Achievements Are Loaded With Spoilers (Warning: BioShock Spoilers Ahead)

To continue picking on BioShock (unfair, I know, but it's my most recently-finished game and is what prompted me to choose this topic), I made the mistake of reading through the Achievements list before completing the game. Here's a few that tipped me off on plot items that I'd have preferred to remain ignorant of:

(The player has taken a picture of Sander Cohen's corpse)
Hmm, I guess Sander Cohen doesn't make it.

Defeated Atlas
(The player has defeated Atlas)
Atlas turns out to be a bad guy? Guess I shouldn't be trusting him.

Broke Fontaine's Mind Control
(The player has broken Fontaine's mind control)
I thought Fontaine was supposed to be dead?

You get the idea. I've learned my lesson and actively avoid catching a glimpse of the Achievement list of any game that I am playing (or intend to). Like avoiding message forums of a game that I am currently playing (thanks to those jerks who insist on placing spoilers in message titles), I now have another source of spoilers to worry about, this time direct from the dev team itself.

Achievements Are A Slavishly-Recursive System Of Need-Fulfillment

If you've ever tried to find a cap without advertising on it (a logo, team emblem, manufacturer's brand - whatever you call it it's still advertising) you know how difficult it can be. Oh, they're out there; of late there are the occasional caps you can buy that don't require publicly affiliating yourself with any particular brand. It's a good thing, too, because if I want to stay warm on my walk to work in Washington, DC I don't want any bullet-hole ventilation courtesy of those driven to violence in their personal quest to affiliate with The North Face brand.

Such is the affliction of the overly-marketed. You want The North Face jacket because you're supposed to want The North Face jacket. And guess what: you want the Tonic Collector Achievement because you're supposed to want the Tonic Collector Achievement.

Or, you don't think about Achievements at all and instead just play the damn game.

- Mike Mangold - 12/03/2007

My Thoughts on Xbox Live! Achievements

Now that I can claim a year of Xbox 360 experience under my belt, I'd like to share my opinions on Microsoft's popular attempt at packing even more value into each Xbox 360 game: Achievements.

To be honest I'm not such a big fan. Oh, I'll admit to a flash of glee when toast pops up telling me that my latest gunshot was the one-thousandth fired from a crouching position on Tuesday and that I'm now a time-honored member of the "Crouching Tuesday's" club, but as a member of the "intact cerebellum" club I quickly harumph that I've been played for a trained seal. Achievements are tangential to game play, loaded with spoilers, and are a slavishly recursive system of need-fulfillment.

I'm reminded of my City of Heroes days when, in response to cries of inadequate in-game content, the developers increased the number of Badges gamers could earn. Badges are virtual trophies awarded for contrived reasons that often have no purpose whatsoever other than bragging rights. One example is the Celebrant Badge: "Sign on to the game with a hero in the month of May 2005." Yee-ha. There are even badges awarded for collecting other badges. What's surprising is the number of gamers who actually think that being led around by the nose is something to brag about.

Achievements Are Tangential to Game Play

Let's take a look at BioShock's Tonic Collector Achievement for an example. I even have a page dedicated to this achievement on my BioShock Walkthrough. The purpose of Tonics in BioShock is to enhance your character in a way that suits your preferred playing style. Tonics are a twist on the age-old allocation of attribute points in role-playing games. I choose to install the Hacking tonics, for instance, because I'd rather hack a turret than blow it to bits. That's my style, they're my Tonics, and their unique powers are the reason I seek them out.

But with Achievements there's a whole new game to play here: Tonic Collector. The original purpose, the real purpose, the fully-fleshed-out, original, pillar-of-the-game reason-for-being of Tonics has now been transformed into a trivial scavenger hunt. But is it really trivial if it earns you an Xbox Live Achievement?

Here's a hint: yes, it's still trivial. If you enjoy the treasure hunt in-and-of-itself then, great -- you could have set your own personal goal of finding all of the Tonics and savored the sweet taste of success all by your subjective self. No need to sew a merit badge onto your sleeve. Unless you really need the public affirmation, and that's just lame.