One of the biggest new features for this generation of gaming is the concept of motion controls. The Nintendo Wii began the revolution and modified how we played games, and both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 followed suit, releasing the Kinect and Move respectively. Most people will regard motion controlled gaming as the revolution this generation will be remembered for, but I respectfully disagree. While there is no doubt that motion controls have had a significant influence on the gaming landscape, but there is one change which has had a much more profound effect on how we play our games and the way they’re developed.
That’s right folks, achievements and trophies are the true revolutionary feature that this generation unleashed upon the gaming world. You can rarely purchase an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 game without finding yourself faced with a list of these unlockable “rewards” for performing certain actions within the game. Some of these listed actions may be as simple as pressing the Start button at the main menu while others may require you to play through the entire game or a specific segment of the game within a time limit and without dying. All one has to do is take a look at how achievement lists have evolved on the Xbox 360 since launch, and the fact that the PS3 adopted trophy lists soon after achievements became more popular to understand that these small pictures that pop up on our screens have a monumental affect on gamers. Initially, the achievement system on the Xbox 360 was designed as a way for gamers to show off the “significant” things they had accomplished within a game. If you look at the achievement list for a game such as Perfect Dark Zero, you will notice that not only are almost all of them multiplayer-related, but based on spending hours upon hours playing a single variant of the multiplayer. If you examine the trophy or achievement lists for most games today, there will likely be a significant portion of them dedicated to merely completing chapters of the campaign. It may be impossible to speak for developers, especially to suggest they all have the same singular reason for creating the achievements or trophies they do, but it is hard to deny that unlocking these little awards has become increasingly simple.
It is not difficult to understand why some gamers have fallen in love with the system, or why it worked so well in the first place. Having a small symbol appear on the screen and keeping track of the things a gamer has accomplished within a game is a form of positive reinforcement, something that utilizes psychology to the advantage of game companies. When you see that symbol pop up and hear that noise, it makes you feel good about what you’ve done, rewarding you for your actions despite the fact that achievements and trophies count for next to nothing. Much like how you feel when someone acknowledges your hard work, compliments you on how you look, or thanks you for a kind gesture, receiving some form of reward activates that desire within us as humans to be appreciated. Sure, trophies may be a very unconventional form of appreciation, and achievements may not be the first thing that come to mind when pondering ways to thank someone, but in the world of gaming, they are certainly effective.
While Nintendo has decided to refrain from adopting an achievement or trophy system, you can now find them in everything from your Vita to Steam, games on your Windows 8 phone to browser-based games. There are now entire websites dedicated to tracking the trophies and achievements you unlock while gaming, you can easily compare your own lists to those belonging to your friends, and Microsoft has even gone so far as to introduce a tier system for users based on their gamerscore. The fact that these sorts of things exist is a testament to just how successful this new feature of gaming has been, and it only continues to thrive as time goes on. When the next generation of consoles were announced, there were people eager to learn whether or not their achievements and trophies would carry over.
Achievements and trophies have modified the way people play games. These changes can be viewed as positive or negative as they will occasionally encourage the player to approach the game in a way they would not necessarily have tried, but a counter argument can be made that people pay so much attention to achievements that they lose focus of the story or that it modifies the game in a negative manner. Both of these arguments are valid and there are prime examples for each. Those is favour may use the “Go Gentle Into That Good Light” achievement from Alan Wake as an example, requiring you to move from one point in the game to another without firing a single shot despite being chased by enemies. It forces the player to use more passive techniques and if you happen to be ill-equipped while attempting this achievement, you best be proficient at dodging attacks. Meanwhile, those against achievements may use examples such as “Be Like Marty” from Halo 3: ODST which requires you to survive a round in Firefight mode without killing an enemy. While this is certainly a deviation from the traditional style of play given that the entire point of Firefight is to kill all of the enemies, this achievement in particular takes away from the experience since the team is now less a player because one person is sitting in a corner doing nothing of use.
Regardless of your stance on trophies and achievements, one thing is certain: they have forever changed the gaming landscape, and to a much greater degree than motion controls. Whether we will see these imaginary unlockables disappear in the future is something that only time will dictate, but for the time being it does not seem as if they are going anywhere. Psychology and video games have been combined once again with this revolution and it has become far more successful than anybody could have imagined.
Eric is an editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.