Rewards for completion are very common in gaming. From spending pennies in Arcades to finally beat that last boss or trying to propel yourself to the top of the leaderboard, rewarding players with a sense of accomplishment has been utilised since the start of the industry. Only recently however, that reward system has been molded into a more identifiable badge of honour with Xbox achievements and Playstation trophies being the most notable of these changes.
Gone (for the most part) are the big industries of arcade gaming outlets, guzzling up a player’s money by tapping into that inherent need to beat a level and instead are the general ‘ease of use’ consoles in every gamer’s home, attracting millions of users whilst needing to be more accessible than ever. This change from focusing on the hardcore gamer to the crudely labeled ‘casual’ gamer has significantly lowered the general difficulty and learning curves in modern gaming, instead allowing gamers to enjoy and mindlessly pass through these adventures without any major problems.
This in turn leads to a lessened sense of achievement when players conduct incredible feats. Claiming top spot on Call of Duty’s leaderboards just isn’t as satisfying as getting the highest score in Pac-Man, now is it? Pac-Man had no story, it was a game made to test your wits and reactions, as were most of the games of that era. The point of the game was to win and to win better than anybody else out there.
Today, the objective isn’t to be the best there ever was, it’s to be the dude who enjoyed his experience and saw everything he could. How boring would it be if Pokémon was about a trainer that just walked their way through the world, having a lovely time? (Or Digimon, for all you weirdos out there, you know who you are). Gaming has fallen from the ‘elite gamers only’ mantle to ‘ah sure, we have to let everyone enjoy it’ and it’s quite a concerning trend to some.
The games that do take the old-school definition of difficulty like Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy are widely loved within the industry and are heralded as the pinnacle of the old guard. Difficulty nowadays is more attuned to spamming you with enemies and less about your skill or practice. If I wanted to be peppered with grenades I would, um….(insert offensive Syria related joke here) and not play Call of Duty: World at War.
Fortunately though, Microsoft came to our rescue…never thought I’d ever say that. Xbox introduced it’s Gamerscore system back in the dreary old days of 2005, when the Playstation 2 was fading away and the Xbox 360 was the new trend. Achievements were set on a base score of one thousand points per game (200 per downloadable game, if we’re being nitpicky) and were separate to the games themselves. This introduced extra reasons for gamers to replay a game or to play it in a different way, thus introducing a new aspect into a an already stale game.
Would I have played Gears Of War on Insanity for the sheer fun if it? Absolutely not, it’s one of my favourite games but I don’t hate myself. I did play it on that difficulty however for the achievements and you know what? I hated it, god speed to whoever wants to endure that. However, the sense of accomplishment and the fact that I had to play it differently created a new experience for me; the newly introduced cover system to the generation (it’s design was actually developed first in the PS2 game ‘Kill.Switch’ but let’s go with GOW for the sake of my argument) was taken for granted when I played it on normal difficulty but it became the centrepiece when I was achievement hunting.
It’s these aspects of achievements and trophies that people seem to take for granted, only assuming that because I have a high Gamerscore or trophy level that I have nothing better to do with my time. For me, it means that I’ve experienced something in my game that you chose not to and that’s perfectly fine too, people play games in their own unique ways and that’s the beauty of this medium; players can interpret or chose how they play the same content differently to those millions of other gamers out there.
This also leads into another aspect of achievements that has been prevalent throughout gaming history and that is the community. there’s something invigorating about comparing trophies with friends, sharing in similar journeys or marveling at feats that I myself could never reach.
That same feeling works on a grander scale and those larger communities introduce more aspects to the achievement hunting activities. Notable communities include PSNProfiles.com or the r/trophies subreddit, both of which I am a member (I’m a Playstation gamer, there’s many sites for Microsoft gamers in a similar vein. For Steam achievements, well… Steam gamers don’t really care so let’s move on). Within these communities, users post their current or most rewarding accomplishments in gaming, ask for advice or just even offer help to those in need, such as teaming up with players for multiplayer trophies or attempting to get the trophies for those players via SharePlay.
It’s cool to see players interact in this manner, especially to see the amount of effort people will go to achieve these feats, whether it’s waving their digital ego around by accomplishing truly extraordinary tasks (I have yet to see a Super Meat Boy platinum trophy and the first will be lauded with a figurative slap on the back) or just sharing those individual experiences and encouraging others to do so; they’re extremely welcoming and comforting communities and believe me, those sort of communities are few and far between.
There are concerns or views around the industry that these rewards in modern gaming are trying to create an addiction by pandering to that part of our personality and to a certain extent, I do agree. There’s a small section of me that just can’t put a game down as I haven’t gotten the platinum, thus the game feels unfinished. Games will always have that though, whether it’s a high score or constant loot being thrown at me to keep me engaged, it’s certainly not a new thing. My argument for trophies and achievements is that they are just that. I’m not rewarded with extra content for acquiring the platinum trophy, I just have this nice little picture of the trophy and my sense of superiority (I’m not shallow, I swear!). With the exception of a few games that do give you meaningless content like clothes for your avatar in Halo, trophies/ achievements don’t offer barriers or content, just a feeling.
My perception is that achievements are seen as meaningless by the general gaming population. That’s completely fine. Not everyone will have the same opinion as me and those differing views are what create really interesting discussions, as long as those discussions aren’t inherently disparaging of course. For me, rewards in the current climate do have various problems and some are very manipulative, the terrible drop rates for loot in Destiny to keep players tied down is a great example. The pros ultimately outweigh the cons however and that’s something to be admired rather than admonished.
There are those of us that enjoy squeezing every last drop out of a medium that we love, either by sinking countless hours into it or by experiencing it in a different way. Trophies and achievements provide that, they are a feeling to me, a sense of community and a method of absorbing as much of this medium that I possibly can. Others will have their own unique ways of experiencing these points and that’s awesome in it’s own right. From reading this, I’m sure that we can agree on one thing though, that I’m better than you because I have over 50 platinum trophies. Seriously, get on my level.