Achieving Something Better

Last night I stayed up playing X-Box Live Uno until 2am. I needed to get the last achievement in the game, an achievement requiring 40 wins.  I mean, I NEEDED TO. On Friday, I had decided that I would get the achievement by the end of the weekend. With 30 wins under my belt, it seemed like a reasonable goal.  I played it a lot over the weekend, as much as a grown-ass-man can justify playing virtual cards with strangers, but to no avail. Last night, I was still 8 wins away from the 40, and my reasonable goal had turned into an impossible one.

I lay in bed reading with my girlfriend, feeling the next morning fast approaching. I found myself not paying attention to the words on the page.  My mind was somewhere else.

“I think I’m going to get up and play some Uno,” I said to her, the relationship-equivalent of slamming down a green reverse card.

“Okay,” she said, smiling. Behind that smile, I guessed she was holding a blue skip, just waiting for the right time to use it on me.

And before the green light of my 360 could do its little flutter, my mind was reeling with fancy, dreaming of the perfect hand (4 yellow numbers, 2 red numbers, and a wild). I was hooked, all because of an achievement. And yes, it’s a game about virtual cards, with little skill involved. For more of what I think of this game, watch this video featuring me, Uno, and a lot of vodka:

But I needed this last achievement. I would have given up on the game long before, but the allure of that little Uno badge appearing on my completed games panel, it was just enough to keep me playing ranked match after ranked match, slowly trying to climb my way to 40 wins. My avatar would have this on his completed games panel, or I would not sleep.

I didn’t used to be this guy. I’m still not this guy. I know guys who are obsessed with their gamerscore, we all know these guys. These are grownups, grown-ass-men who buy Hannah Montana: The Movie: The Game on day one, for both 360 and PS3, because they hear the achievements and trophies are easy.  They spend hours of their lives, trying to extend an e-peen that no one but them and their ilk care about.

Microsoft doesn’t even care. They invented this thing — and by invented I mean they ripped it off from the casual game market — and yet they seem to just let it sit there. Maybe they care, but fear mucking about with anything.  They’ve made a system that connects with gamers, a system that a gamer can either ignore or obsess over, and although it’s a simple system, in its current state it works. I play games, I get points, my friends can see those points. I can compare my points on individual games to my friends points on those same games.  It’s a system that supplements all of the social gaming systems that exist on the 360, and together they Autobots-Assemble into the reason most of us play cross-platform games on the 360 instead of the PS3.

But achievements could be so much better.  Last night, I was obsessing over that last achievement so that I could get that little Uno icon on my profile page. But does anyone even see that? No. These badges should be displayed proudly. They show to my friends and enemies and anyone else who cares — they show the world which games I was passionate about. These are the ones I didn’t give up on when the new hotness in electronic entertainment rapped its knuckles on my door demanding my time. These are the games I cared enough to go back to a year or two after finishing them.

I should be able to compare all of my achievements with all of my friends achievements in new ways, I should be able to stack friends side-by-side-by-side. I should be alerted when a friend gets an achievement in a game I recently played. Right now, I use Giant Bomb’s excellent achievement tracking/communication features, but I shouldn’t have to go to an outside site to give me what Microsoft should give me on their own platform.  I now have Facebook, Twitter, and Last FM buttons on my dashboard, buttons I will rarely use, but my friends list hasn’t been improved since the NXE launched.

Somewhere out there on the horizon is the promise of Avatar Awards, a promise that has yet to solidify into anything real. I have a Halo Monitor buddy who zooms around my head, the only Avatar Award that I’ve unlocked thus far. I hear there’s something in ‘Splosion Man. Why isn’t every company rushing to patch their old games with Avatar Awards?  I just spent a weekend playing hand after hand of Uno to get a badge that no one but me sees. Imagine what I would have done for a deck of virtual cards for my avatar to hold. In the same way that it is a requirement to have 1000 gamerscore points in a game, Microsoft should require developers to include an Avatar Award with every game. The only reason they don’t, I guess, is because customers getting virtual duds for free would cut down on purchases in the avatar marketplace. That said, people playing more games on your system can’t be a bad thing for you, old corporate buddy.

Now I want to say, it took me a year or two to even notice my gamerscore. I still play games for the games. But I can’t help but feel the encroaching demand of achievements and trophies. As I get older, maybe I just need something more to pull me into the game. Or maybe, after wasting another weekend of my ever-shortening life in front of a glowing screen, I just need that little nod from an unseen gaming god, a few fake points or a virtual t-shirt. “You’re not wasting your life,” those points say. “Look, I am points. Come here, let me hold you.”

And I let those points hold me. Through the times when a game is less than great, I let those points hold me. Through the times when I should be playing something new, but I’m too broke to afford the hot new thing? I let those points hold me. I can go back to an oldie-but-goodie, and I can try to go for those last few achievements. I’ll never be the guy who plays a bad game for achievements, but it appears as if I am becoming the guy who checks the achievements list when he first boots up the game, just so he doesn’t miss anything. And for games I like? For games I love? Achievements give me new ways to play, a way to show my friends the commitment I’ve made to a particular gaming gem, and a little badge to hold me through the night.

At 2:05am, I unlocked that last achievement in Xbox Live Uno, and don’t tell my girlfriend, but I let it spoon me all night long.

Xbox Uno Points

Adam Dorsey


One response to “Achieving Something Better

  1. Curtis Retherford

    I once read a review of a game that referred to achievement games as “games for bottlecap collectors,” which sums up my feeling exactly.

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