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Confessions of a Trophy and Achievement Hunter

Keeping things in moderation.
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I vowed to stop trophy hunting after receiving my 36th platinum with God of War exactly one year ago after purchasing and completing God of War after its first anniversary release. Granted, the AAA title was top-notch and definitely a groundbreaking title for the modern age. It balanced a well crafted story and dynamic gameplay to deliver an achievement in game design. While I enjoyed it for the most part, a part of me continued to compare my trophy stats with friends who have completed the game prior. I needed to get a platinum trophy as three of the eight friends who have completed the game secured their shiny medals. There was a burning desire to secure the coveted trophy even if personally, I had all the time necessary to complete the game and derive enjoyment from it. But somehow, I’ve convinced myself that I cannot fully enjoy the game without the platinum.

Death Stranding came out a good six months later and I picked up my pre-order and proceeded to experience Hideo Kojima’s post-Konami masterpiece. Yet again I started to compete silently with my common friends who play the game. At a certain point, I was ahead, I might even bag the platinum. However, fatigue set in around 40 hours into the game as I found myself building highways to complete missions in Chapter Three to get slightly ahead of friends. After a certain point, I dropped the trophy hunting and completed the game. While I still enjoyed Sam Porter Bridges’ journey, I felt that there was this need to platinum the game to broadcast to the world how much I loved it.

The latest misadventure into this masochistic convention is Final Fantasy VII: Remake. Granted, I enjoyed the experience, but I completed the game on Hard Difficulty just to nab the platinum. If I could repeat the game, I would do the first playthrough on Easy just to enjoy the story. However, I went through Normal because there might be a trophy I would miss out if I went through Easy. (Besides the “Hardened Veteran” trophy, you are able to get all the trophies on whichever playthrough) For the last week, I felt empty knowing that the next entry to this new saga won’t be for a while, but was the extra effort for the platinum really worth it?

Image from Polygon

My self-flagellating journey began as a friendly match between my core group of Xbox Live friends to get as close to 40,000 gamerscore in two weeks. After a while, we were playing games we wouldn’t normally play for the easy gamerscore. While I could be enjoying better games at the time, I was choosing to waste my time playing through another playthrough of Assassin’s Creed 2 on the 360 to get another easy 1k. When I moved back to my PS3 because of the future promise of a Persona exclusive on that console, I moved on to trophy hunting and my Xbox Live crew followed me to Playstation Network for a grudge match that never ended. We eventually grew out of that mania, but one thing remained, my addiction to hearing the achievement click or the trophy notification. It became a Pavlovian response to motivate me to enjoy said game. In terms of competition, I silently competed with friends’ trophy list.

The Good

There are benefits to being a self-professed trophy hunter (my numbers were not even that high as the pros, I stopped at around 36,000 gamerscore at the end of 2013 and my current trophy level is 20 with 37 platinum trophies), throughout the last dozen years of going for that achievement. The biggest one is that I got the most out of my games. If for example, I ended up with a mediocre game or title I didn’t particularly love, I would still try to complete the game and the metric in doing so was completing as much as I could in terms of gamerscore. Another benefit is faced with a time sink game like Skyrim or The Witcher, I know when to stop (when I get the platinum or achieve 1k gamerscore). Because what’s the point of continuing in playing when I’m not rewarded anymore for the game I’m playing? It also got me to finish games I would needlessly grind through because the main story didn’t exactly motivate me to continue (a toss up between not wanting the fun to end or just not motivated to complete it), the trophy system provided a roadmap of what to do next. It proves that you’ve actually played (and enjoyed!) the game.

The Bad

There were times I would only play just for the trophies. My character build in Skyrim was purposefully created to churn out trophies. I didn’t enjoy my run of Persona 5 because my entire objective was to get the platinum. I went for the bad ending first and then systematically picked off one trophy at a time after that. Do I remember the outcome for the game’s story? No, but I can tell you how I did a third playthrough just to get Satanael and to defeat the Reaper and the Twins to secure the platinum. My Dragon Age Inquisition platinum was achieved through exploiting the glitched Kenchanter (Knight Enchanter) bug, I rushed through the game and the quests to beat the game before the first system update. It made nightmare mode insanely easy with the glitch for an easy platinum. In Final Fantasy XV, I remembered enjoying the journey but feeling extremely frustrated in its later narrative. Was my enjoyment purely because I earned my first Final Fantasy platinum or did I really like Noctis’ quest through Insomnia? In Horizon Zero Dawn, I remembered how I acquired all the collectible quests but not the actual story. I went through all these games and remembered exactly how I got the trophy, but I do not remember the actual game.

The Problematic

Knowing that Nintendo doesn’t have a scoring system made me skip through generations of content. Discovering Bravely Default 2 demo on the Switch was a sad event because I opted for a PS Vita versus the 3DS because I could get double the trophies through PS Vita and my main PS3 or PS4 console at the time. I cannot count how many times I went through a Telltale game just for the easy platinum. I think my lowest moment was when I won a double platinum for I Am Mayo for both the PS4 and PS Vita and completely skipped out on Bravely Default and Xenoblade Chronicles because they had no rewards system. I knew by then I had to stop. When I can remember my gear better than the actual story, I knew for a fact it’s an unhealthy addiction.

Road to Recovery

The first step to recovery was switching off the trophy notification late 2018. I would still secretly check the trophies I earned, but I discovered that I started to play games I actually wanted to play. I still go into phases where I would go for the occasional platinum, but the trophy score was not the priority anymore. I also noticed that I don’t play nearly as much as before nor was I binging through the game just to earn the bling. I spent less on day one releases and was able to discover the joy of sales. I started playing for the game again, rather than for the eventual “achievement”.

Was trophy hunting enjoyable? There were moments where I really feel the catharsis of achieving something. Yet the ugly head of trophy hunting comes back once in a while and I’m launched into that fervent drive to acquiring a platinum. All said and done, it was an addiction, possibly a way of overcompensating for a lack of gaming skill or that insecure badge to prove that I earned the privilege of being a fan of that title. Whatever my reasoning or my justification, it was an unhealthy addiction. Like all things, it’s about moderation. Some gamers really like trophy hunting, it gives them pleasure. For me, besides the moments of vainglory, generally I didn’t really like the achievement. The moment I get it, the buzz lasts for a good minute, at the most five. And just like with every dopamine rush, the long emptiness follows. I fill that hole with other pursuits… outside of gaming. You’d be surprised at how much life is out there, away from video games.

Author

Vincent Ternida’s book reviews and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Entropy Magazine, The Ormsby Review, and rabble.ca. His short stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in several anthologies including Write To Move Anthology, First Page Literature, and Seagery Zine. His short story "Elevator Lady" was long listed for the CBC Short Fiction Prize in 2019. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and is spending the lockdown catching up with his Japanese RPGs.

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