Thursday, December 9, 2010

If I Wanted a Trophy, I'd Join a Children's Tee-Ball Team

As a participant in the wide world of gaming, and a contributor to the online discussion about video games, I feel that I must take a stand. I take this stand for the other gamers who feel the same way that I do (and there has to be A FEW) about this particular subject. I realize that it may cost me, and that my stance is probably unpopular, but I would do myself a disservice if I didn't say anything about it.


There. I said it. If you would like a fine treatise on operant conditioning in gaming, I suggest watching the following installment of one of my favorite web video series, "Extra Credits". This'll get you up to speed for the following discussion:

I have used both the Achievement and Trophy systems, and I still feel the same way about them. "But BitNick," you say, "I think that they're great, and I didn't like the video, and you didn't have to write your opinion in caps because that reminds me of when my Mom used to yell at me about video games when I was young."

To that I answer, "It's fine for you to like Achievements and Trophies as long as you are willing to hear my opinion about them and consider it, and you don't have to like the video, although I put it there just for you and it makes me feel bad when I do things for you and you don't like them, and you need to work out these Mommy issues if we're going to keep being friends, dude."

For clarity, let me state that I DO think there are games and circumstances in which a system like the ones above would fit. Achievements in sandbox-style games can be particularly enjoyable and function as a road map of what to see and who to talk to/shoot at/solicit favors from.

My problem arises from the idea that EVERY game would be better with a system of achievements. If video games could be art, aren't we risking short-changing ourselves by declaring unilaterally that we will interrupt immersion for every little action the player completes from combing their hair, to watching the credits without skipping them. We are given achievements for everything now, and act as if we have been personally wronged if a game doesn't have them.
"Wait... I don't get ANYTHING for looking at this?!
Well, I'm not coming back until this museum implements
 an achievement system."
I know that there are few out there who believe that every game needs an achievement system, but in a tragic turn of events, and defying nature and statistical distribution, Sony seems to be run exclusively by these people. Luckily for us, though, they haven't done anything as crazy as take a game that was a compelling argument for video games to be considered artistic expression and retro fit it with......

Oh, wait. Yes they did.

Shadow of the Colossus is a marvelous game (and for that matter, I have heard from Jo that ICO is, too). Playing it is like playing a journey, exploring the feelings that your character feels, and watching the effect that slaying these colossi has on him. In many ways, you are the one who is drained at the end, having just achieved something monumental, but questioning why you did it.

Because there are no day-to-day mundanities in Shadow of the Colossus, the interludes between fights with the colossi are present for functional reasons, designed to weave the storyline carefully, like thread through the eye of a needle. Each battle is a puzzle, a story, and a poem in its own right, and forgive me if I feel that having "You Have Earned a Trophy! Stabby McStabberson" appear on the screen while I am in the midst of the struggle would sort of ruin the mood. Many of these "accomplishments" are things you would have to do in the course of the game anyway, so why do we need to interrupt the narrative to BRING ATTENTION TO THEM?

Awesome! Things that are mundane in my daily life are cool here
because I do them with dual-analog sticks!
I guess that the most powerful reason that I am so vehemently opposed to having a Trophy system in a game like Shadow of the Colossus is because it takes a game that is, by nature, an introspective journey, and transforms it into yet another competition between players. People get trophies and achievements so that their friends can see them, and to add a competitive aspect to a game like this is to defile its artistic core. It takes the focus from where it should be, and reduces it to yet another "frag-fest".

Accomplishment systems have a place in video games, but universally deploying them does not cast a good light on our medium. These systems send a very clear message: "Attaining" is all that matters; if you are not "attaining" something, then it couldn't possibly be worthwhile.

Can we not simply enjoy something because it is beautiful or thought-provoking, like other arts do, or must we add artificial accomplishment to everything?

Having a trophy system on a game like Shadow of the Colossus is like watching "The Seventh Seal" with a pop-up video track. It would distract from the message, making the viewer instead focus on minutiae rather than seeing the broader commentary.

Do you agree, or disagree? Let us know in the comments below, because the only way to address these issues is if the people who care about them begin the discussion!



