Real-Life Achievements

A few months ago, I purchased Wii Fit, partially to see what all the buzz was about, and partially to see if I might actually play it somewhat regularly. I do enjoy it, though this academic year has left me with less time to play than I might like.

When I got it, however, I had to explain to my parents (when I mentioned it) why I would think a video game for exercise might be more interesting than simply exercise. The only reason I could come up with? “It has points. If real life had points, it’d be much more interesting.”

This train of thought isn’t that original, but I like it. What if we had a system of “achievements,” with attendant points, for activities in real life? A quick google search for Real-Life Achievement Points reveals a few amusing ideas– both with lists of possibilities and example videos (the latter is particularly funny).

Part of the attraction to achievements, though, is the display to annoy your friends with how accomplished you are. This is just human nature; we like to show off all our neat accomplishments, whether that’s displaying diplomas on the wall, or military campaign ribbons. Achievements as currently implemented in videogames allow this; one can see my Team Fortress 2 Achievements, for instance, or my XBox Live Achievements (though the latter requires an XBox Live account to view– a violation of principles of the Open Web, not that Microsoft has ever cared). On the Internet, geeks do things like display “badges,” those little 80x15 ribbon-looking icons to represent something they use, or that powers their website; I have them (look to the right on or, as do many other nerdy websites. ActionStreams allows the same thing; and both display their lists of websites their owners use. So if we wanted to have “real life” have achievements, then we’d want the same display capabilities; I want to put a cool icon display on my website, dang it. :-)

What needs to be in place for something like this?

  • Verification Authority - I simply don’t see a way around this, because otherwise, everyone will have no reason not to simply say “yep, I climbed Mount Everest, visited Mars, and fornicated with Miss America, all in a single afternoon.” Unfortunately, for things that aren’t particularly electronically confirmable, this means that it needs to be a human (or humans)– leading to lag time, and scaling issues. Current achievements all have this, because they have a (relatively) trusted codebase that they use to transmit state information back to the achievement server.

  • Achievement Scoping - In video games, the last achievement is always something huge, but manageable in-game– like achieving 100% exploration, or gathering all the stars. What should be the last achievement for the real-life achievements? Death? Being elected World Leader? Make it too low, and it won’t be coveted, but too high, and it won’t be possible for anyone to get (not everyone can be President).

  • Achievement Categories - I feel like not all of these should be nerdy; we shouldn’t only have achievements for blogging, writing open source software, etc. That means we need categories of achievements– and, to make things even more complex, there will need to be some valuation of different achievements in different categories. For instance, how hard is making a quilt? Should that be worth the same number of points as installing Windows? Or is it only the same difficulty as, say, taking the subway? (See the problem yet?)

All these problems noted, however, it’d still be cool. Once we have these set up– even provisionally– it’d be neat to be working on some task, and have a popup in the corner of my vision, noting I just got five points. As I said before, points can provide some motivation– and bragging rights.