I used to be rather addicted to the MMORPG RuneScape. The gameplay was often repetitive and not especially engaging, as you may expect from a game specifically designed to encompass thousands of hours of content, but what made it so compelling to me were my feelings of satisfaction in achieving various self-imposed goals. Without this sort of personal stake, you’re simply watching arbitrary numbers go up; it is the value that we place upon these numbers which makes this such a strong motivating force.
I believe this same principle is a major part of what makes RetroAchievements so enthralling for so many of us. Whether you’re interested in points, masteries, site events, or simply revisiting games from your childhood, it is this goal-setting that makes RetroAchievements so much greater than the sum of its parts. So without further ado, let’s take a deep dive into this Massively Multiplayer Online Retro-Achieving Game.
Let’s begin by analyzing why some goals are so exciting, whereas others may result in burnout. First, and perhaps most importantly, the goal must coincide with what you personally value, which varies depending on the individual. Obviously it wouldn’t make sense to set a goal such as mastering the Spyro trilogy if you don’t enjoy collectathon platformers, but this goes a bit deeper than that. I find that I often think I want to pursue a particular goal until I begin the process and realize it isn’t as fun as I expected. For instance, I once considered a goal of mastering every Yoshi game, but quickly realized that there are some Yoshi games I don’t especially enjoy playing. The most compelling goals are deeply personal, not based on the expectations of others or how you wish to be perceived.
Additionally, a good goal should be realistic. Massive, long-term goals are incredibly satisfying to succeed in, but often result in losing interest or giving up somewhere along the way. For me, I find that setting and celebrating smaller milestones throughout the journey is a strong motivating force. Suppose you’ve always wanted to reach 100,000 points, but that feels so overwhelming and out of reach. You can set mini-goals along the way, such as “I just want to unlock my next set request” or “I just want to reach the next multiple of 500”. What is considered “realistic” will vary from person to person, but that’s the wonderful thing about such deeply personal goals: no one’s opinion but your own matters.
Like an MMO, some of the most enjoyable goals often revolve around competing with other users. This is typically an asynchronous style of multiplayer, taking forms such as trying to master a hard set to prove you’re more skilled than your friend, or climbing the Top Masteries leaderboard for your favorite console. The tricky thing about these sorts of goals is how they’re reliant on factors outside your control. For instance, I was once inspired by Xymjak’s Top 300 Progress threads to see how high I could climb on the hardcore badges list. I reached second place at one point, and certainly could have reached first had I continued my pace of daily masteries for a couple more months. I was pretty burnt out by this point, however, and I knew that if I slowed down even slightly, then guineu would pass me up. I ultimately decided that I was happier focusing my efforts elsewhere, but that’s something you should be aware of when pursuing this sort of goal: you’ve never truly “made it” as long as you need to actively defend your title. Nonetheless, a bit of friendly competition is responsible for some of the most enjoyable moments of my RA career.
Goals revolving around helping others can be immensely satisfying as well. Perhaps you’re the type who likes to hang out in the starting town of an MMO, offering your wisdom to struggling new players. The RA equivalent of this can take a wide variety of forms, such as developing highly requested achievement sets, creating artwork for old abandoned sets, or even something as simple as answering questions on the forums or Discord. To give another personal example, I like to write mini-reviews each time I master an achievement set. A few people have told me that they look forward to and enjoy reading these write-ups, and that’s a feeling greater than just about any achievement. Except for 100 pointers, of course. If you feel a similar sense of satisfaction in helping others, I advise you to look within and identify your strengths; I bet you can come up with something, even if it’s unconventional, that will make others happy and feel incredibly rewarding.
Whatever types of goals most resonate with you, it’s important not to overextend yourself. One of my biggest sources of burnout is trying to juggle too many goals simultaneously. I once tried to do two of the most extreme site events at the same time, Peak Streak and LeapFrog, and you can probably imagine how that ended. Micromanaging multiple goals also comes with the downside of constant prioritizing, the ongoing struggle of deciding what the “most important” ways of spending your time are. If you find your thoughts straying further from “what do I want to play?” and more toward “what should I be doing right now?”, then you’re probably taking this goal-setting thing way too seriously. Always remember, this is supposed to be fun. If the metagame of how you approach RA ever begins to feel stressful or otherwise detrimental to your well-being, I suggest practicing some mindfulness exercises and reevaluating your priorities.
So, where does all this leave us? The best goals are personal and realistic, community-driven (whether competitive or cooperative), and should always include an element of self-care. And despite the many comparisons I’ve drawn with MMOs, I feel that there’s a key distinction I’ve neglected to mention thus far: with RA, the gameplay is inherently fun and endlessly varied. As much as goal-setting can enhance the experience, there’s also nothing wrong with playing what you want to play, when you want to play it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go play my millionth Mario hack, not in service of any greater goal, but simply because the game is fun.
Enjoy the issue!