Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
 
Achievement Porn

Just a quick link to an essay on Achievement Porn by Pete Michaud. I couldn't agree more, especially with the key quote of "Any achievement in a video game is a “fake achievement.”"
Comments:
Mind you, it's dangerous to belittle the achievments of others based purely on the fact that they have no practical application.

For example, an 'achievement' (recognition of effort and skill/dedication in the field of) caber tossing might hold more weight for someone who scoffs at video game achievements, because it's a physical activity requiring exertion that they can relate to.

But that doesn't make it any less useless or impractical. it's still a recreational or competitive activity, not benefiting others or society. This can be extended to fields that have absolutely no impact now, or in the forseeable future, in my life. Like snowboarding. Arguably more practical than caber tossing in that you may actually be able to use that skill to save your life one day (in a highly unlikely scenario), but just as irrelevant to my experience. Both more so than MMO achievements.

Devaluing someone's efforts and sometimes genuine skill based on its highly subjective value is a slippery slope. It gets to the point where you might as well scoff just as much at the olypmics. Because seriously, shot-put? Really? An MMO achievement attained only by a very select few of highly-competitive, highly-skilled and highly-dedicated players (such as the Gladiator rankings in WoW's arena PVP) is far more impressive to me than being able to hurl a cannon-ball. No one of those skills is more valuable than the other. Just different.

You want to scoff at someone's Gladiator rank in WoW, I'll scoff at your gold medal for discus.
 
I think in the comments section of the article you linked to, there is a similar contention, that all achievement that is not related to survival is pointless.

For sure, if achievement in video games is pointless, then achievement in board games must be pointless (the line between video games and board games is surely small to the point of being non-existent). So all achievement in chess is pointless. And go. And monopoly. It all gets a bit blurry then, and the slippery slope comes in, and as Cam says, we end up saying the Olympics are pointless.

Mind you, the Olympics probably ARE pointless. London has them next, and I'm not sure they will provide any tangible benefit to us Brits, except a large bill and a security headache.
 
If we think they have a point, then they do. Maybe all my achievements do is give me a tiny bit of self-confidence. That's okay.

There's too much slippery between "achievements don't mean you're better than anyone else" and "achievements are utterly meaningless".
 
But look at it from the other side. If your achievement of having killed the Lich King has meaning, then the achievement of having collected 10 mini-pets has meaning as well.

You can't have it both ways, at the same time claiming that YOUR video game achievements are meaningful, and that the achievements of other people in the same game are worthless, just because you can't understand the sublime meaning of dancing naked on a mailbox.
 
Interesting, albeit ultimately vapid article.

The achievements and the way the achievements make someone feel are not fake, they are temporary. That's it. Things being "meaningful" or not is subjective nonsense no one can even discuss rationally. What we can say is that planting trees or giving blood, etc, have longer-lasting impacts than picking Peacebloom in-game, all other things being equal - if you could feel equally satisfied doing both, then yes, I can see the argument about it being better to do the former than the latter.

Of course, that's the rub, isn't it? Most everyone does not actually feel as good volunteering at soup kitchens than playing videogames or surfing Facebook. Hell, playing MMOs 20 hours/week is the average, but exercising 3 hours/week is out of the ordinary (at least in the US).

In any case, his essay is basically a motivational poster; it becomes obvious after reading the responses to comments, and then his linked follow-up article. Direct quote here:

Where do I draw the line between bullshit with positive side effects and meaningful work?

Answer: there is no line. It’s a matter of degree, and ultimately it’s up to you.


/cough

I think if most people wanted to do something meaningful (e.g. non-ephemeral), they would do something meaningful. WoW achievements do not tie anyone down more than the next episode of Dancing with the Stars, or 24-hour news broadcasts, or any random piece of fiction, or blog posts, etc etc etc. We do these things precisely because they are fake, easy, and meaningless.

I mean, you quit WoW, right? Are you going to be spending that time doing more "meaningful things," or just playing other videogames?
 
Well, just like someone would quite rightly lambast you for comparing your achievements to that of Michael Phelps, it is actually very easy to objectively quantify the value of achievements by examining A) competition/scarcity B) degree of difficulty (related to A) C) hours of effort required to complete.
By a similar token, world rank 1 gladiator is a more fair comparison to Phelps than your achievement for reaching level 85.

