Remember that old cliche parents wheel out to teach their kids about peer pressure? "Well, if [insert childhood friend's name here] jumped off a cliff, would you do it?"
Here I am, a grown man, standing on the edge of a cliff with an unshakeable determination to hurl myself off it. There's not a moment's hesitation as I walk forward, plummet 30 feet and break both my legs.
Just to confirm they are indeed both broken, an icon of an unhappy man appears on the left of the screen, complete with two flashing lower limbs. However, this impairment is only a temporary setback.
I delve into my stockpile of stimpacks and heal both appendages, returning myself to peak mountain climbing condition. An arduous trek back to the summit is followed by another plunge to the rocky surface below, continuing the cycle of deranged lemming-style lunacy which has kept me busy for the last half-hour.
The masochism finally ends when I hear a familiar pinging sound. At last.
As Achievement-whoring fans of Fallout: New Vegas may have surmised, I've just unlocked the "Stim-ply Amazing" award. This is earned for healing 10,000 points worth of damage using stimpacks. Having played a fairly competent game I was a good 8000 points short, even after 80 hours of roaming round the Mojave Wasteland. Hence the cliff jumping.
All in all, a pointless exercise. Yet a brief feeling of satisfaction washes over me as I tick another Vault Boy icon off the list and take a further step towards Achievement completion. I made it in Fallout 3, I'll make it in New Vegas. I hit the Guide button to see what's next.
"Desert Survivalist - heal 10,000 points of damage with food."
Reading this sparks a torrent of verbal profanity the likes of which hasn't come out of my mouth since the last time I played multiplayer Mario Kart. Yet another excruciatingly mindless task which is at odds with the very definition of the word "achievement"?
I head back up the cliff.
But along the way, I can't help wondering how I got here.
Back in the glory days of PlayStation 2, a good chunk of my free time was spent buying games, completing them and then moving on to the newest releases - all the while amassing a colourful collection of save file icons on my memory cards.
Ever since Oblivion came along and seduced me into unlocking all its Achievements, I've felt compelled to make that extra effort with certain games. Perhaps this is part of the problem, because looking back at Oblivion's original list of 50, it essentially comprises an adventurer's guide to Cyrodiil.
Rewarding the player for completing the Dark Brotherhood side-quest is an example of Achievements done well; it enhances the overall experience while pointing out something I might have otherwise missed. (As it happens the only thing I hate about Oblivion is the irksome level-scaling, which is a rant best saved for another time.) It's clear that some developers use Achievements to provide incentives for those who want to see everything.
Others lay down the gauntlet by drawing up a list of crafty challenges. These range from the tricky yet achievable (such as "Tenpeat" in Super Street Fighter IV, which requires you to win ten ranked matches in a row) to the genuinely remarkable (like "XXL" in Fight Night Round 4, awarded for besting the current online Heavyweight Championship). But these trials often get distorted into pointless, frustrating tasks.
The New Vegas damage Achievements are a prime example. However, back in September I participated in another bout of unassisted freefall which had me questioning the point of it all.
The game was Halo: Reach and the Achievement was "If They Came To Hear Me Beg". Sounds simple enough - "Perform an assassination against an Elite to survive a fall that would've been fatal." You're unlikely to pull this one off in normal play, but going back and setting up the optimum conditions shouldn't be too tricky. Right?
Wrong. Earning this Achievement is an absolute nightmare. The words "stay low, let me draw the heat, just deliver that package" are forever etched into my mind like a disfiguring scar - because that's the line you hear after every agonising reload.
It's not like flattening a Goomba; that would be too easy. Instead you have to angle the trajectory of your jump precisely while pandering to Bungie's hidden variables. 99 leaps out of 100, the result is a fatal faceplant.
It took me half an hour of repeated attempts to get it right. One dedicated gamer I know threw in the towel after an hour, full of rage and loathing.
The biggest problem I have with Achievements like this is that the journey isn't its own reward. While completing the solo campaign on Legendary is a genuine test of skill, playing a game of pogo piggyback is a tedious chore. I did it, eventually, but what did I achieve beyond wasting my own time?
This is a question I've often asked myself when looking back at my Achievement hunting career. There are certain highlights I'm proud of - completing Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty on Legendary, Insane and Veteran difficulty settings, for instance. But I've also squandered hours and hours on brain-numbingly banal activities.
As I trawl through my list of unlockables from top to bottom, one Achievement stands out from all the rest as the most heinous example of time wasted.
When Dead Rising was released in 2006, I fell in love with its sandbox brutality and quirky humour. I played the game well beyond the level-cap, snapping up almost every Achievement along the way. Almost.
Cut to two years later. With the deadline for my university dissertation fast approaching, I decided there had never been a better time to go for the final Achievement: "7 Day Survivor".
This behemoth of an award requires you to play the Infinite Mode for 14 hours straight without dying. You might expect an epic ordeal of zombie survival, but in reality this boils down to an endurance test - 14 hours of holing up in safe locations punctuated by periodic supply runs.
At the time it seemed like a hardcore gaming challenge, but what the Hell did I expect to gain from this? A standing ovation the next time I walked into a Gamestation?
In the end, my grievance with Achievements (and their Trophy brethren) is that the end doesn't always justify the means. I have no problem with those which reward the player for steady progress or challenge them to feats of gaming finesse. But so many Achievements are frivolous, wasteful indulgences.
There's no doubt the Achievement system is a clever idea. I can understand why it's a compulsory feature in Xbox 360 games. It provides gamers with the incentive to keep on playing and it makes business sense.
All the same, I've never seen Gamerscores as anything other than arbitrary numbers. And I'm starting to care less and less about my record of so-called Achievements.
I play a broad range of games because I enjoy the immersion, challenge and entertainment they offer. With the industry continuing to release so many great games which amaze and captivate, finding the time to play them all is an achievement in itself.
So my New Year's resolution is to layoff the Guide button. I'm going to focus on enjoying games in a more natural way. Because no matter which way I look at it, life's too short to be spent jumping off cliffs.