The story of Sisphyus, the Greek mythological figure doomed to endlessly roll a rock up a hill for all of eternity, has endured for thousands of years, perhaps because nearly every human being knows the feeling of being chained to pointless, repetitive tasks that seem like they will never end.
In games, there's a word for that: grind. Existential Comics, a webcomic devoted to deep-cut jokes about philosophers and philosophy, recently reframed the classic tale of Sisyphus around that controversial aspect of gaming culture, in a comic where the doomed prisoner of Hades receives a "Just Keep Rollin' On" achievement for pushing the boulder up to the top of the hill five thousand times. And Sisphyus couldn't be more excited about it.
From World of Warcraft to Cookie Clicker, it's easy to find yourself in games that feel like interactive Skinner boxes, designed to lure you into doing the same thing over and over and over again. Like all behavioral conditioning, grind requires a reward to incentivize its repetition, and achievements have become one of the most popular (and arguably emptiest) rewards.
The question of whether grind and achievements are fun, or just manipulative wastes of everyone's time, is of course a matter of debate and personal taste. Sometimes it's soothing, even therapeutic to tune out the world and lose yourself in a repetitive task, and maybe even enter a state of "flow".
One person on my Twitter feed suggested that they'd actually love to apply this sort of gamification to the boring tasks of their everyday life, to make them more bearable or perhaps even enjoyable. (There's an app for that, of course.) "Achievements" aren't just something we chain ourselves to in the name of entertainment; they can also be a way of finding entertainment in the things we're already chained to. After all, if you've got to keep pushing that boulder, why not find a way to enjoy it?