By this reasoning in a field of several thousand serious competitors and by analyzing the hours of effort required to compete with the top few hundred, you can compare to the hours of effort expended by more traditional 'known quantities' of athletics winners to approximate an equivalent.

It is actually possible to compare apples and oranges, but you have to specify whether you're objectively comparing nutritional value (especially in the context of gaining energy or losing weight/calories) by weight as opposed to subjective flavour.

And this is what so many are reluctant to do. As a knee-jerk when asked to compare apples an oranges, your average punter is going to pick their favourite flavour.

Pity these non-INTP/INTJs for they know not what they do.
 
I think part of the prob with video gaming achievements is that they don't (or can't) reward the player directly for actual useful achievements such as leadership, learning to play well with others or situational awareness.

So gaming achievements are fairly non-transferable and no one outside the game would ever understand them.
 
Just as achievements or any goal in a game is pointless, so is *playing* video games pointless. Right?
 
My problem with achievements is that they are everywhere. Just like the artifacts in rift. I cannot value something that numerous.

Otherwise, I welcome a goal in addition to "itemlevel".
 
As previous commenters have said, game achievements are no more or less meaningful than a medal at the Olympic games. In fact, if you follow this to its natural conclusion, it's possible to suggest that everything we do is self-gratifying and ultimately meaningless.

For the purposes of maintaining a level of sanity (see: Total Perspective Vortex), it's best to just get on in life and stop worrying how meaningful everything is.
 
I think that article, while well written (and a bit short), applies a lot more to facebook games than mmorpgs. (ie, dont take achievements in the literal sense)

Which brings me to ponder if achievements in wow were inspired by facebook, or the reverse? :)
 
This is what is haunting me about mmorpg.

The sense of achievement they offer leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

1st, because I know the learning curve has been tweaked so I feel good. Actually, I feel like a sheep when I play.

2nd, because it doesn't translate into the real world. Sadly, my gaming life has no connection whatsoever with my real life. 0 of my facebook friends are on battlenet. Yes, I'm that old.

Remember "Brave New World" where everyone eats soma, the healthy drug that makes you happy? Almost the same thing.

In a game where I'd make up my own goals to achieve, and where this would have an impact on my real life, I would be perfectly at ease with achievements.

I know that sounds esoteric. So let me get back down to earth:
I play at night because there's nothing else to achieve. And I feel bad about it.

Notes to the readers:
- If you're happy with mmorpg,
- If all your friends are in your guild,
- If you're proud of your achievements,
perfect.

But right now, I hunger for creating something that changes myself and others.

Would love to hear from you all about it. Just in case: zll (at) gmx (dot) at
 
I think you guys are adding the slippery slope in order to maintain your habit.

It's quite simple - shot put, discus, etc - they actually improve your body. YOU are improving. Maybe it'll come in handy - a bit like learning about literature or maths in school seemed pointless at the time but came in handy latter.

I'd actually pay that something like gladiator rank probably improves your ability to think quickly and deploy strategies.

But most of wow and alot of games with their achievements actually degrade you. When I resubbed with wow at one point, I called it to myself 'junkfood time'. Ie, you start looking like this: http://geekofriendly.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/south-park-wow-01.jpg

Not that I don't have junkfood every so often. But don't give me some slipperly slope that tries to justify junkfood 'Well, if your going to call a burger bad, then since it has lettuce your salad is bad too...it's all a slipperly slope!'. BS!
 
Callan S.,

I have never seen a shot-putter or discus thrower whose body I'd love to live in.
 
Fully agree.
It is absolutely ridiculous to chide other people goals in a game.
If people want to spend time in a fantasy setting doing things then more power to them. Arguing which of those activities has more value is pointless for it all boils down to personal taste.
However I do dislike people who do nothing but quests, spend endless hours in the chat, getting fishing achievements and what not but then complain they can't set aside 2 hours for a dungeon. Do these people ever go to the movies?
 
Callan - actually, competing at a high level in a lot of sports will damage your body, not improve it. Breaking your bones 20 or 30 times as top-level skaters or snowboarders do isn't good for you. Screwing your knees up with thousands of lunges as fencers do isn't good for you.

