It is hard to imagine modern or medieval video games without a system of achievements. They became especially relevant with the emergence of Steam and other online digital distribution services. What is logical in general, when the list of achievements is built into the game itself, it is almost only available to you. But after all, these are essentially trophies, confirmations of the player’s triumph – of course, they need a public showcase, albeit a digital one.
At some point, achievement items with names and icons turned into a mandatory part of fanservice. So they gradually began to be added even to games that were released a long time ago.
Those who have always had their own internal system of records, transferring them to Steam, Origin, and other platforms have also restructured. For example, a gallery of achievements in Mass Effect is available in three different ways: through the menu on the home page, inside the game (in the cabin of the captain on the Normandy SR-2, click on the medal on the table) and on a personal page in the online service.
So why was this system so popular with gamers that it has become a definite masthead, which is used by AAA projects and indies alike?
The Psychology of the Trap
Not everyone is inspired by an achiever, but many are. Simply because several motivations inherent in many people are closely woven into such an accomplishment. This means it’s a source of dopamine that demands repetition. Many things can be attributed to such motives, but I will touch upon only the most obvious ones (already well researched by psychologists and neurophysiologists).
First, it is social prestige, exclusivity. To be different, to be in the minority or special. In general, comparing oneself with others is a powerful stimulus. And modern developers are aware of this. A key trick is to persistently report on what percentage of players received this or that Achievement. Really, are you like everyone else or among the 4.9% of the select few?
Traditionally, almost every psychological typology of player or gaming experience has highlighted a persistent motivation for competitiveness. This is not surprising, since games are often built on difficult challenges and competition (with a game AI or a real person), so obviously they attract people prone to this kind of motivation.
The very idea of achievement implies some kind of limitation and thus exclusivity. Therefore, people who are thrilled by complexity are most attracted to the need to beat other players.
The second is curiosity. Once you get into it, you wonder what other Achievements there are, how to achieve them, even just what they are called and what icons they have. After all, this is also a kind of dialogue with the game and the developers: you know that they were created for you. The key tricks are the faded, black, or hidden by the lock icon of the unreceived Achievement, as well as intrigue in the style of “You have not received five more achievements, which ones – we will not tell.
Curiosity, however, is punishable. Even in games. For example, it may conflict with your sympathies in solving moral dilemmas. Or the method of achievement itself can be surprisingly boring – especially for quantity achievers (perform a series of actions A, then B, then C, repeat the procedure 1,000 times).
In essence, the loss of freedom in decision-making kills an important part of games, in which the whole point is your own mistakes. After all, as you know, you learn from mistakes.
Third, it is the desire for finality and order. Do not underestimate this thing, it is characteristic of many and easily turns into obsessive-compulsive behavior, that is, an obsessive desire to get all the achievers. Sometimes it’s enough just to specify the total number. For example, 0/64 is already a challenge for someone to reach 64/64. The key tricks here are specifying the total number of possible achievements, as well as progress bars/counters.
The downside is the neurosis that you’ll do something wrong and have to replay. This is especially painful for those who like to explore the game in its entirety, to see all the options for passing. Achievements become not just a problem but deprive the full experience. The player simply can not check out the guides and tips on passing, depriving themselves of novelty and personal, spontaneous choice.
There Can Never be Much of a Good Game, Can There?
It is worth noting that sometimes the user himself can not part with the game, looking for all the hidden details and features, as in games with the map of houses game of thrones. The game creator is also interested in the player’s retention, so by offering additional “challenges” (up to “Hit the enemy in the head with a crossbow, dressed as a bearded woman and wearing a red wig” in the famous I Did This For A Cheevo / “All for an Achievement” from Fable), he gives him what he wants.
In essence, we sometimes need an extra incentive, but we also need recognition. In the first case, an achievement motivates you to find different ways of passing, to think outside the box, or simply to have a fun, absurd pastime. One example is BioShock Infinite, which encourages us to use different weapons and tonics instead of the usual ones. In the second case, the appearance of the achievement is a nice addition to the pride of your achievements, for example, at an increased difficulty or self-discovery of some game trick/secret.
True, it is not completely clear: if the game hints at the high difficulty for the sake of the achievements, whether you need it? And if you are interested in story and recreation? Well, perhaps the achievements can teach someone to make informed, adult choices that often involve sacrificing something.
100 out of 100. Or almost.
And while many achievers seem like forced and nerdy time-killers, the experience and experiences themselves say they are valuable. Almost every gamer has his or her own story of how he or she agonizingly pursued the desired achievement. Or, on the contrary, how he was pleasantly surprised that the game reacted to his optional action (such as shooting the ball into the basketball hoop in one of the locations of Deus Ex: Human Revolution).
Probably the fact that we sometimes get caught up in this kind of “reaching” is a kind of price to pay for a sincere and open attitude towards video games. We are simply so constructed that our brains are looking for order, finality, hidden and valuable details, ways to gain recognition and status in front of others. And if this is not realized in a game, it will always find manifestation in life. And in this sense, the virtual ground for egoism or experiments is still better than the real world with real people and not at all virtual harm to them.
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