The new World of Warcraft achievement of Going Down, awarded when a character falls 65 yards without dying, is a rather dubious honour. It seems to exist for two basic reasons. One is to cause a huge pile of skeletons to appear at the bottom of the Aldor Rise, the other for excellent comics to be drawn. I know this, so why do I still try to attain the achievement?
I can see the reasoning behind such an achievement. If you've managed to get in to a position where you've accidentally fallen or escaped by jumping from a great height but survived to tell the tale the achievement is a neat medal of sorts. It is not an achievement in the sense of learning another language would be, but it is still a remarkable occurrence that deserves to be recorded. The problem comes from presenting the achievement in advance as something that can be earned.
Something that can be earned quickly becomes something that is to be earned when there is knowledge of an assured reward. If Going Down were not to be stated so precisely, leaving some mystery as to whether one needed to survive or how far the fall needed to be, maybe fewer people would aim to accomplish the 'achievement'. It would be like people getting a medal for being stabbed in the chest. If you tell people the depth and length the wound needed to be in order to be rewarded with the medal there would no doubt be people willing to risk serious injury for some recognition. If the details are kept secret there are likely to be far fewer faked stabbings. It could be that the wound needs to be sustained during a bank robbery, for example. By telling people exactly what needs to be achieved they can attempt it, even if it means doing something stupid.
Without firm details of how Going Down is rewarded people will not know if you need to be in combat before the fall, or flagged for PvP, or had to have jumped off the ledge instead of simply falling. But by stating precisely all that needs to be done you get hordes of people suddenly throwing themselves off high ledges, long after it was fashionable to leap from great heights.
That's not to say that stating what needs to be accomplished for an achievement is wrong. Indeed, knowing which critters you have yet to /love, zones you need to visit, or dungeon bosses you need to defeat to be rewarded with an achievement lends itself to a positive goal, a constructive effort to encourage exploration of many facets of the game. But for achievements that are passive side-effects of having done something normally undesirable it is perhaps best to leave the details unmentioned, for it will only lead to players performing negative actions to the detriment of the game.
What I have learnt from the achievement system is that if one WoW player throws himself off a cliff they all will do it.
Of course, without stating what needs to be accomplished there will still be someone who runs in to a room full of hatching whelp eggs to see if that triggers some kind of achievement, but Leeroy Jenkins happened long before an achievement system was in place and thankfully there is no suppressing that kind of spirit.
For information, Sapphire managed to get the Going Down achievement by jumping askew off the top of the Scryer's lift, surviving the fall with only 158 health left from over 6000. It was about my fifth attempt at achieving the goal, having left my own skeletal remains beneath Aldor rise previously.