27 Dec

It starts out slow for anyone who joins this most recent console generation. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to games or if you remember the fonder days of Ghostbusters for the Atari 2600, the results are the same. You pick up a Playstation 3 or an XBox 360 and run your way through some new gaming wonder. But what’s this? You got a trophy for 25 head shots. You quickly flip through the dashboard and examine this oddity further. Apparently, there’s another trophy for 50 head shots, and another for 75 and, would you believe it, another for 100. In an instant your play-style is changed. You no longer bother picking up that shotgun, it’s too inaccurate. You start ducking behind cover and picking enemies off from afar. Everything that is canon with your style of play has be thrown out the window in pursuit of that 100 head shot goal. Is this kind of Jedi-like  influence a good or a bad thing? Sure, you’re having fun chasing down these achievements but you’re no longer playing by your own rules, you’re falling into a streamlined path set  by the omnipresent developers, never to have your own mind again. So are achievements and trophies a blessing to add re-playability and challenge to a generation of games, or are they an electronic leech drying us of personal thought and creativity?

For those unfamiliar, achievements and trophies are a developer requirement. They are simply a set of extra goals to complete during play-though of any current-gen title. When complete a not-so-elusive task such as, “Kill Your First Enemy” you get a soothing little dingle and an achievement/trophy. Each competed goal nets you an allotment of points which raise your gamerscore on the 360 or your level on the PS3, and thus your cyber-dong grows and grows.

But what are these little collectibles doing to us? I can tell you right now that one of my favorite games this year is Donkey Kong Country Returns, but I can also you tell you I’ve struggled to play it as often as I’d like. The reason, because although I would love to get every puzzle piece and KONG letter, I get nothing in return for them. Hell, I can’t even get my friends to believe me when I tell them of my progress unless I drag them to my house and waggle my Wii to life. Ah, but if the Wii had some sort of trophy system, we’ll call them “Stars”, then my illustrious accomplishments could be see by all. In this sense I support these console extras. They increase ones drive to get all those little trinkets in a game and add to the replayability. I might not complete all this extra fluff without the goal oriented unlockables. But in the olden’ days I would have done these extras just for sport. Has the age of  achievements really warped the completionists in us this far?

That isn’t the most damning affect of goal-oriented gaming though. Achievement sets and trophies do help steer us into situations that we might not have got into before, but they also steer us places we might never have ever gone without the incentive. When achievements begin to root themselves in conventional game techniques we begin to lose our sense of self. I spent hours aiming for the “Counter 20 Enemies” trophy in Enslaved: Journey to the West despite the counter being one of the least intuitive, frustrating combat mechanics in the game. We’re all guilty of going out of our play-style to appease the trophy gods. Some might say this is a good thing. That it helps us explore the game more and dig up a much richer experience by experimenting with actions we might not have previously. But is this worth the price of your own imagination?

Goal Oriented Gaming robs the gamer of their creative integrity. A video game is a vast expanse of self -awareness. Despite what you may think, you’re choices in Fallout: New Vegas are a reflection of your psyche. There has always been the danger of one disrupting this personal experience with a walkthrough but never have we had to compete with a reward system set forth by the developer. When a game tells you that you can get points for killing ten enemies with grenades you’re gonna start chuckin’ grenades any time a cluster of enemies is on screen. Is this the right action for this situation? Yes. Is this what you might have done left to your own devices? Maybe not. Maybe you would have picked a vantage point and sniped every soldier in the base and walked in with some intellectual satisfaction for your unorthodox solution. Hell, maybe you already got the grenades achievement and now your running about like an idiot trying to desperately melee every enemy in the  base for a completely different achievement. Despite the action taking place, you are being robbed of your personal  play experience.

Join us...

Trophies and achievements are like the force (Yes, a Star Wars reference. It wouldn’t be an Elder Geek article without one). On the lighter side, these goals can extend a games lifespan and offer substantial replyability while giving some great peace that none of us really understand. On the dark side, goal oriented gaming can warp our self-referential experimentation into nothing more than a checklist of  grocery tasks to tick off before the credits roll. Oh, and then it reduces your Uncle Owen to sand jerky. Regardless, all I ask to everyone out there is to be wary of trophies. Don’t let their absence steer you away completing from great titles. Don’t let them change the way you play videogames. I’d even recommend avoiding them altogether on the first run of a game. I find trophies most satisfying when I get them by accident.

So next time you load up a new game and see that new achievement entry open up, think of these words: experience games for just that, the experience, not for the XP.

9 thoughts on “Achievement Unlocked: The Effect of Goal Oriented Gaming”

  1. When I had Gamefly I was huge into collecting acheivements, but I hardly ever went out of my way to get all of them for a specific game.

    However, I did recently go back to the first Assassin’s Creed and collected all of the flags for nothing more than to see that little “achievement unlocked” box pop up.

