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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Achievement Whores vs. Trophy Whores

Let's end this official achievement/trophy whore (ATW) month with something a little special: Have you ever noticed that there are actually two kinds of "task unlockers" in gaming and they are both distinctively associated to the two gaming platforms that had made popular this whole notion that you only complete a game when you have completed some random tasks assigned by the developer? If you still actively game on a Nintendo console/handheld or a Personal Computer, you would understand that you play game to have fun and that the life of a game is not locked to completing tasks that are mostly not related to the overall experience of you playing that game. After the continuous ATW assaults that I have experienced this month, I decided to look into the situation a little more closely to really understand the cognitive process behind this shameless but truly intriguing phenomenon in modern video gaming.

Ms. GTA IV whore says, "Hmmm... Tastes like a mix of achievements & trophies."

After about two weeks' worth of analysis, interviews, and observations of more than a dozen of these ATWs, I was able to conclude the following: The differences between the achievement system on the X-Box 360 and the trophy system on the PlayStation 3 have indeed created two different mutations of the same addictive behavior even though the goal for both is similar: to obtain the "best" AT counts as quickly as possible:

X-Box 360 Achievement Whore Attributes:
1) They tend to buy or rent a lot more games to whore on. This includes buying really, really bad games. When those games go on sale, they ravage those games like vultures. You can see that they only bought or rented those games just for the achievements by seeing how all the achievements for each game were unlocked in a day or two. The last dates of play for those games will also be the same dates when the last achievement for each game was achieved.
2) They prey on easy achievements and their focus is not necessary the 1000 points "completion" for each game, but the actual score that each achievement can bring to their total.
3) Though most people who do so are not achievement whores, most achievement whores would place themselves in the "Recreation" zone of the X-Box Live community for some odd reason.
4) They are more at ease to achievement boost with total strangers.
5) They normally don't mind being called achievement whores. As a matter of fact, they take that as an achievement on its own right.

PlayStation 3 Trophy Whore Attributes:
1) They are normally very selective about the games that they buy or rent thus they own less games than your typical 360 achievement whore but this is mainly due to their need to unlock Platinum trophies because those yielded a significantly larger boost to their trophy level.
2) They like to brag about their Platinum trophies and their trophy levels. It generally does take more hard work to level up their online profiles than it is to get more achievement points on the X-Box 360, so they normally think of themselves as "superior" or "skilled" and associate themselves as elitists instead of just your typical trophy whores that they really are.
3) They usually trophy-boost with the people they know so that they don't tarnish their "elitist" reputation.
4) They are mostly "closeted" trophy whores because they found justification that "skill" is necessary to level up their online profiles when all that is really needed is persistence.

More fascinating is that I found ATW who own both consoles would normally gravitate towards only one or the other console to whore on. Conversations with these individuals revealed that they prefer one of the "task unlocker" system over the other because they feel more rewarded doing them on just one of the consoles. I guess it makes sense that you have to enjoy the whoring while you are at it... You will be able to see a monumental difference between their achievement scores and their trophy levels. They buy or rent games more heavily on one console over the other, even when that console's versions of the games are inferior compared to the other. Instead of using their ability to invest on the best possible version of a game because they own both systems, their decision to get the game is determined by their lust to further increase their AT collections.

This whole process of delving into the minds of ATW has been an enlightening experience. I am sure that I am barely scratching the surface here and I think that this is an area that deserves much more research in the future. Achievements and trophies have scarred the gaming landscape and their influences will not stop. However, they will spread easily like STDs. Still, I think there is definitely hope in the whole situation because their overwhelming habit-altering effects can indeed be tamed, as exemplified by Steam. I have a feeling that even Nintendo will create a similar "achievement/trophy" system in their next gaming console. I just hope that they have enough smarts to ensure that their "task unlocker" will not stray people from playing games to actually play those games instead of playing games to satisfy their need to obtain illusory rewards that further shorten the lives of those games.

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