Let’s talk about Pokémon for a second. This year celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of Pokémon Green and Red, Pokémon is a household name and a powerhouse brand expertly marketed at children and grown-ass people alike. The primary notion, and catchphrase, of the brand is “Gotta catch ‘em all!” Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokémon and all-round good dude, based the initial concept on his childhood love of insect collecting. If ‘insect collecting’ sounds weird or stupid to you, cool your jets, implied reader. People do all kinds of stuff for fun. Some people play ukulele, some people collect stamps, some people put stuff in each other’s butts. We’ll get to that later on. The ‘doing stuff for fun’ part, not the ‘butt stuff’ part. Unless you’re into that, winky emoticon face.
One of the things I am most proud of in my gaming career was actually collecting all 151 pokémon in Pokémon Blue when I was a wee lad. I even managed to source a Mew, in humble New Zealand no less, which probably was Gamesharked but I was still quite taken by the accomplishment. I remember going to the building in Celadon City and getting the in-game certificate congratulating me… and then, that was it. There was no fanfare, no promise of promotion by my future employers, nothing. And yet, here I am today fondly recalling the experience. Imagine that!
Since then, I still play Pokémon games but never really come anywhere near catching ‘em all. There are now 718, not including mega-evolutions I suppose, and so it would take more time and effort than I can currently muster. Sometimes when I play Pokémon games, I don’t even make it to the Elite Four bosses at the end! Some people choose to collect only the legendary or shiny pokémon, some people choose to collect only the strongest, and some completionists continue to strive for Pokémon’s overall objective of having everything. Which one of these is the correct way to play?
Judging from Pokémon’s famous catchphrase, you aren’t playing right if you aren’t catching ‘em all. No one, however, has ever slapped a Gameboy or DS from my sweaty hands for not doing so. Since their creation, the games have included linked battles, through link cables and later wireless technology. If you did not use these, were you still making the most of your game? Does catching all pokémon mean also using all pokémon in battle? What does a ‘normal’ player do?
Pokémon serves as an interesting analogy for trophy and achievement hunting, because although Pokémon has collection as its raison d’etre from the beginning, Playstation and Xbox (and Steam, too) seem to have added collection as an afterthought. Arcade and console games have had high-scores as a motivating factor for a long time, and have inspired countless player hours as well as entertaining documentaries such as ‘The King of Kong’ (2007) and ‘High Score’ (2006). Aside from high scores, players have been able to complete certain difficult tasks to unlock bonus content in games for many years, from playable characters to Hideo Kojima’s endless game cameos.
Microsoft introduced ‘achievements’ for the Xbox 360 platform in 2005, followed by Steam achievements on the Steam platform in 2007, and Playstation introduced trophies in 2008. Since then, games have been ruined to the point where people have stopped playing them, causing the platform gaming industry to crash, and the lucrative cup-and-ball industry to skyrocket.
Wait, no, that didn’t happen.
Achievements and trophies can be unlocked for the equivalent of a high-score, but since there is no overall consistency rulebook for publishers and developers to assign trophies, they can be unlocked for a variety of reasons. Many games reward players for story progression, the number of accumulative kills with a particular weapon, or Inception-esque levels of in-game collectable hunting. Minecraft has some very simple achievements, for ‘opening the menu’ for the first time or completing basic actions like crafting a wooden pickaxe. Other games, such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown has achievements for completing the game on the hardest difficulty with automatic saving, called ‘Iron Man Mode’, which is near-impossible and is aptly deserving of some kind of trophy.
Trophies are often the chagrin of whiny gamers with internet connections, complaining with the online equivalent of a donkey’s bray. People often say that it empties the game of actual achievement if trophies could be handed out so easily. People say that it cheapens a game if the only reason you’re playing it is for some kind of arbitrary reward. Some even happily dole out the word ‘addiction,’ possibly while unironically playing Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ in the background.
Addiction is a serious word that gets tossed around often in conversation, just like comparing someone to Hitler or insulting Native Americans by stating something is your spirit animal. Video game addiction has been a hot topic since Space Invaders. Although evidence for and against the existence of game addiction is easier to find than dusty Wii balance boards, you could have a look at this trusty website about game addiction here. (http://www.video-game-addiction.org/) It has pictures of kids playing Gamecube and everything.
There are some games which are famous for handing out achievements too easily, and thus people only play them to fill out their overall score. I think that this practice is- wait, it doesn’t matter what I think about it, because it is their life and their time and their money, so they can do with it what they will. Oh, that was a short paragraph.
Trophies cheapen a game because people are finding a method of enjoying the game beyond a superficial reading of it. Wait, hang on. That’s not a bad thing. That just means that some people can enjoy a media product in many different ways. Philosopher David Grohl once said, “That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.” No, suck it, Dave Grohl. You are wrong. The only reason people sing along to ‘Everlong’ is because they’re drunk.
Does trophy hunting get in the way of ‘normal’ gameplay? This question is problematic because normality is so subjective. I am quite sure that Satoshi Tajiri never intended on a crowdsourced playthrough of Pokémon Red, but that’s exactly what happened in 2014 when Twitch played Pokémon (https://www.youtube.com/user/TwitchPlayPokemon). Even though this style of play was never originally intended, it seems that people still came together to enjoy the experience and worship the Helix fossil. The developers may just make a game in which you ‘pew, pew, pew,’ but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do other stuff, like achieve things.
Some games reward you for going fast. Whether it be playing Sonic the Hedgehog, Trials Evolution, or having sex with me, going fast is something that happens from time to time and it is nothing to be ashamed of. ‘Speedrunning’ takes this to an entirely new level, where players try their best to complete a game in the fastest possible time using exploits, glitches, or just their muscular brains. The current fastest speedrun for Super Mario Bros. is 4 mins 52 seconds, held by ‘darbian.’ (http://www.twitch.tv/darbian/v/21376369) You can see how other people’s scores compare here. (http://www.speedrun.com/smb1) Even though these people are not playing the game how I personally want to play it, the fact that they exist does not ruin my personal gameplay experience. I might complete a game quickly sometimes or do it nice and slow other times. Some might spend 400 hours platinuming one game, but play another game every day with no intention of trophy hunting at all. These are games, for Pete’s sake. Games are supposed to be fun and enjoyable by definition. Everybody, chill.
I am not going to mention my Gamerscore here, because that would kinda miss the point of this article, right? You don’t need to know if I platinumed Star Wars: Battlefront to know if I enjoyed it or not. If I did platinum it, that doesn’t give me the right to say that it is more or less enjoyable with or without trophies. I don’t like going hiking and don’t see the point in it, and yet Sir. Edmund Hillary is on the five dollar bill in New Zealand because he climbed some mountain. Why do people work out? We’re all going to die. It might as well be because of this cheeseburger I’m eating. Orthorexia, be damned!
My opinion about what you’re doing doesn’t matter. As long as you are not hurting anyone, it is none of my business. This world is big enough for everyone. People who prefer Final Fantasy VII, people who prefer Final Fantasy VIII, everyone.