Before I begin the post, a little house keeping. As I hope you have all noticed, the blog has officially moved from blogger to WordPress. With any luck this will solve the ongoing issue with comments. If there is a continued problem let me know. As part of the switch, I have new toys to play with, one of which being a poll option. I intend to set up a new poll once a week; although, I’ll keep this one around until next Saturday. Finally, you may notice that this is a Thursday post, and I recently reduced my regular posting schedule from Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, to simply Saturday. While I can only guarantee a Saturday post, I will still attempt to make the other two times. However, if my schedule prevents me, I will not be posting cancellations or anything of the sort. With that out of the way, lets start the post.
I love trophies and achievements. They are one of those massive improvements that I thought the current generation brought to the industry. I can’t even begin to tell you how many games I have played long after I would normally have shelved them simply to score another cache of trophies. However, that’s not to say that trophies or achievements are always welcome. There are definitely occasions where they simply get in the way, whether from a story-telling perspective or a gameplay one. And, while I’m glad to see these reward systems moving to next gen, the idea of them spreading beyond gaming like Microsoft’s movie and television achievements is a little vexing.
Story-based games can run into some serious problems with trophies or achievements. The problem is that helpful ‘ding’ and the popup window. In most games this is a minor issue, or even a welcome treat, but it can be murder to immersion. One of the great examples of this is in the game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. At the height of this game, one of your friends makes the ultimate sacrifice is a surprisingly gut-wrenching manner. Upon doing so, while the other characters are still reeling from the shock and their own emotions, a trophy/achievement pops up. To make matters worse, it has a joke title. Thus it completely undermines the entire point of the scene.
Some developers are aware of the issue. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is a great example of a developer neutering trophies in order to keep immersion high. Throughout the game, you are unlikely to earn more than a few trophies unless you really try hard. Most of the trophies to be found in The Last of Us are tied to beating the game, meaning there aren’t any chapter-capping trophies that totally ruing the moment, as they can in so many cases. The downside to this practice, is that it does sort of defeat the point of having trophies and achievements anyway. Trophies in The Last of Us are vestigial with a capital v. Therefore, the benefits of a trophy system – replayability and endorphin-releasing – are minimized or simply not present. This leads me to wonder why even force your developers to shoehorn in a trophy or achievement system at all.
However, it isn’t only story games that suffer from the trophy or achievement systems. I would argue that the real victim is games with open gameplay, particularly stealth. For example, when I was playing Dishonoured, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I didn’t kill anyone; nor was I ever spotted. The reasons for this are simple: I wanted the stealth and non-lethal trophies. But there’s a problem with this. I didn’t enjoy playing these games nearly as much as I should have. Actually, I enjoyed my second playthrough of Deus Ex better, because I could finish any situation however I wanted. Being shoehorned into a restrictive play-style in a game that offers a wide variety of ways to complete an objective is just as bad as being forced down a morality path in a game simply because you want the perks at the end.
The problem is about encouraging you to do things you don’t want to do. This is, at the same time, a great strength of the trophy and achievement systems, as they often promote trying things you’d never normally do. However, sometimes, avid trophy or achievement enthusiasts such as myself will fall into the trap of changing their play-style to match the trophy or achievement list, instead of playing how you want to. Looking at another Naughty Dog game series – Uncharted – I frequently hold onto weapons that are either useless or that I don’t want, simply to get the requisite number of kills with it so I can hear that glorious trophy pop.
Some people truly don’t care about trophies or achievements, and others care far too much and are willing to play through unbearably bad games simply to up their gamerscore/level. However, most of us lie in the middle. It’s undeniable that these little rewards are intended to give us that rush we get from earning something. It’s the exact same mechanic as slot machines, and I’ve discussed that before. This means, that a large part of the gaming population cares about achievements or trophies at least a little bit, possibly enough to have a worse experience while playing simply to earn one. This shouldn’t be. Achievements and trophies were designed to benefit gamers, but the truth in the matter is that they can ruin, or hamper experiences.
While I’m glad trophies and achievements are here to stay, there is something to be said about the simplicity of playing a game, purely for the game itself. While I may not search through every nook and cranny, I’m also doing exactly what I want, when I want, and isn’t that what games are supposed to be about? In this way, the Wii U truly sets itself apart from the other next gen consoles. Without any form of rewards system, Nintendo may be dreadfully out of date, but, at the same time, they haven’t forgotten that it isn’t the developers job to tell gamers how to play their game. Anyway, food for thought.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer