Trophies and Achievements: Why They’re a Problem

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In 2005 Microsoft released its second console, the Xbox 360. The 360 was a strong competitor to Sony’s PS3. This was in part due to its most renowned exclusives, Halo and Gears of War, both of which drove console sales with some excellent entries to the series. But, this wasn’t all that the 360 brought to the table. In addition to its IPs, there was its superior online functionality, and with this came achievements. Three years later, Sony released its counterpart to achievements: trophies. With the 15-year anniversary of achievements fast approaching, I can’t think of a better time to discuss some of the worst trophies and achievements in gaming.

Before I begin, I would like to stress that there are some games with good trophies and achievements. Limbo‘s list is a fine example, as they are puzzles within the context of a puzzle game. However, this is not why we are here, and I would argue that the good examples are far outnumbered by the nine types highlighted below.

0G – Humiliation

Prior to trophies and achievements, a horrendous game or overall poor performance was nothing more than personal humiliation. This all changed with the advent of the 0G achievement. Dead or Alive 4 has some prime examples. If it’s your first time playing, be ready to achieve 0G for ‘5 Straight Losses in DOA Online’. If you do even worse, DOA4 has you covered with two more 0G loss-landmark achievements. Finally, there are two more that reward 0G, this time for being graded D or E in its online mode.

Playstation doesn’t have a counterpart to the 0G achievement, however, high tier trophies are awarded for similar effects. If we’ve learned anything from training animals, it’s that positive reinforcement for desired actions is the most effective method. Conversely, the 0G and its counterpart deliver the exact opposite for poor performance. My mammalian brain for one is far from encouraged to play a game that slaps one of these accolades on my profile for all to see!

0G – Congratulations, You Are a Couch Potato

Streaming services, such as Netflix, award 0G for any form of engagement. You’ll see the achievement notification after binge-watching a show, rating a heap of titles or watching something every day for a month straight. Although there’s a solid argument for this version of 0G sitting under ‘humiliation’, these achievements feel more insidious. This is because watching shows on Netflix is a passive form of entertainment that requires nothing from the individual.

Watching something on Netflix does not equate to and will never result in failure, unlike the previously mentioned 0G. Thus, this version of 0G is easily obtainable, appears to be the antithesis of failure and by proxy, desirable. Turning what should be humiliation into something worth posting achievement guides for makes humanity’s decline that more prominent.

Wait, What Game Am I Playing Again?

A game’s trophies or achievements should reward the player for succeeding at its core gameplay. They can also be rewarded to players for interacting with or finding in-game secrets. However, sometimes developers take this latter idea too far by making a number of their trophies and achievements so unrelated to the core gameplay that they’re impossible for the target audience to unlock. My prime example for this category features in the otherwise perfect retro farming simulator, Stardew Valley.

After a thoroughly enjoyable day of toiling on the farm and a spot of fishing, there’s nothing quite as pleasant as joining the community at Stardew Valley‘s Stardrop Saloon. The Saloon is abuzz with activity and (mostly) friendly faces. There’s even an arcade game for when you fancy a break from socialising. But this isn’t an enjoyable reprieve for two reasons: 1) the game is a mercilessly difficult twin-stick shooter. 2) There are two trophies or achievements attached to it. One is for completing it and the other is for completing it without dying.

This game demands high accuracy, fast precise movement, and luck. If you want every trophy or achievement in Stardew Valley, you will have to hone these skills purely through playing this frustrating arcade game over and over. Funnily enough, precision and accuracy aren’t required in this relaxing farming sim’s core gameplay, let alone the existence of a fail state!

Wait, Why Am I Doing This?

Some trophies and achievements are nothing more than time-wasters, and if you decide to obtain them, they only detract from the gaming experience. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is full of these time-wasting trophies/achievements. A lot of them involve pointless positioning and waiting around. What sounds more fun, standing at a bar for two minutes, or in a closed phone booth for three?

If that’s too involved, there’s one that rewards you for being a ‘passive observer’. In order to achieve this accolade, you must put down the controller for ten minutes. And let’s not forget ‘hypochondriac’, where you must go in and out of a building for absolutely no reason, ten times! Although this achievement/trophy type is almost funny in the lackluster experience that is Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, they’re painful to behold in games with great writing and pacing.

…Only Playing for the Trophies/Achievements

I’m sure we’ve all played a game that has rewarded us simply for completing its first chapter, followed by the subsequent chapters. But what about a game that can reward you with every achievement/trophy it has in the first few minutes? Let me introduce an infamous game that you really shouldn’t play: Avatar: The Burning Earth. Achieve a hit counter of 50 and you will have unlocked every achievement the game has.

There is a baffling number of people with this utter trash in their gaming history. But this won’t be the only one, alongside it will be games from the Lego series, King Kong, anything that requires less than a modicum of effort. Let’s try and remember folks, a high gamerscore or number of platinums is less than meaningless if you play games only for their easy to obtain trophies or achievements.

I’m Done Now, But I Can’t Stop

Rayman Legends is one of the greatest 2D platformers ever made. Its fluid controls, clever level design, colourful animations, and masterful score make it a joy to replay. I found myself jumping back into the levels designed around musical numbers time and time again. Additionally, the daily and weekly challenges kept me coming back for more platforming action. However, Legends has a trophy that grabbed me by the throat and kept me playing long after the joy had died. This trophy is somewhat ironically named ‘Truly Awesome’.

In order to obtain ‘Truly Awesome’ and the game’s platinum, you must grind for up to 2000 days. This grinding happens after the credits roll. The only way to increase your awesomeness is through completing the daily and weekly challenges. Although these challenges are initially fun to tackle, it soon wears thin when every day becomes a struggle for gold. But even netting gold edges you only inches closer to the final level of awesomeness. On looking at my trophies, 276 days were nothing but joyless grinding in Rayman Legends. I regret every time I picked up the controller just to inch closer to this trophy. Its memory has tarnished what was otherwise a wonderful gaming experience.

There’s No Time Like the Present, Except When It Isn’t

Growing up, there was nothing I enjoyed more than kicking back and playing one of my favourite games. I’m still very much the same now, but the free time with which to kick back has diminished greatly. There are fewer windows of gaming opportunity too, I’m usually limited to an hour or two in the evening. And I know that I’m not alone. An army of gamers with limited time stands tall. So why are there trophies and achievements demanding that we play at specific times? I’m looking at you, Rocksmith 2014. Why do you want me to rock out when I’m at work, or when I’ve gone to bed? I don’t really have anything more to say on this one. It’s just plain inconsiderate.

Can I Just Play on My Own?

Live service models have pushed the idea that constant connection is what gamers desire above all else. As long as gamers are in the same online world, playing with or against each other, then they will be experiencing the best that gaming can offer. However, playing with others does not inherently equal fun. Some of the most frustrating times I’ve had gaming have been when playing with others online. The most frustrating online experience I’ve had is while playing Mortal Kombat X. Having completed the game and successfully taken on a number of living towers, I felt I was ready to score some fatalities online. Little did I know that after many hours and fights with people from across the world, I wouldn’t be able to win a single online trophy.

To this day, I still haven’t gotten a single online trophy in Mortal Kombat X. The first one only requires a single online win. Why haven’t I been able to do this, you may ask? Well, people are just unwilling to lose. Every time I’ve gotten close to winning, my opponent drops out of the fight. People are far too uptight about their stats to enjoy a good match in any online game, and this is why I rarely ever play online. Gaming for me is escapism, away from people and the constant online connection that the world is throwing on us. Ultimately, I won’t plead for the outright removal of multiplayer trophies and achievements, however, I would like to see them separated from single-player ones.

I Can’t Believe I Missed One!

As previously mentioned, some games award trophies and achievements simply for wading through all of its content. Sometimes though, hidden amongst the predictable, are ones that are missable. If missed, you may have to restart from a save-point or if unlucky, restart the entire game to obtain them. Okami HD on PS3 and PS4 is guilty of hiding such a trophy, titled ‘No Furball on the Menu’. This trophy requires you to outmaneuver the jaw of a giant Water Dragon through tight platforming and rapid brush strokes. If you fail (which is very likely) you’ll have to reload and try again, from wherever your last save was. Even if it was fairly recent, you’ll have to resit through unskippable cutscenes, only to (more than likely) fail again.

On reflection, I don’t think I have a problem with missable trophies, however, I do have a problem with having to redo a lot of superfluous content to retry them!

And Now to Conclude…

Trophies and achievements are a double-edged sword for our games. A large number fall under the negative categories above, however, there are some that glimmer in the darkness. Hotline Miami has some fantastic trophies or achievements which add satisfying challenges to an already hard to master game. Burly Men at Sea offers a trophy for each of its endings, encouraging full exploration. The Bridge rewards players that complete its puzzles efficiently. And there is, of course, Limbo with its contextualised puzzles, as mentioned at the beginning of the article.

I’ve listed four types of positive trophies and achievements above…and I can’t think of any others. Personally, I believe that the negative side of this sword is far sharper. The pursuit of trophies and achievements has cut into my time far too much. I miss the days when I would make challenges for myself, such as running through all of Super Mario World as small Mario. Now, I have challenges dictated to me and meaningless digital plaudits for completing them. But despite trophies and achievements being meaningless, I’m no less addicted. This is the ultimate reason why trophies and achievements are a problem.

Tanya Smith

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