[Revisited] Trophies: My Final (Late) Gripe of 2018

The crotchety re-posts continue! Trophies and achievements have been a standard feature in games for a long time now. I realize that, and I realize that many people enjoy them. I still don’t think they’re a great innovation though, and I still feel that they could at least be done better.

The year of 2018 was a decent year for gaming, and 2019 is looking like it’ll be even better. After spending this last month talking about all the good things we’ve seen this year and all the great stuff coming next year, I figured now would be the best time to finally talk about something I’ve been wanting to touch on for a long time now. As the title may indicate, I’m not too fond of trophies. The concept was fun in the beginning, but now I see it as an annoyance that’s gone a bit too far. So, let’s get this underway and ring in the new year free of complaints!

So yeah, I hold the somewhat unpopular perspective of disliking trophies/achievements in video games. Steam Achievements, PlayStation Trophies, Xbox Achievements, etc. I don’t like any of them at all. Now, I’ll just say right off the bat that it’s not because they affect me personally. When it comes to the games I play, trophies might as well not exist. They’re that inconsequential to my play experience. So logically, they shouldn’t matter to me, right? Not exactly. I don’t dislike trophies because of how they impact me, but rather how they impact gaming. Trophies create a certain mindset in those who are receptive to them, and I’ve seen that mindset become a hindrance to many of my friends and other anonymous gamers I’ve observed on the internet. For some, it’s even worse than that.

To start, this is something I actually used to buy into as well. When achievements were newly introduced on Xbox 360, I was all for them. I’d chase them in all my games and eventually treated the pursuit as the way to experience a game to the fullest. I wouldn’t do it for every game, just those I enjoyed most as a way to “honor” them and their creators. You know what though? Playing games this way sucks. It reduces every game down to what ever challenge one is chasing at the time and often makes the whole of the experience into a repetitive chore rather than something fun one can simply just kick-back and enjoy. I’m not sure when exactly it was that I woke up to this, but upon realizing it I pulled a complete 180 on them, never looked back, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself as a gamer. Games are just games again, just like they were before all this “achievement” nonsense.

Some of my friends are still enthralled to achievements and trophies though. Of them, it’s mostly just cases of going the extra mile to 100% because they enjoy it just that much. However, there is one who absolutely lives for the trophies. Now, they’re not a trophy hunter in the sense that the trophies are all they care about. It’s more like the trophies completely dictate how they play every game, and how they play games in general. From minute one it’s all about playing the game in a way that will earn them the most trophies in the most efficient way possible.

They’ll even waste days just chasing just one unbelievably stupid/grindy/difficult challenge, grumbling and complaining about it all the while. It’s obviously not fun, they even admit it, but they still can’t let that trophy go unclaimed. There’s always a reason why they need to have it: “the game is fun, the game is worth it, gotta support the developers, I really want the platinum” and so on. It’s just sad to see, because this is someone who absolutely loves video games, but can only enjoy  a handful of them because of the mindset these trophies encourage.

I see it all around the net too. I’ll see it in the comments on gaming websites and YouTube; people come right out and say that they’d love to play a game on X console, but their trohpy list is on Y console, so they can’t. I’ve even seen people decide not to play a game solely because there are no trophies to be earned. Why on earth should these empty little things matter even slightly to one’s buying decision? It boggles the mind. They force unnatural play, are completely arbitrary, are not the status symbol so many people think they are, and unlocking them does absolutely nothing to support the developers (as many seem to think for some unknowable reason). Trophies should be treated as an inconsequential extra, but for many people they’re exactly the opposite, and that’s why I hate them.

On a more personal note, I hate the lie that lies at the core of virtual achievements and trophies. I hate that they’re held up as “real” achievements, when there’s nothing real about them at all. There’s no actual, tangible value to unlocking an achievement or trophy. All one gets, all anyone gets from them is a little audio ding and a number added to their online record. That number doesn’t mean anything though. No one is going to look at it and marvel at your skill as a gamer, and it’s never going to translate into work or money or anything that impacts your real life. You yourself will forget about them not too long after starting your next game. In a word, trophies and achievements are completely and utterly worthless.

All trophies and achievements are are barely concealed attempts to get gamers invested in specific games and hardware. AND IT WORKS! My friend is never going to play anything on any console besides PlayStation because that’s the system his trophy account is on. People also continue buying games in a series because they see themselves as invested in it thanks to all the time they spent getting trophies in the previous games. It’s all just one big trick, and many of us have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.

Look, if you truly enjoy chasing trophies, then good for you; do your thing and have fun. But please, please do yourself a favor and consider what it is that you’re actually doing. Are you really enjoying whatever game you’re playing, or is it just another series of tasks with trophies waiting at the end? Are you taking the game in, or are you merely slogging though it as you progress along the trophy list? Are trophies really all they’re cracked up to be? Your answer doesn’t have to agree with mine, but please at least try to understand why and how you’ve arrived at it.

Phew! That got a little intense didn’t it? I’ve kinda been wanting to say all that stuff for a very long time now, so I guess it’s only natural that it would turn into a rant, eh? Anyway, what do you think about trophies? Think about it as we head into another great year!

Image by Flickr user Mark Farrell (CC BY 2.0)