The Trophy Hunt

One of the big draws to the universal ID that new generation systems have brought is universal trophies/achievements. People have very differing views on this topic.

The biggest argument against these trophies is that they demean the value that video games had before these trophies. The quest for 100% completion has overcome the simple desire to have fun, and the entire thing has become a competition.

But aren’t many video games built around competition anyway? The draw to Call of Duty, one of the biggest franchises that currently exists, is built around online competitive play, and it’s very easy to argue that this has cheapened the game experience, but the world has embraced it nonetheless. While not direct competition, the trophy hunt has expanded the possible competition to include the single-player experience as well in what is essentially an expansive points system in which every accomplishment is tracked.

Also, many trophies showcase games in ways that previously weren’t possible. Take inFamous for example. I played through it doing good deeds, and I likely would have never given the game a second play-through as a darker hero if not for the trophies tied to it. This turned out to be an entirely new experience, and I’m glad I did it. This is where one must look at the art of mere trophy design:

There are two kinds of trophies. The kind I’ve just described encourages one to get everything out of a game and fully immerse oneself in it. The second is repetitive and serves as fuel for the crowd that wishes to debunk the fad that is trophy-hunting.

The former type include trophies for utilizing a variety of weapons, forcing one to experience the game in different ways. Other such trophies include ones that reward skill like combo streaks, time trials, and difficulty settings. Or, in a delightfully unique example, the LittleBigPlanet trophies you get based on community response for your levels. While this can also be manipulated in the familiar heart-for-heart ritual, it’s intent is to challenge a user to immerse oneself in the level-design system and create something really fantastic that benefits the entire LittleBigPlanet community.

The latter type include the MLB The Show 10 trophy for playing a game in every ballpark. This trophy can be half-assed  by playing 1 inning games in every ballpark, a fruitless endeavor that nonetheless, if left undone, leaves one with the depressing feeling of a missing trophy in that particular collection. A similar example includes the trophies in The Saboteur for destroying every last Nazi target, a task that will absorb a great deal of time and is extremely repetitive. This can also apply to inFamous, as collecting blast shards is quite tedious and it’s hard to feel accomplished afterward unless the blast shard trophy is accompanied by the ping of the platinum.

So while cases do, indeed, exist in which the trophy set might seem to cheapen an experience, I find the trade-off very well worth it when it pushes you to play a game in a new way and actually build on that experience. I hope we can trust developers to wield this power to manipulate the player in positive ways.

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