Meet Xeinok. With 9,400 Steam achievements under his belt, Xeinok is one of the best achievement hunters in the entire world, ranking at number one in the U.S.

“I’ve been doing it for about four years,” Xeinok says. At least, that’s how long he’s been doing it officially. Xeinok says that growing up he was always the completionist sort, the sort of kid who would go through the trouble of getting every single honeycomb in, say, Banjo Kazooie. Turning into an achievement hunter later in life is kind of perfect.

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“I get this nice sense of freedom from it, by having a more goal-oriented form of gaming,” Xeinok says. A PC gamer at heart, Xeinok says that he feels intimidated by the staggering number of games available on Steam. Luckily, achievement hunting helps him cope with the choice paralysis.

“I hated how me and my friends, we would sit on Teamspeak or Mumble, and we were trapped in this tyranny of choice, kinda perma-hesitation mode,” Xeinok said. “We’d always be like, hey do you guys wanna play X game, Y game, Z game? And there’s so so many games on Steam nowadays, and it just gets worse every month. We wanted to play all of them.

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“With achievement hunting, I have an automatic goal. I have an automatic reason to jump from game to game quickly, but can still experience everything and take it to a fun level of mastery.”

Getting to this point wasn’t easy, however. I spoke to Xeinok over Skype last week, where he took the time to tell me about the achievements that drove him nuts. Unlike ordinary achievements, these challenges tested the limits of him and his friends. Below, you can read some of Xeinok’s best war stories as an achievement hunter on Steam.

How games are picked

While most games come packed with achievements, every achievement is not made equal. The achievement hunting community uses a formula based on how many people own the game, versus how many people have actually played the game and gotten at least one achievement. From there, they calculate the rarity of the achievements, and use the Steam API to determine a weighted point value for each achievement.

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“If 50k people play a game like Super Meat Boy, but only 10 people beat the final area without dying, then that achievement will be worth more,” Xeinok said. “Some of these achievements can be so difficult, and so rare, they are worth the point equivalent of many other games combined.”

Take a game like Team Fortress 2, for example. Tons of people have played that game, which would make you think getting achievements for it wouldn’t be worthwhile—but it’s the opposite. There’s one TF2 achievement that requires you to destroy 1 million enemies. Only 78 people have it, so it’s worth 100 points within the achievement hunting system.

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“It creates a weird situation,” Xeinok said. “Dark Souls is popularly known as a pretty tough game, but it’s actually worth very little. Dark Souls, in its entirety, is only worth 170 points.” Thing is, people who play Dark Souls tend to actually beat Dark Souls—which drives the value of a Dark Souls achievement down, ironically enough.

“The stuff that I like to target are these big-name games that a lot of people try out but don’t take all the way,” Xeinok said.

The hardest achievement Xeinok has ever gotten

Achievement hunters have their own digital white whale, and for Xeinok, it manifested itself in a most unusual form.

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“There’s this game on Steam called ‘World of Guns,’” Xeinok said. “It’s just a game where you like, disassemble and reassemble all these different guns. It’s a free-to-play game actually, so a lot of people have tried it out. It’s got this achievement in there to take this gun quiz, and it looks so innocuous and easy. It’s just, take this quiz, answer ten questions right on it, and you pass.”

Sounds simple, right? Actually…

“What [World of Guns] does is, it gives you a silhouette of a random gun,” Xeinok explained. “There are like 200 [guns] that it could be, and it randomizes the quiz every time. You can only take the quiz like once an hour, so when you fail it, you’re like, ugh!”

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Xeinok started using a timer, which would remind him to take the quiz every hour. It still took hundreds of attempts over the course of months.

“It’s so weird for an achievement, you know? You have to memorize 200 guns by their silhouette? I’m probably on some government watch list now.”

The funny thing is, getting an achievement like that isn’t much of a relief—it just means Xeinok can move on to a new white whale. And right now, that’s La Mulana, a cryptic archaeological exploration game that’s evaded him for a while.

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“[La Mulana] is such a dense and hard game already, but there’s an achievement that we had no idea what it meant for a long time,” Xeinok said. “It says something like, ‘everyone’s there, but only you’re in your bikini.’ We found out that it means that you have to beat the entire game in the hard mode where you’re collecting everything—it’s like a Metroidvania style thing. [The game is already] incredibly difficult, with super tough bosses, and you have to do all of that in a speedrun.”

Xeinok noted that, though their aims are different, there is actually a lot of crossover between achievement hunters and speedrunners. Makes sense, too—a common type of achievement challenges the player to beat a game in a certain timeframe.

“It drove me so crazy, this game, that I ended up spending hours and hours creating a Steam guide for it, for me and other friends. I got really deep into it, figuring out all the things, and I still haven’t mustered up the courage to execute it though...I had a friend recently do it, and it’s killing me now. I wake up in a cold sweat!”

The weirdest thing Xeinok has done to get an achievement

“This game Frozen Synapse had an achievement that required you to beat this certain developer in a real match in the game,” Xeinok said. Achievements like this aren’t unusual; many games have them. But Xeinok came to the game a couple of years later after release, when almost nobody was playing it. But instead of giving up on this achievement, Xeinok got creative.

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“For whatever reason, I wanted this one, so I thought out of the box and I composed a personal poem for [the developer],” Xeinok said. “I emailed it to their company, and they replied! They were like, nice poem.

“They wrote me back and they’re like, check your game. And [the developer] had invited me to a match. So then I went into the match, kind of like, oh awesome I have a chance! And [the developer] actually fought back against me, so I was like, oh man, you’re not just gonna give it to me? I had to play the game of my life.”

He did it, though. Xeinok can now count himself among the 0.4% of Frozen Synapse players with this developer achievement:

The funniest achievement Xeinok has ever heard of

“There’s an achievement in Dungeons of Dreadmore where you have to meet one of the employees in real life and consume an alcoholic beverage together with him. So, that’s pretty hilarious. I guess a couple of people have done it—you just see [the developer] at a bar, and you’re like, oh by the way, I want that achievement, and they’ll email you a code that you can use one time.”

Playing games for funsies

Can an achievement hunter actually turn that part of their brain off and just enjoy a game on its own?

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“My friends who aren’t achievement hunters would tell you ‘hell no, he doesn’t play anything anymore!” Xeinok joked. Xeinok admitted that playing a game purely recreationally can be difficult, as he always makes sure to at least look at the achievements first. Even when he plays things outside of Steam, like World of Warcraft, he still achievement hunts.

“I’m sitting at number one in the US, and it feels like everybody’s coming at you, always,” Xeinok said. “You really have to defend your spot if you’re competing on the leaderboards, so if you go away for too long, someone could overtake you.

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“If you’re super competitive about it, you can get into that competitive spirit and feel like you’re wasting your time with other stuff. I try not to feel that way. I try to play games I still find fun. If I’m ever not totally having fun with something, I’ll probably not [achievement hunt.]”

Illustration by Sam Woolley.