Before the time of achievements, we played our games untainted. There wasn’t some set of pre-defined goals that would occasionally pop up on our screen or for us to delve into on each and every title. Instead, we just played the game for the sake of playing the game, without the need of an additional list of goals. But we don’t live in that world anymore (barring Nintendo) and nearly every game being released in this day and age comes with a set of achievements.
On the surface, achievements might seem like an additional feature that those who are interested can take part in, and those who are not can ignore. But achievements are more devious than that, and regardless of whether you ignore or embrace them, they affect how you play for better or worse.
Achievements exist in a duality, with having both positive and negative effects, depending on who you ask. The same achievement for one can be seen as a positive aspect of a game worth pursuing, while for another it may ruin the experience of the player. Take for example games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls, ones that are not only extremely difficult but are focused on exploration and discovery. Depending on the achievement and who you ask, they will affect each player differently.
Let’s take a quick look at one of the earlier achievements in Bloodborne as an initial example:
Father Gascoigne is the first required boss the player must defeat before moving further into Yharnam. Receiving an achievement for defeating him is somewhat of a given and expected. Of course, you will receive an achievement for defeating a boss in a game where bosses are difficult, it is just par for the course. But, how it affects people is different. I am sure many will see the existence of this achievement as something that neither has a positive or negative impact towards their gameplay; that doesn’t apply to everyone, however. Some may see this simple achievement as a negative because it reveals one of the bosses the player is expected to beat. From the point of view of a new player to the game, who doesn’t know the significance of a particular achievement, it may create a larger negative impact than expected because of its unknown value.
It is the small items like these that may seem insignificant but have a surprising effect on the player. Something as simple as revealing a future boss can be enough to negatively impact one player’s enjoyment of a game. This becomes only increasingly apparent with achievements that the player may be (or become) aware of that they have no hope of achieving once they learned of it. To use Bloodborne once more as an example, let’s take the three achievements surrounding the ending of the game (spoilers):
In this case, the effect on a given player can be wildly different. Upon learning that your ending was one of three endings and that there are achievements for each, players will react differently. Some will see the aspects of three different endings to peruse as a new goal to chase, adding further value to their second or third playthroughs they intend to make. Others may have zero intention of completing the game again, and knowing that there are three endings, with each having achievements, may instead give the feeling of missing out or devaluing their accomplishment. For another group, they may actively seek a specific ending that they want or believe is the correct one, and actively seek out the requirements to receive that ending.
In either case, it’s not just simply multiple endings existing that causes the different effects on players, it’s that in combination with achievements that actively assign additional value through specific actions that exacerbate this problem. You can also see this in achievements that are focused on a specific task that isn’t exactly clear (within the game) where you can accomplish it. In the past, these may have been known as easter eggs, hidden away as something to stumble upon or to find out through friends (or the internet). But with achievements existing, this fun to find items can quickly into something that players will actively look for an attempt to find, especially knowing that it exists in the first place, altering their gameplay in the process. For some games, this can be seen as a real boon and actually aides in gameplay. Take for example the Stanly Parable, a game designed about repeating it over and over again in different ways to yield different results. By having achievements, it actually can help guide the player to different outcomes and incentivizing players to seek them out. But again, depending on the player, this can have a positive or negative effect.
In each of these cases, the existence of achievements has an effect, it simply depends on who you are and what type of achievements they are if it has a positive or negative effect. Having an option to turn achievements off or to hide them still does not remove this from fact. For the mere existence of those achievements and knowing what they may or may not have, will alter a player’s enjoyment depending on how they do or don’t interact with them. Consider if, as a player, you feel you wish to hide achievements from being displayed and the act of doing that. By even having to do so, you as the player are still aware of their existence because you desired to hide them, affecting how you play. It could happen numerous ways with varying levels of effect depending on the situation. The point is not what the effect is, but rather that their existence has an effect on gameplay.
For some, achievements may be seen as a list of goals needing to be completed. Some may find them enjoyable depending on the game. Others will simply ignore them, but still be aware they exist. Finally, another group will despise them and try to avoid them at any cost. It doesn’t matter what the achievements are and for what game for there to be an effect. Again, it’s simply their existence that has an effect. So to those that say “you can just ignore them” or “don’t worry about them if you don’t like them” to them I say, you can’t. Just as you can’t any other aspect of a game and assume it doesn’t have an effect, it does, no matter how small.