Achievement Unlocked! Breaking the Illusion

October 5, 2008

So Little Big Planet has completely monopolized my time. I published my first level titled
The Sack Knight and I’m currently in the process of building another movie themed level. So the lack of regular postings I am going to simply label as a “vacation.”

Probably one of the biggest changes in gaming is the perceived necessity of rewards. The rewards I am referring to are what laymen have labeled as “space points.” This are either achievement from Xbox 360 games, trophies from the PS3, and even achievements in Steam games. I know the Stardock is planning similar functionality for their games as well.

It is strange the kind of rivalry these rewards create. And it probably draws back to the days of the arcade where competitiveness was a huge draw for players to consistently play the same machine to gain the top score. The creation of a “gamer score” is ingenious, especially for games on Xbox Live Arcade, is creating inconsequential competitiveness in gamers. This competativeness is no surprise as all games have this sort of winner and status within the notion of multi-play. But the idea that a gamer score has any baring on the player is ridiculous, but yet many player still attempt to increase their “status” in the community by the number of gamers and amount of achievements they garner through their play time.

This notion definitely reflects the sentiments of what is a “hardcore” gamer. Should I care that my Steam rating is “Eagles Scream!”? Of course not–personally I am a little ashamed that it is though. Gamer status is almost a meta-game in of itself as I know many friends that shamefully compete with each other to whom has the better gamer score. What is interesting is that it is an avenue of immersion into the gamer community and even of self worth. Taking the game to know levels of invisible corporatization as opposed to visible corporatization of sports today. It is a dangerous, almost capitalistic form of slavery to constantly be aware of your gamer status compared to friends. But while these forms of achievements are another form of immersion into the game, it also breaks the core sense of immersion in games as well.

This breaking of the illusion I am referring to are the pop-up notifications that appear from the console hub while playing a game. We have all seen this pop-up noteys when friends sign-in online, a download has finished, or when we unlock a reward. These have been a staple in multiplayer for many PC servers that keep track of stats. Only recently has this phenomenon broken into the single player experience. And it is very jarring, drawing attention to the fact that you are playing a game and muting the immersive illusion of interactivity within the game world.

So what we have here is a dilemma where the player trades one kind of immersive experience for another. Personally, I do not know which one I personally prefer. Games that depend on narrative such as Silent Hill or Fallout 3 will definitely suffer from the distraction. But games such as Wipeout or Skate will definitely benefit from these awards. But I also do not want these rewards to be turned off as well has have the luxury to know that if a friend signs-on that I would definitely like to know I have the option of setting up a game with them. We have come to a stage of spoiled gamers where we won’t everything but are unwilling to give-up this sense of connectivity and community for single-player experiences. Though it does not help the escapist illusion that most entertainment medias provide, it assists in the sense of worth and addictiveness that comes into play when we game.



  1. Fantastic…I actually played your level and I was impressed. I love the tumbler except it was initially difficult to squeeze into the drivers seat, but very well designed. Glad I was able to pick it up as a prize at the end.

    I just published my first level as well, but it still could use some minor adjustments. It’s called “Sackball Shootout” and it is an attempt at a carnival-style arcade basketball game and of course Sackboy is the ball.

    As for the main topic of this post. I believe your closing remarks could be achieved easily if there were more options surrounding notifications. As of now, I think the only option available is to turn off pop-ups during movies. A deeper customization with additions that allow you to see notifications about specific friends or delay achievement notifications and report them at dashboard would ultimately solve many of these illusive issues and would let the player choose their level of immersion.

  2. Thanks for the kind words omari. you should e-mail me your contact info so I can talk to you directly.

    I do agree with you that there needs to be more freedom with how to control achievements. But I must admit, I would never want them to be turned off 🙂 I do believe Steam has an option to turn off achievement notifications, and this should be the case with consoles as well. My discrepancy is that though they do break the illusion of immersion, I can’t help feel a sense of accomplishment when the notey pops up. My contention is that it has made the player, me in particular, schizophrenic when it comes to achievements hating them on the one hand but enjoying them on the other.

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