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March 2013

February 2013

Win a Book in the Spring Review Drive!

Help me gather reviews and you could win a book… If you have read any of the five books pictured below, you could win one of three signed copies of Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy I’m offering as prizes in a special Spring review drive!

Bateman Books A friend recently pointed out to me that I don’t have a great deal of reviews on the Amazon sites, and that it would be good to get the numbers up. To this end, I’m offering books as prizes for three lucky contributors to a review drive running throughout Spring. To take part, you have to have read at least one of the five books pictured above, and contribute a review to either or (or both – for double the chance of winning!). At the start of the competition, there are 10 reviews for these books on and just one on – surely we can do better than that!

Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Write a short review (a couple of sentences will do) for one or more of the books above and post them on,, or both.
  2. Send an email to comp [at] giving your name and address, the review text,  and the website posted to. If you have any special request about how you’d like the book signed, you can mention this too.
  3. If you post the review on both and, you can send one competition email for each site, for twice the chances to win!

That’s all there is to it! Each book review on each site is worth one more chance to win, so if you’ve read more than one of my books you can rack up multiple chances to win. (If you’ve already written a review of one of these books for one of these sites, you can still submit that review to the competition).

There will be three random draws for prizes, one at the end of February, another at the end of March, and a final one at the end of April. If you enter before the first draw, you will get three chances to win for each review you submit.

Good luck!

Closing date for entries is 30th April 2013. Prize draws will be held on or shortly after 1st March, 1st April and 1st May. Competition is open to individuals with a postal address anywhere in the world. Multiple entries are permitted provided each corresponds to a review posted to either or, the text of which must be included with the entry. Reviews posted to the relevant sites prior to the competition commencing are still eligible for entry into the competition provided the relevant email is submitted to the competition address. The same review text may be posted to and, and this will qualify as two entries provided each is submitted in a separate email. Participants may only win one prize no matter how many times they enter. Winners will be determined at random using polyhedral dice rolled by an appointed judge. The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. The prize may not be transferred to any other person. No cash alternative or alternative prize is available. Spambots will be shot. All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Entry in the competition implies acceptance of these rules.

Competition cross-posted from Only a Game.

This competition is currently open.

On Achievements

Over on Only a Game, Rickard Elimää commented on a seven year-old post about the Riddles of Difficulty:

I was reading about achievements the other day and how bad they are because they ruin the fun of the game, where you almost compulsory hunt for achievements. So I started to think about this post, and about dynamic difficulties. How about combining achievements and difficulties? It's not a new thing, but how about making it more obvious?

Lets say that you got a platform shooter and before each level, the user can see what achievements to reach and if has been collected for this level. Without trying to collect achievements, the game is pretty easy, but when having achievements like "Never used a submachinegun", "Never stood still" and "Collected all five achievements in one go", the user can force itself to strive for harder challenges.

I replied as follows:

Rickard: the addition of achievements overdetermines the content of the gameplay (and also undercut the narrative content of the game). From a challenge or completist focused standpoint, the achievements are beneficial - but they channel players into these play styles, even if they aren't the player's native play styles. I view achievements as potentially valuable, but I judge the requirement that all games on a platform support achievements as a significant cost of play.

Your example of the platform shooter is actually something that used to be relatively common in the space between straightforward gameplay goals (up to 1990 or so) and the arrival of achievements proper (2005 onwards), namely the reuse of internal materials conditioned by assigned goals. The paradigm case is still probably GoldenEye 007 (1997), which has three difficulty levels, each of which assigns separate goals to the same map, and within which the player also has targets to unlock secrets.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the ubiquitous achievement regime we now have on many platforms is that some players interpret this in terms of positive agency i.e. they get to choose which achievements to ignore. But the framework which enforces achievements upon everyone is a framework which partially evacuates agency of its meaning since rather than giving the player a freedom to experiment with the game world, their actions are always conditioned by the achievements - whether or not they decide to complete them.

From the perspective of the artistic value of the medium, achievements in games are as crass as product placement in movies. That they add to the enjoyment of a proportion of players, possibly even a strict majority of players, should not distract us from noticing that both player agency and creator artistry are being eroded in favour of more compulsive, addictive and challenge-focused play.

To commercial game designers I would say: you have to do what you have to do. But to artgame creators I would say: please resist achievements as best you can and continue to explore the possibilities of this great medium.