Few things send gamers into Pavlovian drooling like the *ba-dink* of an unlocked achievement. In an attempt to conduct a grand social experiment, I set this sound as my phone’s text message tone, but sadly I’ve yet to see anyone’s head dart upwards to it going off, looking around like a panicked gopher in public. The collecting of ethereal points is so attractive to some that it becomes the entire goal of playing games. Entire communities focus on these parcels of accomplishment, and like anything reasonably popular in the gaming scene, these achievement whores have earned a sect of detractors.
Common arguments against achievement whoring amount to little more than video game bigotry. Most display blatant double-standards when it comes to their ideas of acceptable reasons to play a video game (and generally poor enough grammer to nullify their own points). The concept is itself laughable – why would someone play a game unless it is fun for them? At that point one starts to state that someone is having fun for the wrong reason. Such assertions are so ludicrous that calling them out would be redundant. That being said, disputants of achievement whores do have some valid complaints.
Playing online with achievement whores can be genuinely frustrating. Being placed on a team with someone that refuses to use anything but the pistol in Gears of War has made me wish I could punch someone over standard TCP/IP. I’ve heard many shrill cries from 12 year olds in Halo 3 for not allowing my Ghost to get re-jacked, though wheeling around and running over said kids does provide reciprocal satisfaction. What’s more, their whoring somehow creates problems outside of the games, in the real world. They find genuinely annoying ways to play large volumes of games. Some cycle through games quickly at rental stores, reducing the available selection for others. The most annoying whores abuse return policies to "borrow" games with easy points. While these actions are concerning, they’re no more annoying than what the average human being gets up to. No, most detractors hate achievement whores on principle.
"Playing a game for the achievements is the wrong reason," a typical hater will say, though I’ve taken the liberty of cleaning up the grammar. "Games should be played to beat single player campaigns or to compete online. Gamers that play for achievements aren’t real gamers." When viewed from a certain level of ignorance, I can understand this viewpoint. Anyone who only started playing games in the last fifteen years might not remember when points and hi-scores were the only reason to play a game. Early arcade games had no story, no multiplayer, and often no end. The only progression came from besting a previous score, eventually working onto the high score board and earning the privilege of entering a three-character approximation of a foul word.
Microsoft’s online marketplace is called Arcade for a reason. They’ve re-introduced the concepts of early day arcades to modern-day gaming. Players can see what games their friends are playing – and even what level they’re on – just as if they were walking up behind them at an arcade cabinet. All XBLA titles automatically rank players in score, and achievements have added a meta competition over the entire platform. While achievement whoring may seem like a modern convention, it’s in fact a current re-imagining of gaming’s oldest pursuit.
Achievement whoring is in all ways analogous to playing old-school arcade games. Just as players might exchange tips on how to live longer and get more points in Asteroids, gamers form communities where they can exchange tips on how to unlock achievements and trade advice on which games offer faster achievements than others. To say that playing for achievements isn’t valid is just as ludicrous as saying that someone shouldn’t enjoy a racing game because that’s not what real gamers do. People find the strangest things enjoyable in games, proven by the fact that some people actually enjoy Monster Hunter. If someone can enjoy grinding for hours on a cramped PSP screen, someone else can enjoy cheesing a few points out of Open Season.