  1. I completely agree, and not just because I contribute on this site. :) Adding this to Shadow of the Colossus would be like adding a candy dispenser to the David. Why would you bastardize something so perfect?

  2. I too thought about Shadow of Colossus when thinking about trophies. In games like that, there is no need for them.

  3. I agree that trophy's are worthless and only matter to those people that need positive re-enforcement in everything they do. But they have never interfered with my game play and experience. I rarely notice them and don't understand how its is such a big issue. Sure they pop up when you get them, but i just never notice them. If you don't like trophy's don't bother with them, unless your self conscience around your friends that play the same game?

  4. @ Anonymous 1

    Yeah, there are some play experiences that are sullied by a trophy or achievement system being tacked-on to them. As you can see, I'm with you on the Shadow of the Colossus situation

    @ Anonymous 2

    I see your point, and your thought is valid, but may I posit a counter-point? There are those who really enjoy trophies or achievements, and there are some games that really lend themselves well to them. My problem isn't pretending they don't exist; you're right that anyone who doesn't like them can do that. My problem is assuming that they should be in every game.

    To illustrate what I mean, I use this example: Why do people call Wii motion controls "waggle", and is there really no situation in which motion controls would actually ENHANCE the game in question? Some would say there there weren't any times when motion controls were a good choice, and they would cite the Wii's many pieces of shovelware as a reason.

    The fact is, though, that motion controls have simply been over-applied on the Wii, with every single developer attempting to shoehorn them in at every opportunity. Over-application has cheapened motion controls to the point of ridiculousness, and in their desire to catch part of Nintendo's "expanded-market", developers have compromised the story, art, or play-mechanics of a perfectly good game.

    There are times when motion controls, or achievement systems, are a good fit for a game. I am simply asking developers, and console manufacturers, to have the maturity to know when those times are.

    By the way, thanks for commenting, and welcome to The 8-Bit Variety Show!


  5. I'm an avid gamer, 32 years old, and have been gaming since the 2600 days and never looked back however, I wasn't exposed to the world of Achievements/Trophies until I purchased a PS3 about 2 years ago. Personally, I enjoy the implementation of a trophy system in my games, regardless of genre, as I really feel that they extend the replay value of a title, at least in my case, and encourage (and sometimes force) me to get more value out of something I've spent $50-60 on. I remember the frustrated looks my dad would give me when he'd drop $40 on a new NES Mega Man title for me when I was a kid, only for me to go to him a few days later telling him that I had beaten it and was bored. In fact, it was that frustration with me "cleaning house" on some of the more action-oriented games, that he literally forced me to play my first RPG: Dragon Quest (Warrior) 1, as a way to slow my conquest. That game was BRUTAL on a 7 year old but it worked. I fell in love with RPGs and the long hours spent leveling and looting. Why spend $$ on an action game that I'll beat in a few days and forget when I could play an RPG for months and still have quests left unexplored? From an enjoyment (not to mention financial) point of view, it was a no brainer.

    That brings me back to trophies which, like elements such as XP accumulation and skill tree sets found in many RPGs, are operant conditioning mechanisms that reward the player for continuing to play. There is an inherent sense of accomplishment, obviously by design (o hai, Skinner!), that comes with getting recognized & rewarded for completing a task, menial or not. "Unavoidables" like getting a trophy for completing the Tutorial or doing something you're supposed to do anyway, DO come across as a lazy way for a game designer to encourage the player to simply complete the game; blatant "Collector" trophies also are annoying to me. It's the trophies that encourage me to replay the game in a different way that intrigue and satisfy me. "Time attack" trophies, like a number of those included in SotC and Ico, definitely force me to restrategize and approach the game in way I might not have initially, and for me, that's fun. Even games that are more of an artistic fare, Flower and Limbo come to mind, I feel benefit from the inclusion of trophies and have asked me to focus on things I might have otherwise missed. This have never ruined the immersive experience for me nor am I jonesing for the penis-measuring contest that "trophy comparison" undoubtedly degenerates into among some gamers, but then again I don't have 100 "friends" on PSN that I want to show off my trophy collection to; I have 5, and I'm sure that none of them care. :)

    I adore SotC and had it for my PS2 but I can honestly say that HD remastering or no, if the game did not have that added pull of the trophy set-- that is, a number of challenges that will ask me to possibly experience an old favorite in a new way-- I would have passed on it. I've got plenty of games that are clamoring for my limited time in between work and other responsibilities, and I think the trophy/achievement system found in modern gaming (and everything else?) is a compelling way to encourage me to sit down and sink a few more hours discovering things I might have otherwise overlooked simply because my play style is different.

