The Gamification of Gaming

I recall the days when my brother and I would gather around our original Playstation and duke it out. Not with our fists (although that sometimes happened), but with our gaming skills. His dominant genres were always Racing and Shooter games, but I kicked his ass in other games like Tekken and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. There were no outside pressures, no need to keep track of who was winning more games than the other overall *cough* even though it was me *cough*. It was more a case of “I’m bored. Army Men 3D?” to which the correct response was “Righto, why not.”

Them graphics.

Them graphics.

Because we were blessed with an awesome and generous older brother, we had a chipped Playstation, and hundreds of copied game discs, so there was no shortage of options. We’d drop a game in, have a few rounds until one of us got sick of losing, or until both of us got sick of the game, and we’d then try a different one. But that’s all it was; playing games because they were fun, and some short-lived bragging rights. Going solo, if I thought a game was captivating enough, and that it was easy enough to accomplish, I would go for 100% completion. All the best times, all the collectibles. If the game was just okay, I would move on. No point in wasting my time over it.

Now, in my mid-20s, I’ve noticed a big change to the way many of us play games.

I recently met a good friend who owns a Playstation Vita. He plays and reviews games for a living, among other things, which I greatly envy. Up to that point in life, I had owned each of the Playstation consoles, so I had sometimes thought about buying a Vita. But when he showed off the hardware, I sneaked a peek at his Playstation level: a respectable 13. I already owned a PS3, and I had only regarded Playstation trophies to be those annoying things that sometimes obscure my view in the corner of the screen. I also knew of the Steam Achievement equivalents, where I thought the only difference between the two was that they blocked different corners of the screen.

“Oh no, you’re very wrong there,” My friend said, “Steam achievements count towards nothing, but Playstation trophies help you to level up!”

Being a gamer from an early age, hearing the concept of leveling up made my pupils dilate, and I was daydreaming of rolling around on a pile of trophies and imaginary points. I bought my own PS Vita very soon after.

After logging in to PSN to find I was only a pitiful Level 2, I remembered I had only recently started a new PSN login for a new handle. Dejected but hopeful, I got to work on playing the games I received in the Indie Bundle with my console. My friend also showed me the many benefits of Playstation Plus, a paid subscription service that grants free games each month. This added more fuel to the trophy fire. I had a long way to go to catch up, but I was determined.

My new baby.

My new baby.

It was only then that I stumbled across the underground world of the Trophy Hunters. A community of people that try to collect as many Playstation Trophies as they can to level up as much as possible. The best website I’ve found and joined is PSN Trophy Leaders. This links directly to your PSN account, and tracks a wealth of statistics like trophy rarity, your most recent trophies, and your position on the leaderboard against every other player, just to name a few. In addition, there are forums and trophy guides for those that need assistance on the trickier trophies out there. This community is very welcoming and helpful to anyone pursuing trophies.

After checking my stats for the 56th time one day, a stunning realization hit me; the very act of playing games has become gamified. These people were no longer playing games, they were playing the one game: Playstation.

It all linked up. Many people played their games because they were just there, but for me, I was checking to see how far up the chain I had gone compared to everyone else, after another blip in the corner of my screen came up. All the standard gamification aspects were there; leveling up, achievements, social competitiveness, and so on.

Of course this isn’t only with Playstation. Xbox Achievement Hunters were doing the same, and to a lesser extent, Steam users were hunting for their own achievements, but with a leveling up system separate to the achievements.

Some people believe that trophy hunting ruins the fun and laid back experience which many games aim for. They often berate the hunters for dedicating so much time to fictitious trophies. Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

I mean, some days I do personally have this face while gaming.

I mean, some days I do personally have this face while gaming.

The thrill of receiving trophies or achievements has always been something we’ve sought after. All games before the trophy system had achievements, they just weren’t concrete things to show your friends. They were made up, like: “I could beat Super Mario Brothers in only 3 hours, you know.” If it wasn’t recorded or people weren’t around, you could be met with disbelief. With these trophy systems in place however, it is very easy to prove your abilities. Additionally, people now have clearer directions on what extra things they can do in a game. It isn’t simply a fact of plowing through the main story. Trophies give direction on additional gameplay, thereby creating more hours per game than before.

However, these extra hours of gameplay can get out of hand. If you’re a completionist, some of the more difficult trophies can induce a rage which could result in kicking puppies or punching walls. There are some hellish trophies out there, and you either need to have an extraordinary ability, or about a hundred four-leaf clovers. All for the coveted “prestigious” trophies (those which less than 1% of the owners have), which may not mean anything to those outside the community. But this is the same for any community – a mad stamp collector telling me about his most prized rare stamp will not be as exciting to me as another collector.

So, there is one trick you need to know when you’re hitting the wall in a particular game. My patience for learning to stick with games until the end is better than most, but achieving a platinum trophy in Super Meat Boy is simply beyond my time and abilities. I know there are people out there who can do it, but I am not one of them. It is very important to consider the Law of Diminishing Returns – to know that very great time and effort is only going to result in 1 or 2 more trophies. It is crucial to know when to move on and potentially come back later, or you could feel heavily disillusioned with the whole thing.

There is a shameful aspect to trophy hunting as well. There are some ludicrously easy trophies out there for the taking. This is the point where I need to admit my shame of downloading and completing a certain game:

Aab’s Animals.

Don't look at me like that. I need these trophies!

Don’t look at me like that. I need these trophies!

If you see it in someone’s trophy list, you know they aren’t just a casual gamer, but a shameless trophy hunter. The gameplay consists of nothing more than choosing the colour of a cat, then aiming your Vita around as the augmented reality cat lazes around seemingly on your furniture. That’s it. It does nothing. There is no gameplay to speak of. But you can obtain three gold trophies, one silver trophy and one bronze trophy after only 315 seconds of looking at it. I think someone realised that trophy hunters will do anything for their next quick fix, and capitalised on it.

Playing Playstation as opposed to playing the Playstation has been one of the biggest changes to games in general. For me, I feel like I’m part of something bigger. Part of a community that can get together and discuss the challenges they overcame, and the fun they had while doing it. My journey as a Trophy Hunter has only just begun, but it will be filled with many shameful trophies to collect, and many difficult challenges to overcome in the process.

My PSN ID is The_Contrast for those who want to connect!

4 thoughts on “The Gamification of Gaming

  1. Karl Weller says:

    I find that accumulating trophies allows me to play games in a variety of strikingly different methods I’d otherwise ignore. It’s not the be all and end all, but I must attest to the satisfaction I get from seeing that platinum *ping* in the corner of the screen.

    • Eric says:

      Oh yeah, I’m loving the new gameplay aspects that have opened up for me, doing this. I’ve done a 180 on my reaction to those trophy messages!

  2. p2d2 says:

    Agree with you, man. Trophies are making games into tasks and obsessions. However, it shouldnt be about being completionist. It should be about completing the games you love and keep you hooked. They should motivate to get into a game that thought you’d completed. Only to find out there is more to do. Unfortunately, that is a trap, too. Just remember, that you’ll never be anywhere near the top. There are too many real pro gamers that do this as a living and not as a hobby.

    • Eric says:

      Yeah, it was a pretty quick realisation for me – I’ll never be near the top. 16 trophies a day?? Can’t do it, I have too many other hobbies and life commitments. I’ve always liked a bit of a challenge though, so trying to complete games takes me back to those days! But there is a limit.

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