Once upon a time, great feats of gaming had no Achievements, Trophies, or Coins to rub in people's faces. What's the point, without them, right? Nintendo calls them 'Mythical Rewards', despite introducing them with the 3DS, and making it necessary to get so many to unlock applications on the new handheld. At their best, they are a point of pride; at worst, a mind-numbing tedium to shepherd you to gaming purgatory. In the old days, before fall of 2005, skillful gamers could only commit their accomplishments to video as proof, or make wild claims to whomever would believe them.
The list of achievements one could squeeze out of a game have ranged from epic to ridiculous for as long as games have been around. Passing that ridiculous kill-screen or claiming to resurrect Aeris (spoiler?) with a fabled Materia, has long been the stuff of myth and legend. There is no doubt that the rise of digitally tracked gaming accomplishments has changed the face of gaming, allowing you and your friends to compare their skills with yours in realtime; making it much easier to ferret out lies from the truth.
Even though they are tracked online by Microsoft and Sony, showing off is all they are good for; Nintendo is right in one respect -- they are only good in the social arena, there are no redemptive prizes like the ticket-spewing arcades of old. The main reason for this is most likely because it is up to the developer to set the conditions for unlocking a trophy or achievement - a process which can range from frustratingly difficult to mind-numbingly simple; some games only require that you complete every level to unlock them all, while others make you collect frustratingly obscure items. Many people are of the opinion, like Nintendo, that achievements are runing games as we know it, even though they have found other ways to shoehorn them in under a different name or condition to unlock.
A perfect example of developers changing the way we play a game is the first Assassin's Creed game. It exists on both platforms, but only the Xbox 360 version had achievements, at first. A great game in it's own right, it has a series of titles on every contemporary platform except for the Nintendo Wii, with it's fourth main installment coming out this holiday season. Yet, the series was not without it's missteps, especially when it came to these glorious dangling carrots. In the first game you are side-tasked with finding a ridiculous 420 flags and 60 armored Templar enemies 'hidden' in the game's hub world and thickly populated cities. While this kind diversionary tedium has often made appearance in videogames, this incredible use of achievements made a thin world traversal mechanic into an unbearable one -- but only if you care about your gamerscore enough to indulge it.
Mercifully, the PS3 version of the game lacked trophies, but even with trophy support, I would never have tried. Giving incentives for collections that add absolutely nothing to gameplay, storyline or mechanics is just a way for the developer to force you to play their game longer while adding nothing but meaningless fluff; fortunately, there are just as many devs that avoid this pitfall by allowing you to get every achievement with 5 minutes of button-mashing gameplay.
Since most games still require completing all trophies and gamerscore points to truly cash in, it's usually a mixed bag of nausea-inducing tedium punctuated by premature elation. Factor in online-only trophies and achievements that are unavailable to all of our offline brethren and you have an easy recipe for frustration and schadenfreude.
On the other hand, even the 'mythical' have ways of making us puff our chests out with pride, or smashing a controller on the Anvil of Frustration(tm) like the unapologetically challenging games of old; titles that rely on their mechanics, like Demon's Souls, are a perfect example of rewarding persistence with a medal that feels truly earned. Some are mimetic, cashing in on pop culture by awarding us just for pressing the start button, like Crysis 2's 'Can it Run Crysis?' award. Others are like scavenger hunts, the names hinting at what conditions need to be fulfilled; inspiring us to explore the game in interesting ways, like hog-tying a woman and placing her on train tracks to earn the 'Dastardly' achievement in Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption.
These are the silver-lining to the gloomy raincloud, but developers have truly started going beyond their humble beginnings.
Like it or not, Achievements, Trophies and Coins are probably here to stay. While Nintendo claims they will abstain from them even with their next generation of hardware, earning Coins on the Nintendo 3DS handheld is a similar enough approach that there is no doubt they will join the fight, even if some of the tasks are physical instead of purely digital.
Giving developers the tools to add extra incentive to gameplay, even if they don't always translate into tangible goods or novel experiences, only ensures that even the worst aspects of gameplay may be rewarded with a shiny gold star or scratch-and-sniff sticker; as long as there are weak mechanics and gameplay to exploit, don't expect some of the most glaring offenses to ever disappear.
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