    Again, I really enjoyed your article, even if we diverge about the inclusion of trophies in SotC, or the larger question as to why the need to include trophies in every kind of game. I don't feel it's a necessity that I NEED in a game so much as it has enhanced my playing experience, increasing the replay value of something long after I've gone from point A to B.

    Anyways, love the site and you've got yourself a new fan! Keep up the smart work!


  6. FAIL.
    "and forgive me if I feel that having "You Have Earned a Trophy! Stabby McStabberson" appear on the screen while I am in the midst of the struggle would sort of ruin the mood. Many of these "accomplishments" are things you would have to do in the course of the game anyway, so why do we need to interrupt the narrative to BRING ATTENTION TO THEM?"

    This does not even happen in SOTC. When you kill a collosi. The narative gets interupted anyways, by the save screen. This is also the moment you achievement pops up.

    Other achievements are for silly things like holding on to a hawk for 30 seconds or finding all fruits. This challenges you to try other thinks outside of the narrative..

  7. @ Sven Stoffels

    I think that the only fail happening here is your ability to read publish dates.

    This article was written almost a year ago, long before SOTC HD was released. As such, it was speculation on the implementation of the Trophy system in SOTC.

    If things are as you say, the principles still stand. Some narratives, or experiences dn't need trite demands in order to make players experience the game in a different way - the game simply demands that by design. SOTC, and a small handful of other beautiful games, fit that bill nicely.

    Still, your comments are appreciated, and we hope to see you around here more often! We could always use some spirited discussion!


  8. I actually feel the same way you do, BitNick, albeit with a small difference. When I originally played these games on the PS2 I played them through with no annoying pop-ups/trophies/achievements and I loved every minute of it. Well, I probably could have found the colossi faster. It took me hours to find some-flashing the sword and back-tracking, coming to a dead end and realizing it was the same dead end I had seen ten minutes ago. I sold these games to purchase my PS3. Gamestop gave me a few bucks for each of them and I plan on rebuying them for the new system. (I had heard PS2 titles were incompatible and dumped my collection AND system).

    It might help in artistic games like this to simply have an "Off" button for trophies. Turning this button to "off" will simply disable the annoying pop-up that detracts from the whole experience. You'll still get trophies-just no dialogue when you do.

    I think such a small bad thing in an otherwise outstanding game won't ruin it for everyone else.

    Have fun.

  9. As an avid trophy hunter myself, I believe Anon 3 did a wonderful job explaining how I feel about trophies. In short, I love them. However, I also agree with this article. Not all games need them. And for me, they can sometimes take away from the experience of the game, but not for a reason that the author mentions. I'm a bit of a completionist. On any game I really have fun with I enjoy getting 100% just for the sake of it. But once I was introduced to trophies, this made my completionist mentality apply to EVERY game I played. But the fact is, sometimes I don't want to 100% a game. I only want to beat the main story because I don't particularly enjoy the game enough or just because the menial tasks you would need to do to get the trophies are more frustrating than fun, or not fun at all. But because of my own completionist mentality, it just drives me nuts not being able to get all of the trophies. AND it takes away the feeling of accomplishment of beating the game. When I was younger, beating a game left me feeling great, practically jumping up and down in joy. Now beating a game leaves me feeling nothing, because I realize I haven't even gotten half the total trophies in the game. Now I only get the feeling of accomplishment when I get the platinum for a game. This is entirely my own opinion, though, and I realize not many people feel the same way as me. Most people are able to just ignore the trophies they don't care about and still get whatever feeling of accomplishment they want based on their own set goals. This post is not meant to be whiny or begging for any sort of change. I just stated how I feel.


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