Achievements – The Journey Is Part of The Reward

760 wc

Lots of talk about achievements. Are they good? Are they bad? MMO Gypsy hates them (, Herding Cats defends them (, and CuppyVille relies on them ( Me? I tend to ignore them.

It’s true that I’m an Explorer on the Bartle test, so you might think I’d be siding with Syp in saying that achievements have destroyed the MMO genre. Well, first of all, I don’t think the genre has been destroyed at all; I think it’s far better now than it’s ever been. Also, I don’t feel like the Bartle Explorer fits me very well. A Bartle Explorer sounds like someone who will divert from a quest line to wander off into the jungle to see what’s there, because he saw a funny-looking knot on a tree, and then he’ll cross the river past the jungle, and then climb the mountain across from the river, and so on. Totally A.D.D. in other words. I do that occasionally, but these days I rarely go out into the jungle unless there is a quest telling me to.

For me, I think it’s more of a practical consideration, because like so many grown-ups playing games, I simply don’t have the time to explore every nook and cranny in a game world. Even on those occasions when I do, there is rarely anything interesting to find. Most games do not reward exploration any more, so why waste time looking? It’s not like the old days of Asheron’s Call where you might stumble upon a chest that gives you epic lootz every hour.

On achievements, I don’t mind them, but I don’t seek them out. It’s always a surprise to me when I see an achievement pop up on the screen. Cuppy seems to view her achievement list as a task list when she logs in, and I can sympathize, because I never remember what I was doing in my last play session. But I’ve always looked to my quest list to find out what to do when I log in. Of course that only works while you’re leveling. After I reach the level cap, my enjoyment of an MMO usually drops off sharply, so maybe I should start looking at the achievement list.

Unfortunately the reward of simply getting an achievement is not particularly satisfying for me. To motivate me, I need rewards that are tangible to my character, at least when I’m soloing. (In group play, however, the rewards are secondary to the fun of defeating challenges with solid teamwork.) I look at achievements as more of a historical record than a measure of success or a reward.

To Syp’s point that modern MMOs are worse because they always tell us what to do and how to do it, just this moment I realized that I actually like that. In real life, nobody is ever telling me what to do. I have to figure everything out on my own, make every decision on my own, use my brain all the time, usually with little or no help. In the MMO, if I choose to, I can sit back and follow a path someone else has laid out for me, as if I’m a tourist. It’s the same sort of escapism I get from reading a book. If I’m feeling more motivated to shape the course of virtual events, I can always roll a healer.

Reading back over this, it sounds like I’m a strictly goal-oriented player, but in fact I too believe that the journey is a big part of the reward. If the tasks I have to do to get my loot and experience are not fun or interesting, then I’m very likely to stop playing and pick up another game. So for me, the journey has to be part of the reward. I think this is why I rarely ever get my crafting skill to the maximum-it is always so boring to raise your crafting skill, and you can never use anything you craft along the way. Only at the very end can you possibly craft some kind of epic item you can use. (I’m thinking of Rift here, the only game that I’ve ever gotten my crafting to the highest level.)

So to summarize, achievements didn’t destroy MMOs because sometimes it’s nice to be a tourist, but the journey still needs to be rewarding, and I wish crafting was more engaging.

P.S. The Ancient Gaming Noob asks, why can’t we turn off achievements? An excellent question. God knows there are options for every other thing in MMOs.

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