About a month or so ago, I had settled down for an evening of fun with a solo run of Borderlands (PC). And let me tell you, FPS Doug would have been proud: BOOM, headshot...BOOM, headshot...... BOOM, HEADSHOT!!! Running through the world with my sniper rifle and an enemy in my sights (I might have run faster holding a knife, but that's beside the point), eviscerating bandits left and right. While racking up my kill count, I decided I should probably continue on with the story. Pulling up my HUD revealed that I had a new mission on the Trash Coast. Not having been there yet, it sounded pleasant enough, so I checked my map and proceeded onward. I clicked on the transition point between zones, and once the new zone loaded, I got the "Achievement Unlocked: Discovered Trash Coast" pop up from Steam letting me know that I had, well, achieved something, and that I apparently should be applauded, recieve a medal and have this accomplishment posted on my page for all to see. Because, you know, the loading page saying "Trash Coast" wasn't enough to let me know I had, quite literally, arrived.
But what about my headshots? My eviscerations of the enemy, my smooth crit skills and melee face stabs? What do they all mean when mixed with these lackluster, "I played the story, yay!" achievements? Mixing skill-based achievements with story-based achievements waters down the sense of accomplishment for all achievements across the board.
Instant gratification is the way of the world these days. People want what they want now, not later, and they want to be acknowledged now, not later. This has become abundantly apparent through the take off of various technologies like texting and email, along with social networking "look at me" sites who shall remain nameless at this time (but you know who you are!) putting information at the hands of consumers when they want it, along with instant validation and attention. Gamers are no exception and also want gratification and acknowledgement from their fellow gamers, and this is taken into account by developers via in-game achievements.
The idea behind achievements is two fold: one, it gives the gamer gratification that they did something cool in game and gives them their own gold star, and two, it is usually combined with some live service where the achievement is posted for friends of the gamer to see and be oohed and ahhed at. Every gamer will internally utilize this differently, while some will simply enjoy obtaining a large number of achievements, others are more concerned with the kinds of achievements.
When you actually start looking at the achievements for many games, though, you start seeing that a lot of them are based on simply passing a part of the game which you are required to do in order to finish said game, like beating a boss or "discovering" a new map area that you would have to go to in order to proceed with the story...to finish the game, which I call story-based achievements (this includes game-based objectives you would have to try hard not to accomplish like buying a few items and such), and feel more like place markers to tell your friends where you are in the story rather than an actual achievement. Then there are the achievements that acknowledge the gamer for doing something that was not required to progress the game, such as killing enemies in a certain way or completing auxiliary or little-known side quests, which I call skill-based achievements.
Take Borderlands 2 as an example: of the 50 or achievements listed in a search, about half of them are story-based, which means only half of them are skill-based. I believe the reason behind this is to give the gamer instant gratification and a pat on the back because that's what most people want. But getting pop ups showing achievements where about half of them are relatively meaningless really waters down the sense of accomplishment for getting that X number of headshots, or defeating so-and-so without any teammates receiving damage. And the number of story-based achievements feels like it's getting worse. When I look at my trophies (analogous to achievements) for Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, I feel like I've accomplished something with most of my trophies, so when a pop up shows me I got something, I'm actually excited, and it's something I might actually care for someone else to see.
Sadly, a certain sense of accomplishment has been lost with today's achievements. Today, everyone must win and feel good about themselves to the point where achievement no longer feels so individual. We don't need "no gamer left behind", and while it's good to have a few achievements for everyone, it would feel more like an achievement if there weren't so many of these "I played the story, yay!" achievements out there. I'd like to once again be really proud to show my achievements off without having to wade through the bile.
In short? I don't need another cookie to feel good about myself as a gamer.