Philosony: Carpe Trophaeum

Kylie Prymus is the first columnist for PS Fanboy. A Ph.D candidate in philosophy, Kylie specializes in the sociology of technology. Through this new weekly column, Kylie will explore the impact of PlayStation on thought and culture.

My PSN profile tells me that I am a Trophy n00b. An abysmal 1st level collector. I've acquired most of the trophies that you average primate could gather with ease, and I'm not sure I'll be able to get many more. I have a paltry 8 trophies, all of them from PixelJunk Eden. That puts me at a 33% completion rate, firmly in the middle of category: l-o-s-e-r. Still, I didn't download Eden for the Trophies any more than I downloaded it hoping it would teach me to finally get my snozzberry* plants to grow. I downloaded it because it was a much lauded and quirky, not to mention exclusive, PSN title and I happen to have a soft spot for such qualities (particularly the exclusivity). Being able to collect Trophies through the game is just a bonus, a diversionary side quest that makes the whole package slightly more appealing.

As I venture for the first time into this whole trophy business I've had to ask myself why I should even bother. What is the appeal of achievements Trophies? Do they add to or take away from a game? What is it about the Trophy system that made it such a sought after addition to the PSN? Milestones? Bragging rights?

Trophies are all well and good when they are awarded for playing games that I would play anyway. Many of us are goal oriented people - I accept that. We need a little incentive, even a few well-placed pixels displayed prominently on our virtual shelves, to get us to shave just a few more seconds off our WipEout time, or find that elusive last seed. We're also social - we want to make people aware of our successes, particularly those who have some understanding of that success entailed. Probably the same mechanism that compels us to try for trophies when others can see them is the same one that makes us laugh harder when others are around than when we are alone (you know what I'm talking about!).

There is, however, a common practice of trophy collecting that goes beyond individual games. This is another level of collector, a higher level, or, to get all polysyllabic, a metalevel of Trophy-dom. The transformation from innocent and casual collecting to the Gollum-like need for Trophy acquisition occurs when games become a mere means and stop being played for their own sake. So common and mainstream is this practice that Wired magazine recently ran a short how-to guide to gaining Xbox Achievement Points as quickly and easily as possible (with all necessary tongue-in-cheekness). Granted, Gamerscore isn't quite the same as Trophies, but is this what we loyal PlayStation owners have to look forward to? Forgive me if I'm not going out of my way to have a CGI Muppet hand me a 70's era remote control so I can play Buzz! Quiz TV for the sake of a few more trinkets.

I'm not trying to divide us into two camps here - classic Kantian gamers who treat the enjoyment of each game as and end in itself versus the wandering Trophy uberkinds. My fear is that trophies may become so much an object of affection by your average gamer that we start looking past otherwise glaring weaknesses in game design for the sake of adding a few sparklies to our profile. Could Trophies become the carrot-on-a-stick that boosts the sale and rental of mediocre games? Will some great games be overlooked by their lack of trophy support or, perhaps worse, because their Trophies are too difficult to achieve and therefore "inefficient"?

Maybe the problem stems from trying to look at Trophies globally, equating a Silver Trophy from one game to a Silver from another. If each game and each game's Trophies are looked at for their individual merit, a whole new community may emerge. When I click on my friend's profile and see that he's managed to get the 100,000 pollen Trophy I may be apt to start up a conversation and find out how he did it. This makes the process much more personal and social than simply finding the best way to feather your cap via GameFAQs or PS3 Fanboy's own Trophy guides. It reminds me of the early days of Burnout, working together with strangers and discovering ways to complete 8-player challenges online when nobody really knew what they were doing. Not to beat a dying horse, but this sounds much closer to creating one's own gaming narrative than looking up quick and easy routes to the most Trophies.

Still, I can't help but be attracted to the prospect of having more Trophies than everyone else. At the very least now I have something to aspire to: collecting the most trophies so I can be the talk of the Mountain Dew water cooler!
*Yea, sorry for the Willy Wonka references two weeks in a row. What can I say, my Voldo-imitating Oompa Loompa toon in SCIV is taking over my life. Beware the dual-wielded egg beaters!