I’ve only ever 100%’d one video game in my life.  Maybe you’ll call me a casual or be shocked that it even happened once, but no matter your opinion on the subject, any modern-day gamer knows all about 100% completion of a game.  Normally associated with meta-game achievements or hidden collectables (usually both), 100%ing is the act of doing everything one can possibly do in a video game.  Or, at least, that is what the name implies.  When one really thinks about the concept, however, a few issues with 100% completion arise.  

My personal story with 100% completion begins and ends with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  One of my first games on the Xbox 360, I simply could not put this one down when I got it.  I was blown away by the expanse of content, having only Runescape (no membership, of course, thanks to my mother) to rival it in the open-world category.  I wanted to join every guild, explore every dungeon, and solve every problem in Cyrodiil.  I ended up doing just that, making my way across the land, snapping necks and cashing checks from Cheydinhal to Anvil.  

God knows how many times I heard this line. Nothing encourages obeying the law quite like Cyrodiilian bureaucracy!

I was always happy to hear the double-beep of an achievement as I progressed through the game, until one day I heard that beep one last time.  I opened up the achievements tab to see what I had done, and there I saw it.  1250/1250 Gamerscore, 60/60 achievements unlocked.  I was struck with an idea: had I finished the game?  I had gotten multiple characters to a high level, completed all of the guilds and the main questline times over, but was I done?  I hadn’t ever leveled up a bow-wielding character, and I know there’s some quest about a magic painting that I haven’t done yet.  I put down my controller and went to get dinner, and to this day I have never come back to Oblivion.  

That experience still comes back to haunt me when I think about two other games that I’ve seriously considered 100%ing: Dark Souls and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.   The former was introduced to me by a friend who has happily 100%’d every Souls game, and the latter is my most played game on Steam.  I’ll give each of them their time and explain why I think the culture bred by achievements and 100%ing can be detrimental to the experience of playing a game.  

I absolutely adore Dark Souls.  Even though it took me 50 hours to beat it for the first time, even though it made want to smash my controller, and even though there are some parts that are very flawed, I love it.  There’s a soft spot in my heart for the feelings I had while playing it: killing my first invader, seeing the majestic locations for the first time, and of course beating the final boss are all fond memories from my first playthrough.  If I glance at the achievements now, however, I feel little desire to try to get any of them.  If I want to 100% the game, which would be my friend’s definition of completing it, I have to do so many things that I would not enjoy.  What is the point of upgrading every single type of weapon?  Why do I need to find every single miracle, when I have no desire to play a character who wields them?  According to my definition, I beat the game when I completed the story.  But if achievements are your metric, you would disagree.  I enjoyed my time with Dark Souls, but the thought of forcing myself to grind through the rest of this meta-game makes me want to play anything else.  

I also saw this countless times. I think I'd prefer the guard, all things considered.
I also saw this countless times. I think I’d prefer the guard, all things considered.

The next game has a different story for me, but the outcome remains the same.  Between the original Binding of Isaac and the HD remake/complete edition hybrid The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, I have logged almost 300 hours into this indie rogue-like.  It has always been my go-to podcast-listening, Netflix-watching or I-have-5-minutes-until-class game.  Eventually, I realized that I had completed quite a bit of the game.  I beat the game with almost every character, I unlocked most of the items, and had found every secret ending.  It wouldn’t take much more work to get the remaining achievements and achieve “Platinum God” status, as the game calls it.  That was just the problem, however: it wouldn’t take much more work.  I quickly got lost in my quest for Platinum God, and stopped enjoying the game that had entertained me for 10 straight days worth of time.  I was so hungry for a Hush kill with Lilith or an Ultra Greed kill with The Lost (for the unversed, I wanted to kill two challenge bosses with specifically difficult characters) that I grew frustrated with myself when I couldn’t do it.  My game of choice had become a chore.  I eventually grew bored of crawling my way through the achievement list, and gave up playing that too.

If anyone has ever tried playing as The Lost, this is like looking in a mirror.
If anyone has ever tried playing as The Lost, this is like looking in a mirror.

Three games that I loved so much, now either collect dust on a shelf or fill up space on my hard drive.  Oblivion, Dark Souls and Rebirth all lost their appeal once I tried to find some validation beyond completing the goals of each game.  I sometimes wonder what game developers think of achievements in their games.  Do they add them simply because Steam, Xbox One, and PS4 all force them to, or do they enjoy the completionist meta-game as well?  Authorial intent is very important to me when experiencing any sort of creative work; what does the creator want me to feel, and how are they doing it?  I struggle to believe that they made their game solely so that I could get the dopamine rush associated with hearing that double-beep.  There has to be something more than wanting me to feel validated because I discovered a new location, unlocked an item I’ll never use, or passed 50 speech checks.  

I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t enjoy 100%ing games.  It takes a lot of effort and the commitment some people have to it is admirable.  However, if you find yourself questioning why you hunt all of those achievements, I hope this helps you to think about it.  Play games you love because you have fun with them, no matter what form that fun takes.  There’s a reason we call it playing, and not working.  Now if you’ll excuse me, maybe I’ll go give Oblivion one more shot.  

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Student of English, Film and Media Studies at Saint Olaf College. I've been a connoisseur of Nintendo handhelds, Playstation 2, Xbox 360 and PC games since I was young. My focus on exp4all is editorials and reviews. You'll see my series, Playing Rhetorically, talking about what games are trying to tell us outside of cutscenes and dialogue boxes. You can also find my reviews, rants, and blasts from the past as well. Follow me on Twitter @LeJimJam for updates on articles, YouTube videos, and personal writings.