Question: Achievement points and skill badges…yay or nay?

Posted by on Jan 21, 2013 in Blog, Modeling/Prototyping

Submitted by Sonja Sapach

As we work through the various aspects of the Gaming the Edition project, an interesting point of contention has arisen; should we include an achievement point or skill badge type system in our prototype? What are the potential benefits,and the potential fall-backs of introducing such a system? I am still not sure where I stand on the issue and want to take this opportunity to hash out a few of the pros and cons of rewarding participants in this way.

If you have read my previous blog then you will know that I am a big fan of MMORPG’s, specifically World of Warcraft. The game currently has well over 2000 achievements that can be…um…achieved. I am guilty of going out of my way to complete many of these achievements, especially the ones that award a title, mount, or other gift upon completion. I very proudly display various titles before my avatar’s name so that others can see what I have accomplished. As mentioned previously, my main avatar’s name is Lenoraven, and I regularly rotate between “Lenoraven the Explorer”, “Ambassador Lenoraven”, and “Lenoraven Jenkins”. I spent some especially tedious hours gaining the “explorer” title as it involved visiting every location in the game. I had to fly around the various continents looking for those evasive parts of the map that seemed next to impossible to find. And yes, I admit, I ended up turning to Google to find one or two particularly challenging co-ordinates (but shh, don’t tell anyone). I think it is important to note here that not a single other player has ever acknowledged any of the titles as being extra-ordinary or even worth commenting on. As I am currently in the ‘end-game’, it is rare to encounter a player who doesn’t have “ambassador” or “explorer” attached to their name. And as I sit here typing, I am wondering to myself, “why did I even bother?” What does the “explorer” title prove? That I am a skilled navigator that was able to brave the wilds of Azeroth to uncover unknown secret locations? Not really. Though I did fight through many of the in-game locations during my adventures, once I achieved flight at level 60 (and cold weather flying at level 68) I could soar above most of the danger zones, unlocking various locations without having to set foot on the ground. What the title ultimately proves is that I have been playing the game long enough, and have had enough patience (boredom, stubbornness?) to actively complete the achievement and earn the reward.

While the above story about my experience with “the explorer” achievement isn’t overly positive, a few good things have come from it. First, I am a member of a supportive, casual guild who is alerted to my achievements as I obtain them. In order to gain “the explorer” achievement, the player completes smaller achievements involving full exploration of specific parts of the map. It would be like asking someone to explore the entire USA – in order to do so, they must explore each of the individual states. They would obtain “the explorer” achievement acknowledging the entire quest, however, they would also gain a small number of achievement points for exploring all of Maine (for example). Nine times out of ten, when I completed one of those smaller achievements, at least one member of my guild would chime in with an acknowledging “grats” (congratulations). There is something inherently rewarding about having a tangible way to share you accomplishments (even the minor ones) with others who are involved in a similar situation. Second, completing the achievement gave me a good reason to explore parts of the game that I may never have otherwise. In my quest to discover all of the various locations, I flew over some beautiful, strange, wondrous places that I never would have come across without good reason. Third, it gave me something to do. Okay, this one requires some explanation. What I mean is that in a game like WoW there are a plethora of quests to complete, monsters to battle, skills to master, and people to socialize with. Yes, there is always ‘something to do’, but often, you are being guided toward a certain action which is directly related to your avatars development and advancement in the game. Sometimes, at least in my experience, it is nice to step away from the narrative, progressive aspect of a game and do something different. Completing the “explorer” achievement allowed me to wander and smell the figurative roses without feeling lost or as though I was wasting my time. Yes, our imaginations can provide us with reasons. As a child I remember challenging myself to avoid getting any coins in Super Mario Bros. – it was a way to continue to play while doing something different. The “explorer” perk is the game’s way of saying “I bet you can’t do this!” I, for one, love taking up these unnecessary challenges.

I can understand the arguments against having achievement points or skill badges. As mentioned above, it hardly seems like an achievement if everyone can do it. Achievements can limit the freedom of an open world by dictating specific guidelines about ‘casual’ play. There can be increased competition between players in an attempt to covet as many points or badges as possible. They can be seen as manipulative tools created by the game designers to encourage players to spend more time in a game, and, in a case like WoW, spend more money on subscription fees. I acknowledge the negative arguments, and do not necessarily think they are wrong, however, for a project like Gaming the Edition, can the pros outweigh the cons?

If we were to employ a skill badge/achievement system, we would have a tangible way of rewarding/acknowledging the hard work done by the participants. Participants would have proof of the skills they have acquired. Skill badges could be used on resumes in the same way that other certificates of achievement are used. I have degrees hanging on my office wall that give me tangible evidence that I have graduated from university after accomplishing a specific set of predetermined goals. If a future employer requires proof that I have taken suicide prevention training or first aid, I have a certificate that authenticates my claim. If we could provide a way for apprentices to prove that they have learned a certain skill or helped edit a certain number of volumes, why wouldn’t we? Additionally, if we can provide an incentive for people to ‘branch out’ and attempt to master skills they would have otherwise avoided, why wouldn’t we? If other participants could be alerted when one of their co-editors accomplished something, reached a goal, learned a new skill – potentially resulting in a “grats”, why wouldn’t we? I think that the pros do indeed outweigh the cons, but I could be wrong…all I know is that as I sit here typing this blog, I would relish the opportunity to be working toward an achievement.

Ding – Sonja has reached 3000 words in Gaming the Edition blogging! Next achievement at 5000 words! Reward at 10.000 words? The title of “Sonja the Blogger”.

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