Playing For Keeps: Achievements and Trophies

How often do we as video game players find ourselves setting our controllers and keyboards aside and getting caught on the thought of pondering, “What am I trying to accomplish here?”

Sure, chances are you were compelled to whatever gaming experience you’ve chosen for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps you are among the graphically obsessed and will only concede to the sharpest, most technically impressive-looking titles. Maybe you suffer from an uncontrollable yearning for that one particular genre of game that just knows how to make your mind achieve gaming nirvana. Sometimes we just want to be treated to a narrative that allows us to accomplish the unbelieveable or extraordinary. It could even be as simple as what I’ve expressed in previous pieces with those of us that continue to game for the fun of it.

A more recent innovation has granted gamers a new ambition. Microsoft spearheaded the movement in 2005 when it released the Gamerscore achievements system on the Xbox 360. Sony followed suit in 2008 with the advent of the player profile trophy system it implemented as a software update. Suddenly, a new sense of accomplishment was brought into being that, while not reinventing the wheel, caused a shift in perspective for some in the video game community. Playing a title all the way through to the ending moment when the credits finally rolled was no longer the game’s experience equaling to the total sum of its parts.

Achievement and trophy standards are often used to allow designers to challenge players with tasks or situations not explicitly introduced in the core game. Through Gamerscores and Profile rankings, the console superpowers have offered unprecedented access for tracking player progress and rewarding successes. Here, we would like to take a look and consider whether these 2 systems add to or detract from the overall experience.


To some players, there’s nothing quite like the sense of self-adulation you receive when those friendly-chimed alerts pop over your screen and speakers. For one brief, fleeting moment, the game wants nothing more than to let you know that you bested a certain criteria. These trophies and achievements are badges of honor to show a player’s unwavering ability in overcoming a unique challenge that may not be traditionally presented in the game. Granted, a high percentage of these awards are given simply for playing a story mode or season to completion as any normal buyer would be expected to do.

With these rewarding setups, your basic “Point A to Point B” playthrough runs the risk of missing the opportunity for plenty of points and hardware to add to the player’s collection. Optional side missions and general gameplay minutia is replaced with a competitive will to be the name at the top of your personal leaderboard. Got a friend who likes to brag about how awesome he is at MLB 14: The Show? The trophy system allows you to compare your collections so you can knock your buddy’s ego down a peg when you let him know he hasn’t picked up that “4 Homes Runs in 1 Game” trophy you snatched up last week.

Even something as simple as adding the rarity percentages to each trophy the way that Sony has does that much more to massage player egos when you can declare yourself one of the few (or first) to complete a challenge. These percentages can always serve as a great precaution to let player understand that if the title you are playing is older and the percent is still low, you should be prepared to put some serious time and effort into your play sessions. These systems may have been initially introduced as a means to generate recognition for the most devoted of players, but they eventually gave rise to corrupted gamer sensibilities and moralities.


Pursuit of those magical notifications can become a gamer’s end goal in itself, pushing some players to disregard a lot of realistic contributing factors for actually enjoying the game as it was intended. The makers of the Megamind video game were probably willing to believe that they had delivered a hot commodity product, only to find out that players were willing to sacrifice a few hours of their lives just to boost their points total or tack on an “easy” platinum trophy to their collections.

Those looking to promote their Gamerscore and Trophy Level by playing more mainstream or publicly regarded titles but that don’t have the drive or availability to sink dozens of hours in their sessions have walked an even darker path. Their ambition has shifted to the dark side of console modifications and brute forcing saves. Hacking is a dangerous route taken by those looking for a get-rich-fast strategy when it comes to these systems. Like any good gaming villain would tell you, you never have to tell anyone how you got to the top when all you want them to know is you ARE the top.

From hunters to hackers, there are those that have literally turned the intended effect of achievements and trophies on its head. Some gamers play exclusively for trophies and points in a desperate bid to be on top, compromising game value and integrity among other things. The idea of “any means necessary” often clouds the sights to someone willing to jailbreak or “cheat” their way to the biggest point total/trophy collection possible. Undoubtedly so, there are plenty of players in the top 1 percentile for both progress trackers that have embarked on a legitimate grind on their road to their levels and we salute them for it.


For some, achievements and trophies are a call-to-arms to prove your ability and determination to conquer a challenge. Have a gaming collection a mile wide with only a handful of trophies to show for it? That’s absolutely fine, because a lack of achievements and trophies doesn’t make you any less of a gamer. For others, it’s a hollow chore that becomes their only focus when playing new games. You may be knocking on the door of reaching that 750,000 point Gamerscore plateau but you try not to mention to people that your latest 1,000 came from “having a blast” with Hannah Montana: The Movie game or ripping someone’s save from a gaming walkthrough site.

With other platforms such as Steam, iOS and even Amazon Kindle already integrating achievement systems into their gaming communities as well, the concept is clearly here to stay.

For better or for worse.