Trophy Unlocked: Has Gaming Become a Chore?
by Brendan Kelly
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who loved video games. Every Saturday he would wake up and immerse himself in other worlds, exploring jungles with Jak, roaming the universe with Ratchet, and having sex with prostitutes in alleyways in Los Santos. It was a happier, less cynical time.
These days, that same little boy (it’s me, by the way. The little boy, I mean. I wasn’t trying to deceive you into thinking I knew this awesome as little dude, it just seemed like a nice way to start off this rant. But seeing as the result has been this explanation, which is longer than the introduction anyway, it now seems rather silly. Where was I? Oh yeah, the little boy) has grown. The world is less simple; things that were once black and white have grown soggy, lifeless and grey, like a newspaper that has fallen into some soup, or a dead elephant in the rain.
And video games are no exception. In the past, putting a new PS2 game into the console was exciting. Who knew what was around the corner? And it didn’t matter what you did in the game, because if you missed something you could just lie to your friends and tell them you didn’t. Now, when I play a game for the first time I can’t relax. I’m on edge. Because I am mortally, illogically, unhappily TERRIFIED of missing a trophy.
I love the Final Fantasy series. Cloud, Squall, Tidus; I’ve played them all and loved them all. My save file on FFX had over 350 hours on it, mainly because I sucked at it for ages but also because I did absolutely everything there was to do. Then I played blitzball. (As an aside, I’d like to just say that 350 hours is a shameful amount of time to spend playing video games. The little boy mentioned above didn’t do spectacularly well with the ladies. Do not follow his example. Let’s move on.) But with FFXIII, I looked at a trophy guide. I knew the game would be huge, and take days and days to complete fully. There was no way I could relax and enjoy the game knowing that round the corner, at any moment, a missable trophy could be lurking. So I tentatively pushed forward, never selling any equipment, never willing to take a risk. There was no way I was going to waste a huge chunk of my life playing through the game AGAIN to get a trophy I missed the first time out of stupidity. And the story fell by the wayside. Ask me about the story of FFX; I’ll run through the damn script if you want. Ask me to name a character from XIII and I’ll be stumped.
When I used to buy a game, I’d check to see if it had multi-player. Whenever I buy a new game now, I check to make sure it has trophy support. The added layer of difficulty presented by the trophy system, or achievements if you’re a Microsofter, is a huge draw-card – the God of War collection, nothing more than a PS3 port of two last generation classics, drew big sales because it had trophy support (and because the games were awesome. But still). But because trophy support is now expected and demanded, games that don’t include it are often neglected. I refused to play Guns of the Patriots solely because there were no trophies. When I finally did play it, I put my head in a sandwich-press in punishment. I realised that the lack of trophy support was part of the game’s strengths; if you don’t have to worry about completing the game in a certain way, you can do it however you want.
At this stage you’re probably wondering what my point is. Me too.
I’m not saying trophies and achievements are the devil. But nor are they necessary. I think in some cases they work perfectly – games like God of War have done trophies right. No hundreds of hours of repetition, no ennui-inducing grinding. It’s challenging but doesn’t involve you becoming a pasty hermit living in an attic, blinking lamely in the sunlight like a baby deer. And they don’t detract from the story. I’m not saying games with ridiculously hard trophies are bad either – look at Gran Turismo 5, where a platinum trophy takes around 600 hours to obtain, or Fight Night Round 4 where you basically have to be the best in the world to earn one. I just think that if you’re trying to tell a compelling story – which surely should be the aim of most games – they can get in the way.
At the end of the day, video games are increasingly becoming an art form. There are video games that can make you laugh, make you cry, make you think; those that are compelling and those that are beautiful. And if the artist behind those messages clutters them up with randomness, they become a little harder to read. In Enslaved, a Matrix-esque storyline is marred by terribly-timed trophies. Pigsy, a strangely likeable little pig-man, is killed in an explosion; a poignant, sentimental self-sacrifice for a greater cause. Then the text pops up. Trophy Unlocked: Smoky Bacon. A terrible pun does not a tear-jerking moment make. Perhaps writers need to have more of a say in where and how trophies are placed throughout a game to ensure their vision isn’t killed by a callous developer with a wicked sense of humour and a penchant for double entendre. As for gamers themselves, don’t base your judgements on whether or not a game has trophy support. Don’t worry so much about collecting the platinums and hoarding trophies like some sort of chubby, over-zealous, pale-faced nerd-dragon. Just go for the ride. After all, it’s only a game.