  2. Yeah, I have recently found myself being a Trophy whore. I know there are some trophies in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune that would be hard for me to pull off (brutal combo people 5 time in a row, and kill with one punch), as they are way outside of my play style that I just won’t do them for the trophies. There are some games that give you super easy achievements/trophies just for playing the game through its story or by just doing things in game (ex. GoW, FFXIII, and ACII). There are some games that make me want that Platinum trophy so bad that I strive to do all the trophies to get that coveted trophy. I know that I will get all the ones for ACII as they are not hard, and I am so close to getting one in inFAMOUS, but I just have to do one more trick (stupid kill three people with a high fall take-down blasted off the roof with a shockwave; if anyone knows a good place to do that, let me know).

    There are some games that unlock content when you get certain achievements/trophies. I know that in Tekken 6 with some trophies you get rewards for HOME, and in FFXIII you get themes for your PS3; those types of rewards I like. Oh, and I can’t forget about TF2 with its over 300 some achievements, which reward you with weapons for each class if you get a certain amount of achievements to get rewarded a milestone (this I liked until Valve implemented the random item drop and now the store, as you didn’t work for your weapon, as working for them meant you showed dedication to the game and community).

    Trevor I do agree that Nintendo should implement a in-game reward system, and I would hope that they would start with the 3DS as they said they are working on a whole new online experience (hopefully dropping the friend codes in favor of a profile).

    Now on to the picky part of rewards. Besides forcing you out of your play style, rewards have done one other thing to games; removed cheat codes. I know this isn’t a big one, but I remember being able to put in codes to do fun stuff to the game, or just allow me to be overpowered and breeze through the game. Some games still have cheats, but not many these days. Oh, and I am not talking about a toggle switch in the games menu where you can turn big head mode on or not (ironically you would get that menu and modes by doing actions in-game much like being rewarded with an achievement or trophy).

    Well written man. Now back off to ACII (much better then the first game) to finish up the story and get all the trophies. Then off to AC: Brotherhood, and whatever else is laying around my room (not all the game I am going to play have reward systems).

    1. I heartily agree that it’s a shame that trophies have all but snuffed out the classic wacky game cheat. I’m sure we all remember when going out of your way to do menial tasks nabbed you actual content instead of fake XP. I don’t dislike trophies, I am just disappointed in the effect it has on some games.

  3. I’m an achievement whore, and not afraid to admit it (37310 and counting). I love them, and I totally agree when you say they have the opportunity to make you play the game in a certain way. For instance, the “One Gun” from Dead Space (to complete the game using ONLY the Plasma cutter) and “The One Free Bullet” from Episode 2 (only fire a single round in the entire episode) are a lot of fun to get, and make you experience the game in an entirely different way. I hated some of the achievements in Fable 2 though, where you get independent achievements for each of the 3 endings, or the achievements from Fallout 3 where you need to gain levels on certain levels of morality. Those two really bugged me, as they forced me to give up the ability to make certain decisions that I preferred over others.

    Also, I think many games waste opportunities to extend their replay-value when they include many achievements that are unlock through “regular” play. Getting 700 or 800 GP in your very first playthrough, when you’re not actively pursuing them is a bit of a shame, methinks :(

  4. I watched an episode of Extra Credits that discussed reward systems, specifically, the ones based on Skinner’s Box. Occasional rewards for repeated actions will condition the subject to repeat that action. That’s the principle on which casinos are built and many games follow suit.

    The Trophy/Achievement system is just an extension of that, combining the positive reinforcement of getting a reward with the pride of showing off that reward to others and increasing your “status.”

    Manipulative and brilliant.

  5. Achievements are 99% stupid, unless they take you into new fronteers. In those cases, they’re really awesome. Not everyone would try playing Fallout without killing anyone unless the game itself suggested it. That’s great and good work, achievements. Now having you kill 50 enemies with each gun, that’s just bad. And forcing devs to add them is worse.

  6. I’m glad you’re all on board. It’s an interesting dynamic that has been introduced to some of our favorite games, hopefully in the future we can see these extras actually become something extra and not some meaningless add-on.

    1. The three best examples I can think of are TF2, SC2, and WoW. TF2 unlocks guns when you do a certain amount of achievements. In Starcraft 2 you unlock new profile images and decals the more achievements you do (shows your status, or level of multiplayer skill). WoW is similar to SC2, but just dedicated to WoW. Achievements/Trophies can be rewarding other then status, by following Valve’s and Blizzard’s formula of rewarding players. Now if Sony would only just put in that Trophy room in Home, then we will be getting somewhere.

      Sidenote; Sony said that Home would be out of beta this month, but I am not sure about that. Hopefully when they do they will give us the Trophy room, then that would be awesome.

Comments are closed.