Why I Love and Hate Achievements

Why I Love and Hate Achievements

As I predicted in an earlier post, the newly-fledged Achievement System turned out to be more than just a cosmetic change to World of Warcraft. In fact, I was far too conservative in my predictions. Instead of adding another layer of accountability to progression mechanisms already existing in the game, the Achievement System has in fact created its own unique avenue for progression–casual style. Achievements are so appealing because anyone can work on them, alone or in a group, and there’s a reward for every little thing you do. Even, famously, picking your teeth.

The Benefits

There’s a certain appeal to accomplishments that are tracked, defined, detailed, and instantly accessible. I find myself reading through the achievement tooltip when I’m in flight or waiting at an instance for a raid to start. I am by no means immune to the siren call of Achievements. In fact, I’ve been spending all the casual time I have in pursuit of non-combat pets. I have 49 of 50 to date, and I’m sorry to report that no matter how many times I log in when I’m supposed to be working, Syd somehow just cannot get a Sinister Squashling, either through the boss event or through trick or treating. My failure of an alt, Marfisa, has gotten two of them in treat bags so far. Never fear, dear reader, the cute little skunk pet will be mine–as soon as the Darkmoon Faire rolls into town and I buy an ugly old frog.

Moreover, I think the Achievement System is a brilliant move on Blizzard’s part. Many casual players are coming back to the game right now to refresh their knowledge of their characters ahead of the expansion, and the tracking system–and the cleverly written little tasks–breathe a little life into old content.

However, Achievements are not all sunshine and rainbows. Briolante–who’s smarter than me most of the time–tried to tell me a few weeks ago that Achievements were going to be a real drag. In fact, I think his comment had a lot of expletives in it, but his major fear was that Achievements would become the new badge gear–the measure of success that our guild members would pursue, doggedly, until they got every single possible thing. It turns out that he was right, and, like badge gear, many of those achievements require a tank’s help. Hence, the expletives.

Now, it’s not as if Briolante doesn’t like to help people out. In fact, he does, but in moderation, and for things that make sense. I’m starting to feel a little resentful of Achievements myself, even though I haven’t done a single thing I wouldn’t otherwise do in pursuit of them. What, then, is the source of my angst? Read on, dear reader. . .

The Drawbacks

1. I feel like I’m spying on my guildmates. If someone is crazy enough to go explore all the corners of Winterspring, even the really inaccessible one over by the cave full of crazed Moonkin, I don’t want to know about it. Without wanting to, those achievement reports influence how I think about each of my guildmates. It’s almost like opening a bathroom stall door while someone else is in there–very, very uncomfortable. I know I could turn the alerts off–but I can’t make myself. What if I’m missing important information that could be used for the good of the guild?

2. There’s a little voice in my head telling me I’m lazy. I have a ridiculously low number of achievement points for someone who has raided as much as I have. Perhaps it’s my competitive personality, but whatever the metric, my instinct is to catch up. However, it would be hard to do that without running all those heroics and Zul’Aman again, and to be quite honest, I’d rather not. That goes for most achievements–world exploration, holidays, and reputation grinding included. The non-combat pet is my only exception, as I’m all about achievement if the reward is cute enough. However, I’m not interested in the proto-drakes or other flying mount rewards. Syd never uses anything but flight form–nothing compares to the grace and freedom of actually being a bird.

3. The structured Achievements have altered my understanding of the game world. What I love most about the world of the MMO is its open, anarchic nature. I actually like remote locations like Winterspring–where I spent a lot of time grinding rep with the Wintersaber Trainers–because they feel wild and unused, just like the remote corners of the real world. If the game is telling me to go to a certain place to get points, it just doesn’t feel like a hideaway any more. For the most part, when I was grinding rep in Winterspring, I was the only player there. I love the sense of a hostile world with only me in it. I suppose, in general, that I would rather that my “casual time” be as unstructured and solitary as possible. However, that’s me. I’m a raider, and I have plenty of structured things to do in the bulk of my play time.

4. I haven’t felt it too strongly yet, as healers are a dime a dozen in my guild, but there’s a good chance that, as the game moves on, guild members will start to post events–dungeons and raids–for achievement purposes only, and that they’ll need a healer. I tend to run instances following a very practical model. If there’s something that someone needs–that I recognize as valuable–I’m happy to help someone do it. If there were a mount, a pet, or a piece of gear involved, I’m glad to come along. However, I feel the same way about Achievement Points as I came to feel about Badges of Justice–it’s a bit of a stretch to do something unpleasant just for points. Now, if I or my groupmates could buy pink bunnies with those achievement points, I’d understand. But without that, I’m just not going to feel motivated to revisit old content. I like new things, and once I move on from an instance, I really move on. There’s a very good reason my alts haven’t been through Karazhan. I follow the same rule for things like holiday events. If they are fun or profitable, I participate. If not? I let it go.

So what can I do? As a player, I am going to strive to use the Achievement system as a tracking-only mechanism. Where possible, and pet skunk aside, I am not going to let the tooltip tell me how to play. That way, when I pore over my achievements panel, it will really let me track Syd’s journey as a character.