The amount of exercise you need to do in order to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system is actually shockingly low. Beyond that, you're doing it for fun.

General thoughts - all video game achievements are not equally hard. Some genuinely mark you out as world-class in a skill. Top FPS players, for example, really do work as hard as the top of the field in any other achievement sphere.

In my own experience, I wouldn't say that getting a character to 85 is hard, although it does require some persistance, but raid-leading a guild to a Lich King kill at 15% - that I'm proud of. That was genuinely difficult and required me to develop and hone new skils - and yes, even real-world useful skills, like management, morale-boosting, helping a team rapidly develop and improve, and similar things.
 
Discussions like this come back to Mazrach's hierarchy of needs:

Food: sorted
Water: sorted
Shelter: sorted
Self-esteem: let's go raiding!

Of course one can make a case that there are others in the world who lack the basics and one should dedicate one's life to helping them. But for most people life isn't a choice between playing video games and being like Mother Teresa, it's a choice between playing video games and watching TV.
 
The below is the most objective way of measuring achievements I could cook up in 15 minutes.

Feeling of achievement requires all of the following components:
1)excellence (either by perceprtion("Oh, you're strong!") or objective measure ("I just picked up 100kg, let's try 110."))
2)recognition of that excellence in the context of a social group you belong to.

The quality and realism of the achievement depends explicitly on the quality and realism of both components.

So, excellence in real life is more of an analog thing, most of the time, with quite an open range of possibilities and, what is importatnt, an open scale. In games this is limited, as games are based on math only and everything in them is ordered in finite numbers. If numbers are finite, a player can try to reach the limit and the closer he gets to the limit, the more he deserves to be called excellent in a game.

Ibn Laden could call killing millions of people an achievement. That mass kill excelled all other recent mass kills. Also - his closest surrounding social group percived that as an achievement. But every person is a memeber of multiple social groups, whather liking it or not, and all the groups affect that person in some degree. Ibn Laden was part of the world and could not isolate from al the people in the world NOT percieving a mass kill as an achievement, and probably did not have the lasting feeling of accomplishment.

For an excellent action to generate the feeling of achievement it needs to be recognized as one by all or at least most of the social groups that affect us. If you are an excellent kayaking champion for a school, all of the school, family and friends and probably your home town and church will recognize your achievments. What you need to do to see if you can truly achieve great things in WoW is see what degree of effect the social grups you're in have on you and how they percieve your excellence in WoW.
 
Also:
My mom hates me playing games and barely understands why would one waste his tie on them, but she would recognize the achievement of a polish SC player who actually won a lot of cash in the SC Tournament in Korea. She recognized the dream and the strength to make it true. I think that this is a REAL achievement - recognized excellence. You're either really well recognized or really good at things. Otherwise it's just fiction.
 
I guess you could classify some (most?) of the achievements in games as fake as they are by-products of you playing the game without any thought or effort towards the achievements themselves but I think it's fair to say those that take focused time and effort to obtain can be classified as real achievements.

As for the definition of 'achievement', there doesn't appear to be any mention of the means by which they are obtained, only that they require some form of additional effort.
 
"You can't have it both ways, at the same time claiming that YOUR video game achievements are meaningful, and that the achievements of other people in the same game are worthless"

True.

At the same time, I dont proclaim the acheivements of other people like "10 companion pets" is worthless - it simply has less relative value.

On the note of relative value, it pretty much sums up this entire slippery slope of a viewpoint.

The sad thing is most people cant just agree to disagree, or at least, agree to be relative.
 
I think the achievement being meaningless depends on content. I would say achievements in WoW which end with you obtaining a pet or mount or well, anything, are not entirely meaningless. You had a goal in mind which was likely to obtain the item which comes with the goal. Same for LotRO. I never felt their acheivements were entirely meaningless because you would get traits for them and some of these were necessary in your characters build. Or maybe you get a title. In LotRO you get a title for just about every achievement while in WoW, you just get some number that nobody looks at or cares about.

If someone was at the Olympics and just got a number instead of a medal or other trophy for snowboarding? To me that would be equally useless.

And I think that is what makes most WoW achievements (and yes, Rift's even now) meaningless to many of us. They typically give you nothing other than some number.
 
