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The Siren Song of Precious Medals

Michael Baker

'Twas the week before Christmas, and a milestone was reached. Sometime, while training my squad of fighting pokémon and breeding critters for trade, I passed the two hundred hour mark in Pokémon White 2. This is the longest I've played any one Pokémon title, ever. It's the most time I've ever devoted to a single save file. For that matter, it's more time than I spent on any five other titles in the year 2012. This level of dedication just isn't something I make a habit of. So why is this time different? I can sum it up in one word.


Or rather, the little medals that pass for achievements in White 2. Back in the day, the only attraction the Pokémon post-game held for me was the goal of catching 'em all. I was never a competitive player, nor was I really obsessive enough to jump through the hoops necessary to gain a full collection. Once the Elite 4 were done with, then that was all she wrote for me. I rarely finished even the regular post-game challenges.

Then, one fateful day back in August, a student and I were looking through the medals list (he'd yet to get his own copy) when we noticed a new one. It said, simply enough, "Beat the League Champion with an all-grass party." My student dared me to try. The very next week, I had that medal to show off, and a slow-burning passion was ignited. For the next five months, whenever I found myself between games I would boot up White 2 and take my latest challenge group out for a spin. I would plan potential team line-ups and breed for abilities. I explored every nook and cranny of Unova. I fought my way down to the bottom of the White Forest bonus dungeon. I traded and traded, more than I'd ever traded before.

Would I have done all this without the phantom allure of those medals? Probably not. Prior to this game, my highest level pokémon was a level 77 Lilligant in Pokémon Black. I now have two dozen pokémon with levels above that. Half of those are over level 80. My Gliscor has topped level 90. While White 2 definitely makes it easier for me to power-level my cute little minions quickly, that alone wouldn't lead me to this sort of training regimen. But some silly purple medals? For whatever reason, those do.

I've played games with achievements before, but I never really cared. A lot of them seemed to reward me just for getting past a certain point or to commemorate a specific game event. Others delighted in tempting me to try feats of gamemastery that rivaled the Labors of Hercules. There's usually been very little in between those two poles, between "participation" trophies and "hardcore" trophies, at least in the games I've played. In White 2, Nintendo seems to have found that sweet spot of challenge and effort that actually gets me to care about the virtual rewards dangling before me. The point of an achievement system is to get people to continue playing the game, not to make them hate the sadists who programmed it, after all. In that respect, Pokeémon's new medal system is an unqualified success for me.

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