There are no achievements in Vanilla WoW, obviously, as the system wasn’t implemented until much later. But having played both before and during the achievement period, it is interesting to go back to the game when the achievement system was not in place. I have always considered the achievement system to be one of firmly tieing players down into the role of a mouse on a never-ending treadmill. No thought is required – achievement will pop up for doing some banal act, which is of itself completely the opposite of what I would consider an actual achievement to be, and this then sends the player off on a mindless merry-go-round to collect more of the same achievements, usually for no better goal than having a title above their head that should read, “Not only do I have no life or brain but I have no awareness of either.”
But then I considered the early quest system. I mean, is this much better? Isn’t this more of the same, the mindless running-around for not very much which is merely designed to keep us busy? Actually I think it is different in a variety of ways. Firstly there are tangible rewards, experience, gold and gear, as well as reputation with different factions which enable you to purchase other gear. So there is a tangible benefit. Also, a lot of these early quest lines are very good indeed. I’m presently involved in the old hunt for that nasty Stavlan fellow. It’s a nice atmospheric detective story which is keeping me nicely entertained even the second time around. Admittedly quite a few of the Vanilla quests are downright terrible, the pages of Stranglethorn Vale anyone? And a good many are simply kill a certain number of floozles. But they create a foundation of meaning in the world with which the player can do as they please. Which is in of itself a choice. You can choose to take a quest or you can choose that it is not for you, for whatever reason. Maybe you don’t like that style of quest, maybe you don’t want to go to that area, maybe you hate quests in general and will only do one for a specific piece of gear.
Achievements leave you no choice, at least as far as I can remember. You’re running through a zone and BAM! – achievement simply for wandering through a zone, aren’t you great???? Well, actually no, I think that this is facile and condescending and a pile of doggy-poo, but I have no choice in the matter. I must participate in this system and the more I am forced to do so the more infuriated I become. Much much worse is when I inadvertently find myself willingly participating in the mindless madness. For the achievement system is simply a cheap and unimaginative way of disguising the fact that the game designers are not prepared to put much more effort into the world. The rationale is to keep the players running around, nice and busy, on the mindless spinning-wheel so they don’t notice that the designers are not doing really that much that’s inspiring any more.
It is so nice to play in a world with no achievements. The only achievement here is are you any good at playing your class and that has to be earned the hard way. And more importantly, with some modicum of effort. Achievements are the MMO gaming version of political correctness; every child has to get a ribbon for running in the race. Which pretty soon makes all ribbons worthless except to the truly deluded. Which is most of you. So go back to your achievements, why do I care anyway?