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Why I Hate… Achievements

Points of view.

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.

At release, the absence of online achievements in COD4 was a glaring omission. In retrospect, I respect the decision.

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.

How many Mass Effect fans only played the game that second time through just to get the Long Service Medal Achievement?

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.