One thing I never had when growing up was the public competition and feeling of obtaining publicly viewable achievements. Sure there were high-score boards on the machines at the local arcades, over which we would all claim to be the coolest-of-cool three-letter-name, "ACE". But no one would ever really know who "ACE" was.
Back then obtaining the highest score was always a private affair, and it was not often that your friends would even know that you were attempting to best them.
Achievement Unlocked - That Great Feeling
Whoever, or which ever team/group came up with the idea of the 360's Achievement system is brilliant, and deserves to be recognised for assisting with the success of the 360.
This system feeds one's natural want for competition. In real time you can compete with your friends that can be playing totally different games and have your scores instantaneously visible to all that want to see.
IMO Xbox Achievements go deeper than this. Everyone desires a sense of achievement in anything they do. Whether it be getting that diploma, obtaining that Masters degree, or having a clean/tidy gamer setup. The 360 achievements enable this. A menial task in a game can become something that you want to do, just so you can achieve that lot of gamer-score and stay infront-of, or catch-up-to others in your friends list, or even just hear that noise and see the achievement pop up.
For example, two friends of mine from work have 360's, and one of these friends is currently sneaking ahead of me in gamer-score. At nearly every opportunity he rubs it in. Because of this I am desperately trying to find games to play and get achievements. Is this a good thing? We'll get to that later.
Also, am I comparing achieving 1000GS in a game to obtaining a Masters? Hell yes. Everything one would do to obtain that 1000GS can be related to everything one would do to obtain a Masters. Practice/Study, research, and immense amounts of time.
These achievements also appeal to those with addictive personalities. Getting that next achievement is like obtaining that next fix. I know from observing someone very close to me that this can cause one to buy obscene amounts of games in short amounts of time, and become unhealthily obsessed with finishing games. Good or bad? Well, that depends on whether or not the person affected can still function as a normal person, and that real life is a higher priority than the game.
Achievement Locked - The Ruin
When does something so good, become something so bad? When it becomes the sole reason for playing a game.
One game that I am playing at the moment is Fallout 3.
I had attempted to play this game when it first came out, but I just couldn't immerse myself. At the time I put that down to not wanting to put enough time into it. This game, for those that have played it, requires immersion. In order to achieve any enjoyment out of it you have to become the character, and think as though you are in that world.
Recently, while wanting to beat my friend's gamer-score I attempted to start playing it again. I figured there were a bunch of gamer-points to be had. What a mistake.
Any enjoyment that I might have been able to achieve was negated by the fact that I was doing everything to up my gamer-score. Instead of taking my time, and doing what I wanted to do, interacting with the environment the way I wanted to, I was thrashing away attempting to fulfill what was necessary to get achievements.
I was losing on both sides. No gamer-points, and no fun. What was the point? I was also starting to get motion sick.
I wasn't playing the game for myself. My experience was starting to be affected, and subsequently the xbox was turned off. Achievements had ruined my Fallout 3 experience.
The Real Reason For Gaming
Achievements do add to the gaming experience. Adding a dimension to completing tasks that would otherwise not be there. But given the chance, they can take away from it too.
Taking a step back, I listened to the advice of my other work colleague who had been compelling me to try Fallout 3 ever since I put it away the first time. He said, "Just play the game, play it for the experience. Don't worry about the achievements, they'll come anyway. Just try and enjoy it for what it is..."