Achievements in games generally are meaningless since, if those games shut down, you quit, you delete the characters, ect.. then all those achievements are gone and nobody really knew or cared about them other then yourself.

However, using the Olympic example that has been brought up a few times now, a runner managed to run a dash in a record breaking time, or a gymnast goes out on the floor to perform even with a broken leg/foot and still manages to win a medal... Those things go down in record books and in history. Those achievements can never be taken away.

There is of course some overlapping however, such as gaming tournaments where only one person can claim a title of 'winner' among the hundreds or thousands trying. Even those however are fleeting moments, as I can't name a single gaming tournament winner. Meanwhile I still know the names of Michelle Quan and Michael Phelps even though I don't pay particular attention to the Olympics.
 
In the end, entropy overcomes energy, and we have the heat death of the universe.

It's all a fake achievement.
 
Just as achievements or any goal in a game is pointless, so is *playing* video games pointless. Right?

Actually I'd say that the point of video games is that they are pointless. Them *not* having deeper meaning enables you to relax, to try things out, to have fun. Because the goals don't have meaning, you can even have fun if you lose.
 
The other difference between an Olympic medal and MMO achievements?

Not everyone can get an Olympic medal. I know some MMO achievements are harder to obtain, but there is typically one clear gold medalist at each Olympic. Only "server-firsts" fit this description to me and even then, if you don't get a mount or title or some object to display in-game other than a number buried in the UI, it's meaningless.
 
Wow it amazes me tht people get so wound up about video game achievements. I think it demonstrates the addictiveness of MMO's.
You want to scoff at someone's Gladiator rank in WoW, I'll scoff at your gold medal for discus.


One could at least successfully argue the discus athlete extended his life by getting into shape to compete.

good luck finding a similar argument for video game achievements. They are games. By definition this means they mean very little to the real world. If it makes you feel better to blast athletes because thier activities have littl real world signifigance fine. It is true but doesn't change the fact that video game are also just entertainment and don't have much real world significance either. You might as well argue the sky is blue and that space is black. That argument is equally true and silly.
 
The other difference between an Olympic medal and MMO achievements?



And olympic medalists are a commodity to companies that use them in marketing campaigns. I've never seen a player from Nihilum or some other guild hired at a company to be used as a symbol for the company or non profit's gain.

As Cam pointed out it's no different than skiing, snowboarding, hiking, swimming, casual board games or even pen and paper RPG's. I can rationalize how any of them might be useful but humanity has the ability to rationalize anything. If we participate in the activity it must be important. Even when it isn't.
 
One could at least successfully argue the discus athlete extended his life by getting into shape to compete.

That's not an achievement, that would be a personal gain (if it was true, top athlets often die young / have physical issue from strain)

Personally, i find the gladiator title and the gold medal an adequate image. If there was enough sponsors to organize some wow olympics, you wouldn't even get much difference between the two, except in your head. Both are games, one has currently less social recognition.
 
I'm surprised that so many people discussing achievements seem to feel that it's only the gaming equivalent of olympic gold medals that matters.

What about lesser achievements? What about the newbie who gets a character to level 10? Is that pointless, or is it more like completing your first day at school -- an important rite of passage that is still an achievement.
 
@Sunfyre and @'Me'.

I suspect you've kind of missed the point I made relating to hours of effort, number of competitors, and scarcity in order to evaluate which achievements are objectively a fair comparison.

The REASON you know Michael Phelps' name, beyond that objective analysis, relates to what I mentioned about comparing apples and oranges. People consistently compare the flavour. People know sports. They've been around a long time. It's comfortable, it fits a space in their brain, thus, has a higher acceptance/following.

By contrast, I'd like to see anyone pull an Olympic shot-putter's name off the top of their head. Or have 12 million folks practicing shot-put in their backyards for three to four hours a day every evening. Or watching it.

This is the danger of comparing things.
 
I'm surprised that so many people discussing achievements seem to feel that it's only the gaming equivalent of olympic gold medals that matters.

why? my childrens are doing achievements since they play with wood cubes, but i don't feel the need to discuss them much, as it's quite a common feat :)

A gladiator (say 1/3000th player) is an achievement, a toon dinging 10 is not so, since even my young son can do it given a few days.
 
