With all the terrible missteps of the most recent generation of gaming it’s sometimes hard to remember the awesome stuff that the 360, PS3 and Wii have brought us. My favorite of the bunch has to be, hands down, Achievements. While the updated graphics, the addition of Netflix and Hulu, and the great push for downloadable games are all great stuff; it’s trophies and achievements that really first captured my attention.

When the 360 first came out you wouldn’t be wrong calling me an “achievement whore”. Indeed I scrambled for the little virtual rewards even going so far as playing terrible games to boost my score. Being somebody who hunted achievements was, and is, something that seems to be looked down on. Especially at first though, it was thrilling to hear that little sound that played every time you unlocked an achivement. Somehow it was a small justification of my play time and instant bragging rights. When there weren’t many games and thus not many achievement points out there, me and my brother were rabidly competing to outdo one another. It’s become harder now that our gamerscores have soared into the multiple thousands, but at the time we wouldn’t rest if one of us got an achievement the other didn’t.

The points also added longevity to games that maybe didn’t previously have it. Suddenly I was attempting to play a way I might not have before and possibly didn’t even know I would enjoy. As the generation continued developers would come up with more clever achievements and would often hide pop culture references or humor in the titles and descriptions. Braggarts now had to put up or shut up and you could tell who played a wide variety of games just by looking at their gamertag and who was probably just a casual gamer. Achievements have been used by games like Mass Effect to help carry over content or rewards and they’ve even been spread in a viral nature after playing a developer and then passing it on. Possibly my favorite feature of achievements though is one I never really thought about at first.

Every once in a while I’ll boot up my 360 and I’ll go to my achievement tab and start looking through them. Achievements are like a roadmap of every game I’ve played this generation, my own personal digital gaming history. By looking through my list you can tell what games I enjoyed enough to put a lot of time into and you can tell the games I picked up for a rental and never played again. Reading through them myself is full of nostalgia as I can fondly recall my gaming triumphs and failures and can recall earning the harder or funnier achievements. Microsoft probably knew it would add competition and some longevity to games, but I wonder if Microsoft knew they were making a living history of what you’ve played, what you’ve achieved, your interests and dislikes.

Not to mention they began to connect a community by seeing what you do or don’t have in common with those you play with on the web. For instance I can browse through my brother’s myriad of achievements and you can tell where we differ and where we’re truly alike. I can see the games I’m more skilled at then him and vice versa; Little nuggets of personality and gaming preference right there for all who care to see. I’ve encountered new friends on forums and playing on Live just by finding someone with a similar play list to my own or asking a gamer how he unlocked a tricky achievement.

Though PS3 soon followed with trophies I tip my hat to Microsoft for one of, what I feel, was the greatest additions to gaming this generation. Do you hate achievements or like me do they make you grin with remembered glories? Let us know in the comments below.

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