are a reflection of your gaming ability; people will think you are awesome for having over 50,000G, or they will think of you as a ‘n00b’ for not having completed Oblivion yet.
The second reason we love achievements so much is biological, as well as psychological. In the real world, which apparently exists outside of the living room, people are completing their objectives in life and getting rewarded by their brain. Every time you get a good grade or a promotion, you are rewarded with a healthy dose of Dopamine. Similar neural activity occurs when you are gaming, when you complete a difficult level, beat a skilled rival online or, indeed, obtain an achievement. Due to the current culture in gaming that rewards your brain (and your social stature) when you spend more time playing video games, some have raised fears of video game addiction becoming epidemic. But fear not, there are currently far too many laws and hardware barriers that stop console manufacturers from actually administering methamphetamines directly into your systems every time you go up a level…
So, whether you’ll be collecting every flag in Assassin’s Creed, going for gold in every race on Forza or levelling up your Dovahkiin, happy hunting!