The year was 2013, and to bide time before my bus arrived I kept myself entertained with the largely neglected PlayStation Vita. As the sounds of carnage and synth pulsed through my headphones, a pinging sound interrupted me during my playthrough of Hotline Miami. Over the previous weeks, I had forced myself to achieve an A+ rating on each level, chased after hidden collectibles, and even set up a bizarre combat situation to kill three enemies with the same brick in one throw. This was all to simply hear that sound effect. The level of satisfaction I felt when seeing that platinum trophy pop was unlike any prior achievement of mine in games. It was my first platinum, and was aptly titled “Trophy Addict.”
Forty-five hundred trophies and years later, I was still chasing after the superficial number on my PlayStation account. Watching my percentage go up and my trophy level slowly rise became more important to me than the experiences I got to have. I chose to play games in time-consuming ways that prevented me from moving on to others. I forced myself to play terrible titles for the easy platinum and experienced shooters like Doom with a trophy guide in hand. This caused me to no longer enjoy renowned titles in retrospect, since my memories were baked into obsessing over a scavenger hunt.
I even went so far as to replay titles (such as Telltale games) on multiple platforms just to inflate the score alongside my digital badge. This ruined some of my favorite stories in games such as The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us. At many points, I utilized cross-play and glitches in order to gain achievements. On a baseline, a great deal of the extraneous content I consumed didn’t amount to much more than a sense of withering accomplishment, as most feats didn’t include a reward in-game. Developers thought that the achievement with an accompanying pun would be enough, and they were sadly correct.
Switching my play style
It wasn’t until Nintendo’s release of their new hybrid console that I realized that I had been playing games for the wrong reasons for years. When first hearing that the Switch wouldn’t have an achievement log, I was troubled. Chalking it to how slow Nintendo typically is when it comes to modern game innovation on the online side, I came to the conclusion that it would just be something that they added in the future. It wasn’t until finding myself in the vast fields of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that I realized the omission was intentional. As I was finally playing games organically like I used to.
When I used Stasis on a rock to launch Link across an area, neither a trophy nor an achievement popped. Yet I was still just as giddy with excitement as if there were. My only drive to try new and crazy stuff was my creativity and curiosity. These two facets of gameplay were nurtured by the overall design of the product. I found much more satisfaction out of the inherent drive that the game instilled.
As for the side content and the collectible Korok seeds, I pushed myself to find as many as possible due to the thoughtful attention that was placed in the puzzle and environmental design. Alongside the experiences in the later released Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2, I rediscovered purpose to play games without some inane objective to increase a meaningless number. A number that symbolized nothing besides dedicating more time than I needed to on tasks that were optional.
Finding the fun in games again
Nintendo and their many games have put an emphasis on the purest forms of fun. Achievements in this sense are antithetical to the core soul of each game they release. I’ve had the opportunity to rediscover this fun with the Switch, appreciating the freedom that not having an achievement list provides. There is a quote (probably wrongly associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson), “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” It’s a quote that’s malleable to many situations. Yet, I think it fits appropriately to Nintendo’s methodology behind developing their titles, as they truly let you be yourself.