I have this Pavlovian response every time I unlock an achievement that triggers a bit of joy and validation whenever that pleasant little notification pops up. The numbers don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but I sure do enjoy seeing my total score inflate with every game I play. But even that shot of dopamine that I get from these little micro-celebrations aren’t enough to make me fully engage with the idea of achievement hunting. No, for me it’s been a long career of just playing everything I could first, while paying attention to the achievement list second. It’s a scattershot approach that’s worked for me in the past, even if it’s been financially ruinous, but it’s an approach that’s unsustainable for me currently.

I bring all of this up because whenever I look at the achievement leaderboard on my Xbox, I can see that my approach was only successful because I had spent the past 15 or so years casually building my total up. In stark contrast to that approach is how this system was probably intended to be utilized, with people actively seeking out ways to unlock every achievement possible. I have some friends on my list that have fully unlocked everything in a large portion of the games they’ve played, whereas I basically just have the equivalent of souvenirs from every game I’ve ever played on a Microsoft console. The only reason why our totals are even close is because I’ve just played way more games than they have, otherwise their completion rates would blow mine out of the water.

It’s one of those things that make me wonder if I’m doing myself a disservice by not pushing through with games that I’m not 100% feeling. I fully endorse the idea that you shouldn’t waste your time with a game that isn’t grabbing you for the alleged promise of it “getting good” later on, but maybe there is some truth to that. My friends are out there putting hours and hours into games from all different genres, unlocking most of, if not all of the available achievements in each of them. It’s because of this that I’ve been able to actually step back and recognize that the way I’ve been playing games, especially after the brief stint I had doing YouTube stuff along with running this very site, just isn’t a great way to actually enjoy playing video games.

All of this is to say that achievements were a big part of recognizing that I was trying to live this untenable lifestyle that only the people who are paid to cover games can really afford to do. I look at my achievement list and just see hundreds of games I’ve wasted money on, with nothing to show for it, most of the time without even having any memory of ever playing them at all. Achievements aren’t anything special but I’d feel better about having actually unlocked a lot of them in prior games I’ve played, because that at least means I got some bang for my buck. As it stands now, it’s a graveyard for all of the money I once had.

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