This essay begins with a confession, one that feels on-par with admitting that one collects rocks or baseball cards or a similarly useless class of artifacts: I like achievements. In games that I am already enjoying, I actively make an effort to get achievements provided it does not impede that preexisting enjoyment. In fact, far from being impediments, I have often found that certain types of achievements lead to goals and playstyles that enhance the experience of a game. And if nothing else, purposefully attaining 100% achievement completion for a game can be a method of paying tribute to a game of exceptional quality—or of feeling that one has reached a satisfactory conclusion in otherwise endless affairs like roguelikes, arcade-style games, or even normal linear games that one can not seem to cease replaying.
In this article, I shall be covering the three clearest ways that achievements can be used for potential gains in terms of player experience and engagement. My main example in making this argument shall be Spelunky 2, as I believe that it and its predecessor represent nearly perfect implementations of achievements across all three categories to be covered.
The garden of achievements, however, is not filled exclusively with roses. There are a great many weeds and poisonous herbs to be found growing there. Achievements are often an afterthought, tacked onto a game by weary developers at the end of long projects, and—even when implemented with intention—may nevertheless include tedious, unappealing, or even exploitative goals. Thus, in each section of this article, after presenting the possible virtues of each prominent achievement type (with reference to Spelunky 2), I will also cover the vices and corruptions to which each type is vulnerable (with accompanying examples from other titles).
Motivations to Spelunk: