Long after average players finish a game, certain gamers stick around to extract nearly every accomplishment intended by the developers. These busy bees who work to fully drain the content of their favorite games are known as “achievement hunters.” Although I have described these achievement hunters as hard workers laboring on a craft and collecting digital trophies to show off, they are just gamers with a hobby, just like how others play their favorite games in competitive settings.

Whenever I see a conversation online about avid achievement hunting, I often see the same question from players who are outsiders to the niche hobby: why do you care so much about achievements? In these discussions, the answer is usually broken down to the idea that humans crave checklists and crossing items off them. Still, not every person makes a checklist for their day-to-day activities, nor does everyone who creates a checklist actually gain happiness from crossing off item after item. So, there must be something beyond that superficial answer to our question: why collect achievements?

One of the best ways to answer this is to look towards many of the communities online that have formed around achievement hunting. TrueAchievements and its Steam & PlayStation alternatives under the TrueGaming Network sites is a wonderful resource and social hub for completionists. The site assigns each achievement its own “TrueAchievement Score” using calculating a point value based on how many site users have the game and how many have gotten that achievement for that game. It’s easy to see how basic goals and competitions arise from this point-based system. TrueAchievements also hosts a log by which players can set goals and track achievement streaks (the number of days in a row a player has registered at least one achievement for any game). All three sites even have their own writing teams and news sections! There are other similar communities such as Completionist.me, but TrueAchievements is probably the most commonly used website.

Another significant achievement hunter community is RetroAchievements. Community members use existing emulators to add achievements into old games that existed before modern achievement systems were pioneered by the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. These community-made achievements have to be coded in by the volunteers themselves, so not every childhood favorite has a usable list, but community members can also submit requests. An excellent example of the lists available on RetroAchievements are the Pokémon games which, though they have some of the original video game collectibles, have never had an official achievement list because Nintendo has never created an achievement system for their consoles like Sony or Microsoft. In fact, on RetroAchievements, most Pokémon games have multiple separate achievement lists; Pokémon Emerald Version, for example, has five lists: a normal list, a small bonus pack, a list for collecting all Pokémon, a list for collecting all shiny Pokémon, and a list focused on using only Mudkip to complete the game and extra challenges. RetroAchievements lists encourage players to play games from the past in new challenging or fun ways.

The choose your starter Pokemon screen from Pokemon Emerald, with Mudkip selected. The text box asks the player "Do you choose this POKéMON?" The player's cursor rests on the "YES" option.

The only choice if you’re attempting the “Mudkip vs. The World” achievement list!

Achievements that endorse new ways to play, like many found on RetroAchievements, are a great genre of achievement. A perfect achievement list that aims to maximize fun for the audience likely strikes a balance between every type of achievement. For example, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 features and almost perfect achievement list (though Sony calls them trophies; PlayStation lists also feature a platinum trophy to signify a 100% completed list), and the game could be a great entry level opportunity for understanding achievement hunting. Every completionist has a first game they took to 100%, and a many of achievement hunters can name that first. I can see Spider-Man 2 being the first for a lot of future hunters.

The question is, what makes a good achievement list? Is it a balance of these so-called achievement genres? An ordinary achievement list typically includes plot-based achievements that most single-player games have, then throws in some creative ones from a few other genres and results in an experience that is generally enjoyable for both casual and hardcore completionists. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim includes a wonderful example of this sort of boilerplate achievement list: it includes achievements for completing each mission in the main quest and each major side quest, collecting certain numbers of collectibles (for Skyrim, this includes things like shouts and Daedric artifacts) and bringing the player character to a high level. These achievements cover things found almost every modern, mainstream video game: progression and collectibles. Skyrim only adds a couple achievements outside of the basics: collecting 100,000 gold for the “Golden Touch” achievement, or taming five dragons for, “Dragonrider.” However, not all lists from the same developer are created equal: just a few years later Bethesda published a far more complicated and arguably better achievement list with Fallout 4—one which required multiple playthroughs and more extensive knowledge of game mechanics. Fallout 4‘s list featured achievements for accomplishing each ending and mastering the game’s settlement-building system.

Just like in any medium, each player has their own preference. Some players might prefer popular achievement hunting games like The Binding of Isaac and Vampire Hunters, where most of the achievements are in-game unlocks and milestones that are baked into the gameplay systems. Some games, like the recent cosmic horror fishing title DREDGE, have a concise achievement catalog that rewards the player for unlocking and discovering everything in a certain category (e.g., “Master Angler,” for catching every type of fish). Personally, I enjoy jack-of-all-trades-type lists like PAYDAY 2‘s, with a sweeping 1,328 achievements added across its over 10-year history. PAYDAY 2‘s achievements reward Easter egg hunting, story progression, skill, and more—classifying individual achievement types could be its own essay. Meanwhile, lots of the top scorers on sites like TrueAchievements or people who crave high numbers of 100%-ed achievement lists enjoy hunting in games with an abundance of easily obtainable milestones (i.e., games with 100 levels and an individual achievement for completing each one, which are often dubbed “achievement-ware games”). How much players enjoy a particular game’s list depends on the relationship between the game’s mechanics, its replayability, the achievement list itself, and many other aspects of the game as a hunting environment. Just like in other hobbies, achievement hunters may feel the urge to go outside their comfort zone, try new things, or venture into ways of play they have less experience with. Many good achievement lists encourage this exploration!

In another genre of achievements are the ones that make the rounds whenever they’re released: those that are just… ridiculous. “Ridiculous” can be interpreted in many ways; the two fundamental ways I would normally categorize these ones are if I realize the amount of time and work required is insane, or if the achievement is so complicated and involved and specific that I cannot imagine anyone stumbling upon it naturally or casually. One of my favorite examples of a ridiculous achievement comes from Team Fortress 2, which has quite a lot of crazy or literally broken achievements already (Valve, please fix or remove the YouTube view count achievements, I am begging you). “Metal Massacre” requires the player to destroy 1,000,000 robots in TF2’s co-op horde shooter mode, Mann vs. Machine. A YouTuber, WeezyTF2, calculated that by playing as optimally as possible, the estimated time to complete this achievement would be 477 hours, a number that doesn’t even account for queue times, let alone just playing the game for fun or, maybe most importantly, eating and sleeping.

Some rapid-fire ridiculous achievements I have encountered:

  • In Bloons TD 6, the “A year in the making” achievement requires you to claim the daily reward on a total of 365 days in total
  • In Tabletop Simulator the “True Champion” achievement marks 1,000 hours of play
  • Warframe and some other MMOs have achievements for reaching their respective max levels… but I’ve seen Warframe users with 2,000+ hours who don’t have that one
  • Pretty much any late-game achievement from Cookie Clicker, which requires you to live and breathe clicking that damn cookie.

The most notable and known ridiculous achievement is arguably the “Go Outside” and “Super Go Outside” achievements from The Stanley Parable and The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe which are awarded for not playing the game for five years and ten years, respectively; the achievements can be cheated by setting the system date far into the future, but for honorable/crazy hunters like my former roommate (who now has “Go Outside), one could absolutely wait that long to earn it legitimately.

I have to give a special shout-out to achievements defined by being unobtainable, like the “Yes, I am the real garry!” achievement in Garry’s Mod, which requires you to play on the same server as the titular creator, Garry Newman, who has announced his retirement from playing the game. Achievement hunters frequently express ire online about unobtainable achievements because they ruin their ability to get a 100% in some of their favorite titles.

In my opinion, a perfect achievement list doesn’t include these “ridiculous,” very involved achievements. My “perfect” list might be one like that of Hades, which boasts a wonderful slew of achievements that can mostly be completed before you roll credits on the game and won’t take players much time afterwards to land a shiny platinum trophy on PlayStation or blue ribbon on Steam representing their 100% completion. Spider-Man 2 also has a balance of achievements that are fun, necessary, and straightforward. Some of Spider-Man 2‘s achievements encourage the player complete all the sidequests and gather all the collectibles in the game (some of which tease future Insomniac games); others are quick and fun, like performing 30 air tricks before hitting the ground (which will likely result in players discovering the hilarious animation for slamming onto the pavement as Spider-Man); and some are hidden achievements that are awarded when players discover details or Easter eggs left by the developers (like hidden dialogue for when you round the bases in a baseball stadium on the map). I keep saying Spider-Man 2 is near perfect with its achievement selection because I feel like it could represent more of the aforementioned genres; however, for beginners I believe it is a perfect list to start hunting with. A truly perfect achievement list to 100% is one that is easy for beginners and still fun for experienced hunters. A quick list of other great games to 100% for beginners to the hobby from my own collection includes: Alan Wake II, DREDGE, Astro’s Playroom, Hades, and God of War (2018).

In the same way that I sometimes find games I enjoy, occasionally I will discover a game and achievement list that is wonderful to hunt and/or 100% from recommendations from communities or content creators. I’ve recently been browsing the Steam Achievements Subreddit, and the community there is quite welcoming. Seeing other people’s 100%-ed games is insightful and interesting, helping me find games with surprisingly engaging achievement lists and introducing me to community members who have 100%-ed games I know to be difficult or time consuming, like PowerWash Simulator and Deep Rock Galactic.

There are also are a few content creators I follow that champion achievement hunting as a hobby and an essential part of video games. Greg Miller from Kinda Funny and Twitch streamer Ray Narvaez Jr. who is, fittingly, formerly of Achievement Hunter. Miller has always been vocal about achievements and good achievement lists, or when a game launches without one at all. Part of my decision to look into Spider-Man 2‘s achievement list was that all four of the game’s Kinda Funny reviewers got the platinum trophy before sitting down to give their review. Meanwhile, Ray Narvaez Jr. is a streamer at heart, but will occasionally do achievement hunting streams for old games or for specific new releases like the Yakuza series, which is known for its expansive yet relaxing achievement lists (think of all the minigames!). I can recommend Narvaez Jr.’s many former achievement hunting broadcasts, as well as his playthrough of the Resident Evil franchise, which is host to some of the greatest achievement lists. The achievements in RE games are creative and challenging, ranging from finishing games under a certain amount of steps taken, without healing, with invisible enemies, and so on.

The most specific example that I want to highlight is the community for a different zombie game: Left 4 Dead 2. Just one game has spawned a phenomenon around a single achievement, “Good Guy Nick.” The “Good Guy Nick” achievement’s description reads, “Plays games with free weekend players and helps them survive a campaign,” and is awarded for completing a game with a person who is playing via a free-to-play weekend. Left 4 Dead 2 released in 2009 and has had only a handful of free weekend events, so whenever a free weekend does happen, a plethora of players who have been waiting since the previous free weekend alert the community and get to helping each other earn this elusive achievement. In 2022, there was a charity event organized by speedrunners (notably WaifuRuns, the main organizer and uploader of the run’s explanation) to speedrun getting every Left 4 Dead 2 achievement in one sitting, and they, as previously mentioned, needed a free weekend to occur to complete the game as without skipping an achievement. The community of Left 4 Dead 2 casual players, speedrunners, and even a community manager for the game banded together and convinced Valve to put on a free weekend just for their event, and Valve did it! I believe that despite the game’s age, as long as this achievement exists, the community will find reasons to try to achieve it whenever a free weekend does happen, and it is frankly incredible that one, very specific, extremely situational achievement sprouts discussion constantly on forums to this day. Achievements can bring new players to games!

On the contrary, I have seen the lack of achievements on certain platforms, such as Nintendo platforms and the Epic Games Launcher, turn avid hunters off trying a game. Some achievement hunters refuse to play Ubisoft games on PC because their achievements are tied to the Ubisoft launcher rather than Steam, where all their other completions are. On the other hand, I’ve tried games I otherwise had no interest in, like XCOM 2, because of its vast and varied list, and I’ve gotten sucked back into a game I fell off of, like FTL: Faster Than Light, because the previously exclusive in-game achievements were added to the Steam achievement roster. It is a complicated issue for certain hunters, but sites like RetroAchievements and TrueAchievements are helping bridge the gap between platforms and create platform-agnostic systems for anyone who likes to ogle at their completion statistics.

There are scores of achievement hunting communities I could detail in their own articles. One of the most accessible and visible representations of the size of the achievement hunting community is the number of achievement guides on Steam. Seriously, go to your favorite game’s Steam page, open the guide tab, and see how many achievement guides there are. There are so many achievement hunting guides on Steam that the platform has an entire search filter for just achievements! Every Steam guide I’ve used has been helpful, accessible, and the comments are usually supportive and collaborative, adding strategies that the original author didn’t include or informing the author of a mistake in the guide.

If there’s any takeaway from my achievement hunting ramblings, it would simply be to give it a try. Find a game you love, old or new, and look at its achievement list. Find just one interesting and involved achievement to obtain and do it. If you read the list and decide 100%-ing the game is too much time and effort, that is absolutely valid. Just get that one achievement you found. I have plenty of games I love getting achievements in that I am nowhere near 100%-ing—nor do I have any plans to be—because this hobby isn’t always about completion, but rather the thrill of the hunt.