The impact of achievements and trophies

I’m no psychologist or even anyone with knowledge/interest in human behaviour, so this isn’t some kind of scientific piece. But I’ve been noticng the impact of being rewarded with achievements and trophies in gaming, and it’s got me thinking.

Are we better with them, or would we be better without?

 

Achievements and trophies

Achievements/Trophies/Badges, it doesn’t really matter what they’re called. The core concept is the same. As you hit milestones whilst playing a game, you’re given a pleasant sound and an image on-screen, as way of a reward.

Honestly, I love those little noises, and well, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? It’s a psychological boost, a little treat for doing something and it’s clearly hitting a specific part of my brain that makes me feel good.

What I wonder, is if we’re really benefitting in any way. Does that ever increasing gamerscore mean anything? Does that platinum PS4 trophy really matter?

Realistically, no they don’t matter, but I’ve found two specific effects of this drip-fed reward wheel we’re all now on. That’s what I think about a lot, how they personally impact me.

Sure, it’s nice to receive the points and the noises. But does it impact how I play games and change my expectations? Beyond that, how does it make me feel when there are no achievements to be rewarded?

Achievements galore in The Division 2
 

Changing the way you play

How many times have you killed a massive mob of enemies in a perfect manner, and thought “hmmm, that should be an acheivement”? Or finished a game on the hardest difficulty, purely because you expected a better reward than you’d get for finishing it on easier settings (looking at you Spider-Man…..)?

I’m actively expecting or hoping that I’ll make that trophy pop, and that it won’t just be bronze, but it’s silver or perhaps gold.

When you do something achievement worthy but get a really small number of points, you’re rewarded, but disappointed. Yet it’s all kind of meaningless, so why let it impact you?

Obviously it can impact expectations of your experience, and sometimes see you let down by those expectations.

The reverse of that, though, is that you might actually find yourself playing a game much longer than you expected, or in ways you’d never anticipated.

I look at the Halo games as a point of reference here. Finding skulls is more than just “get 10 headshots without dying”, there’s exploration, terrain manipulation and actual effort put into these.

You can actually get way more out of a game than you ever anticipated, all because you’re chasing that dragon, trying to get one more hit of that “pop” or “ping” that just hits the spot.

Before, we did these things for fun, or to unlock cheats and things. Now it’s to get that elusive achievement.

I love that it might encourage you to find easter eggs. or to approach a game in a completely different way. This is where acheivements really add value.

The expectation and potential disappointment are where they kinda make the experience a little bit of a let down. Sure that’s because of your own self-made expectation. But these have been made based on previous experiences.

No acheivements here
 

The absence of achievements

Expectations can lead to disappointment (something uber-fans of big franchises need to realise….). So, what if the whole process of earning and unlocking acheivements is taken away?

Playing on Nintendo consoles, or even just older consoles and games, you’re left wading through an achievement-free world. And honestly it took me a little while to adjust.

Thinking “what’s the point if I’m not getting any achievements?” and “oh that would have definitely unlocked one”, it felt almost hollow for a start.

How weird is that?

Having played games for decades, knowing that achievements haven’t been a large part of it until quite recently, I’ve never needed that little endorphin boost. But now, I started to realise that I was missing them, that the absence of them was a negative thing.

It didn’t last long, but psychologically it was a weird place to be in my head. I know that they don’t matter, but I felt like I was missing out. I could play some games on different consoles and be rewarded for things, but a good hundred hours in Breath of the Wild and I had nothing to show for it.

Achievements and trophies have almost spoiled us, rewarding us uneccessarily and giving us meaningless points to show for it. But bloody hell, it feel quite nice doesn’t it?

This could only be described as a completely first-world problem. But we’re having our heads messed with and I wonder if it’s a real, genuine mental struggle for people. To have these little meaningless rewards taken away from them?

 

How should it be handled?

Honestly, at this point, I’m happy to do without. I bet there would be some real, genuine fallout if they were taken away, though.

In-game rewards like equipment, boosts, cheats codes (I do miss paintball mode and big heads in Goldeneye!) were always more than enough. But in a world where we’re being further charged for content in-game, I guess achievements are a little hit to make us feel better about it?

I enjoy playing games differently, approaching them in different way than I usually would. Being encouraged to do that by way of acheivements is a good thing. If there were easter eggs and secrets to be found, events to be triggered and cool things to see, that would be plenty of motivation, too.

We’re too far in now, I doubt achievements are going anywhere. It’s just worth paying mind to how they make us behave, and even feel.

The scores are pointless, right? Being honest I do love seeing that I’ve acheived a higher score than friends on the Xbox dashboard…..

What do you think? Is it a good thing to have achievements and trophies in games? Does it improve your gaming experience? Does it raise expectations and sometimes see you disappointed?

Who knew that something so seemingly small, could be so complex?

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