MetaManu: Because most people who play sports are not ever going to be competing in the olympics, or even interested in doing so. So why are we demanding that every MMO player should be the equivalent of an olympio sportsperson?
 
@Cam: There are fewer people with the Loremaster achievement than with the Kingslayer achievement. So would you say that this makes raiding the less meaningful activity?
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
1) Meaning is in your head. Nowhere else.

2) As a human you don't have complete control over your head. In fact, what other people seem to think has an impact.

3) By assuming that you have absolutely no control whatsoever over your head, we can define an objective 'meaning' of X:
How much other people, you care about, seem to care about X.

4) Since this definition is so hard to apply practically we can approximate the meaning of X by:
How many people seem to agree that X is meaningful.

This is the definition most people use. You can detect them by scanning for "it is just a game"-arguments.


But the fact remains: the universe is going to die a very cool death and you are meaningless - unless you care.

1) Which is exactly what I would suggest to use as a difinition: Do you care? If you do, it has meaning.
 
So according to Nils finding the cure for cancer is time spent exactly as meaningful as a video game. Fortunately I don't live in a world like that.

And if all meaning is just in your head, why are you so often asking for more meaningful content in games? According to your own definition that can't possibly exist.
 
So according to Nils finding the cure for cancer is time spent exactly as meaningful as a video game. Fortunately I don't live in a world like that.

Finding that cure is exactly as meaningful as you make it. I would care a lot due to the millions of lifes being safed.



---
And if all meaning is just in your head, why are you so often asking for more meaningful content in games? According to your own definition that can't possibly exist.

I ask because I do not have 100% control over my head. It were great if I felt that Tetris was as meaningful as a virtual world. But it just doesn't work. Some things make me care more about games, for example persistence. And the fact that I care directly translates into meaning.

As I wrote before:
Do you care? If you do, it has meaning.
 
Discus throwers have a shorter life expectancy than the general population, AFAIK. Of course, part of this is probably down to a lot of them using anabolic steroids.

On the other hand, what about that Norwegian kid who saved his sister by traunting a moose that was attacking her - as he had learned to do in WoW (heh, I don't know if this really happened or not, but aren't all our little applied morality lessons here based on some such doubtful story, e.g. someone who found a cure for cancer because he skipped raiding?)

Anyway the Sun will burn out one day, but all humans will be dead long long long before that. So don't beat yourself up. If you want to raid, I say go for it.
 
Tobold, it seems very difficult for you to understand anything subjectively, or even that subjectivity is such a huge factor for people. You can't objectify everything, that just realistically doesn't work. In any serious debate you would be laughed at for only using calculating logic in your arguments. It's like saying the tails side of a coin doesn't matter because it's not the top, it doesn't make sense.

"Achievement" falls under subjectivity. It is something you simply cannot objectify because without someone to give it significance, an achievement means nothing. So any accomplishment is solely relative within the mind of the person. What you're trying to do is generalize an entire population, which ironically is a logical fallacy.

If you say "Video game achievements aren't important to me", then that's perfectly fine. But "Video game achievements are fake achievements" is entirely different, and both realistically and definitively incorrect.

It's got nothing to do with a physical contribution to yourself or society. Last week my buddy ate ten hot dogs in a row. Ten. And not those flimsy little pansy hot dogs either, I'm talking big ones. And that's an achievement.
 
Breadline, I think it is you who has problems with understanding. I perfectly understand that people subjectively *feel* they achieved something in a video game. I certainly do.

But I'm calling that a fake achievement, because besides the dopamine rush in your brain, that achievement is worth nothing. It doesn't raise GDP, it doesn't help anyone, it doesn't even leave a trace in the real world. Turn off the game servers, and there is nothing at all left.

You can make yourself feel better by masturbating too, but believe me, that isn't an achievement either. That is why Pete Michaud talks about Achievement Porn.
 
Gerry Quinn,

I think it was a moose. The brave 12-year-old Norwegian boy first taunted the moose then feigned death. I doubt he used distracting shot for the taunt, so the guy must have been an altoholic :)
 
The bit about your not understanding was harsh, obviously you understand what subjectivity is. But you don't seem to give it enough credit.

