Jonathan Liu writes in Wired’s GeekDad (Which I love) that the world is suffering from the Xbox 360’s creation and prolifiration of Achievements in Video Games. You know what Achievements are, right? They are these little tiny rewards you get in a game when you do something or you do a series of somethings. For example, there is an Achievement in Alan Wake where you get an, uh, an Achievement for collecting all of these Coffee thermos bottles. You get two, actually. One for getting 25 and one for getting all 99 of them. When I was playing the game I was thinking, this is stupid. Why should I get all these? I think that is part of Liu’s question in the article. Maybe. I could be wrong. It is early.
The most frightening example of real-life achievements, though, has to be Jesse Schell’s talk at the DICE Summit in February this year. You may have seen this already, but Schell predicts a time (in the not-so-distant future) when technology has become cheap and ubiquitous enough that almost everything we do will be a sort of game. Brush your teeth? Ten points! Brushed your teeth every day this week? Bonus! You get points for taking the bus or walking, points for paying attention to ads on your TV and having Dr. Pepper five days in a row. Schell ends on an optimistic note about how all of this record-keeping and game-playing might make us better people. But it doesn’t change the fact that the world he envisions is one in which our actions are chosen by the points we get for them. Read here.
Liu asks, and rightly so, whether gaining Achievements, in a video game or in real life, distracts us from the end goal. The end goal is, of course, beating the game or beating the shit out of life. What if a game didn’t give me an achievement for beating it? Would I beat it? In the case of Alan Wake, yes, surly I would. And, even before Achievements, great games pushed me to an ending. What I’m finding now is that I have no reason to beat a game twice if I have all the Achievements I need. Is this how it works in real life? Do I not do something simply because I don’t have to, because there is no incentive, because I’ve already dealt with it? Why go back to school? I already have all my degrees! Liu brings up good questions, but these questions existed way before my 360. If anyone is to blame, and I’m not saying anyone is, we should blame High School. 13 years of telling us that getting a High School Diploma will fix our lives and then you get the damn thing and you might as well use it as a Frisbee. Yeah, that is depressing. Sorry. Let me finish up my coffee.