Monday, May 30, 2011

A journey of one thousand XP begins with a single achievement

In an earlier post, I referenced (in, what is necessitated by the nature of this blog assignment, something becoming an exercise in recursion - or perhaps redundancy or repetition) a series of articles at Gamasutra addressing the nature of "achievements" in games. I took a look at how one aspect of the referenced article examined achievement motivation and use in a pseudo-psychological paradigm (which, given my educational background, is an area of interest to me). I'd like to take another look at the third portion of this Gamasutra series (the previous post addressed the second) through the same lens, extending off of the end of my previous post's penultimate paragraph.

In that portion of my previous post, I mentioned that achievements may be used to "train" (and I use this word loosely) emergent behavior in a player of a video game. In the third portion of his feature The Cake Is Not a Lie: How to Design Effective Achievements, Lucas Blair addresses a similar idea: "Incremental and Meta-Achievements." What these are, effectively, is a practice of including "meta-wayfinding" as a game design element, or, as the author puts it, a trail of breadcrumbs. What's fascinating here - beyond the self-serving reinforcement of my own extrapolation of the topic - is the seeming lack of use of this as a teaching tool.

The author mentions that this can often be used to break large tasks down into discrete, more easily achievable subtasks -and this is true. I don't know that I would have originally thought of it like that, but it's a great way of looking at achievements or markers of progress that are repeated, only at higher increments or values (like, for example, a "kill 100 enemies/kill 200 enemies/kill 500 enemies" achievement "tree"). However, it's the other potential means of using achievements that I feel is maybe less prevalent in games: the idea of taking already-discrete tasks, awarding achievements for them, and then awarding an achievement for the completion of a grouping of them. Provided the player has a clear knowledge ahead of time - and this is important - of those tasks, this could be a great way to simply kill tutorial work. Alternatively - because there can be a very valid argument made for not wanting to award achievements for the menial sort of work that goes into early-game learning - these sort of achievement groupings could be used as a tool to gradually introduce mechanics over the course of a game or even to introduce complex, later-game mechanics without breaking the flow of the story to run a tutorial segment.

For the all the simplicity of achievements and perhaps lack of utility as a world-building tool, the author of the abovementioned article makes what I believe is a set of very good points about the potential un- or under-explored uses of achievements as tools in designing an effective game experience. I think that there's a great deal that could be explored if something like this were focused on as a more primary design element rather than the tacked-on piece that it often seems to be.

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