Your argument against me is purely using external factors. Dopamine, GDP, the world, all that is outside of the fact that if someone feels like they've achieved something, then it is an achievement for them. There's no law saying an achievement has to help people, or that it can't be done virtually.

Turning off the servers has nothing to do with it. An achievement doesn't have to last forever. If my buddy died tomorrow he'd have still achieved ten hot dogs in a row. If the earth was destroyed by aliens or we all found out we're in the matrix, all our achievements still would have occured.

Saying an achievement has to make a difference is just you adding an arbitrary requirement to the definition, one that you've developed over time and consequently assumed that it's an inherent thing. Any sense of achievement is just that. No part of nature, no strand of DNA, nothing in the infinite cosmos has some fundamental law about accomplishments, just our sense of them.

I get that what you're saying is "Those achievements are worthless to society," but that's an entirely different thing than saying "Achievements in a video game are fake." Phrasing is extremely important. You're essentially taking a word, strapping on some extra rule, and deriding everyone that no longer fits your skewed definition. It wouldn't be such a big deal except that you seem to fully believe this new definition.

If you had said "Those achievements are worthless to society" it'd be your usual rant about how the big picture matters most and kids these days don't care about what you think they should and I'd have no issue with you and your opinion. But you didn't say that. You said you agreed with the quote "Any achievement in a video game is a fake achievement" which is claiming ignorance of what an achievement really is and how it can be different for every person.

I'm also curious, do you think all forms of entertainment have fake achievements or just video games because they're virtual? Like what about a baseball player who just wants to win the World Series?
 
I understand, that most of you tl;dr my first comment. Read two next paragraphs, if you will.

Let's call people you care about and/or that cara about you Your Contexts for the purpose of this post, and let's call the sum of the mutual care for/of your every Context this Context's Effect.

Things you do are an achievement only as much as they are perceived as Achievements by your Contexts, with thehigh Effect Contexts couting more.

The world does not percive WoW Achievements as such, if you care about the world, you won't feel achieving things in WoW. If you care most for your family, and all of them play WoW and recognize Achievements there, you will feel like achieving great stuff in WoW.

Whatever blabbing you have on subjectivity, if something feels like an achievement to your Contexts, then it leaves a trace, it has meaning and will be an achievement.

I played pnp rpgs half of my life with my friends. I have a great collection of memories from that time period, memories shared with that group of friends. We refresh these memories by retelling thee stories on numerous occasion. It has meaning to us, so that is what it's worth. It's a great achevement for that group. Sure, for the 'world' it isn't.

What you are trying to say is that you want to find out if game achievements are achievements for the 'world'. Hell they aren't, unless you win a CS tournament or scam EVE Online people for $4,500. The wide world will not recignize you optimal DPS or Healing Rate as an achievement, I am sure the starving people in Africa won't as well as the eskimo.

Achievement is not subjective to you, but it is completely dependant on your Contexts. If you consider yourself part of the world, you automatically feel, that playing games is not an achievement. If you think small, as being only part of your school/class, your band of collegues and the online guild and do not have a good bond with your family of non-WoW players, then you can actually bielieve, that Game achievemetns are real. And they are, in your world.

Can't really put it out more bluntly.
 
@Bezier

I agree with most of that, and it's all very well described, but aren't your Contexts fairly subjective to you in the first place? The people with similar viewpoints align with yours because of your own original views. Your Contexts would be people who share similar interests. We give significance to the people whose opinions we depend on and they in turn confirm those opinions. The whole reason why you have memories of achievements with friends is because you all share a similar subjective viewpoint. If I feel like I achieve something in a game then it is because the gaming population accepts that as an achievement, but I wouldn't have looked to them for confirmation without first understanding that I had accomplished something.

So what I'm saying is: even if the effect of an achievement is dependent on one's Contexts, isn't the significance of those Contexts' opinions originally chosen subjectively by you?
 
@spinksville, @bezier:

You're right, achievements are only important to the extent that your environment thinks they are.

I've never realized how much our sense of achievement depends on others. Wow, just...wow.
 
@Breadline, @kyressar

Sure, but in some way all people in the world are your Contexts. So, the world champion in Ski-Jumping is more recognizable as an achiever then a world-champion in chess of Counter Strike. It's not the effect of the closest enviromet, but the wider world.
 
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