The Appeal of Trophy Hunting

Everything in life is challenging. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, once stated that “the only use of an obstacle is to be overcome”. Now, I’m a big enough person to admit that I literally just typed “life challenge quotes” into Google and that was one of the first results to pop up. I guess you could say I just overcame a small obstacle of my own, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did get some satisfaction in finding such an easy solution to my issue – that being finding a quote to begin this article with. Despite that, there is a significance to this famous line; it’s a simple, exceptionally broad statement that can be applied to almost anything (and is easily adaptable to the purposes of this article).

Thanks Woody!

As noted previously, all parts of life have a different challenge tied to them, and as I have touched upon already, there is a sense of accomplishment (large or small) to be gained in overcoming these challenges. This paradigm is something that is inherent to gaming; a medium that is built around objectives, often involving obstacles, for the player to overcome. To achieve these objectives, the player must surmount various hurdles; whether that be a fight, a puzzle or even a game of wits.

Almost every facet of gaming finds its foundation in overcoming these tests. So, it should come as no surprise that gaming’s appeal, at its most base level, is found in this principle. For many, a mission objective is enough – beating the story, rescuing the princess from the castle, yada yada yada. But for some, there lies an appeal to going a bit further, to trying to see every obstacle or challenge a game can throw at you – those who obsessively yearn for that progress bar to rest at 100%. I am, of course, referring to that rare subset of gamers – the trophy (achievement) hunters.

Full Disclaimer: From this point on, I’ll only be talking about PlayStation trophies. Yes, I know Xbox and Steam exist too, but I can only write with authority on PlayStation. Please forgive me.

Trophies were first introduced by Sony as a kind of reward system for the player back in 2008, serving as a counterpart to existing models like Xbox and Steam’s achievements, and have been going strong ever since. Accompanying these trophies were a points and level system, charting a player’s progress in their games with a specific level signalling how many trophies they had earned. Since then, these aspects seem to have encouraged users to not only collect trophies but even compete with one another’s scores. These systems have seemingly become very popular with players over the course of their existence, with no self-respecting gaming platform (excluding the Switch) being caught dead without one. So, that’s what this article aims to get to the bottom of.

What’s the appeal?

Well, from my perspective at least, there seems to be a satisfaction linked to the pursuit of these little digital markers. In my view, as well as others, they act as proof of your ability to triumph over every trial the developer has presented you with. It serves as undeniable evidence that you have toppled the tyrannical triple-A overlords, ascended to the peak of gaming Godhood and taken your seat as the rightful king of the nerds.

Okay, that’s my opinion.

Jokes aside, there is a sense of pride (however trivial) to be found in ‘platting’ a game; attaining something only a small portion of the player base were able to (unless it’s a game like My Name is Mayo). Some might say (it’s me), it affords the player a sense of accomplishment (must resist beating a dead horse) – others, as in the vast majority of players, would likely disagree.

Personally, I believe there are many reasons why trophy hunting holds such an appeal. One such reason would be its community, which while relatively small, is thriving. You only need to look as far as the r/Trophies subreddit, or YouTube channels such as PS4 Trophies and PowerPyx to appreciate this. PSNProfiles is another site dedicated to charting one’s progress and has a sprawling community of its own. In places such as r/Trophies, you can see there’s a prideful, satisfied air posters give off when detailing a particular achievement they’ve earned; it’s a place where you can demonstrate your digital feat to other like-minded nerds, and instead of receiving derision, you are met with kudos. It’s a weird (and strangely wholesome) place, filled with odd, yet equally wonderful people (well, as far as I’ve seen).

The healthy competition found in comparing oneself to, and competing against, their peers is another fun part of this community. Whether you’re a fledgeling hunter like myself, or a veteran pushing a three-figure platinum count, there tends to be a competitive nature behind this practice. Hakam Karim (PSN: Hakoom), who at the time of writing has nearly 79000 trophies (2055 of those being platinum), is a hardened trophy hunter, compulsively contending to remain at the top of the pile – currently holding the Guinness world record for most platinum trophies. In an article featured on Kotaku, he notes that for him, the appeal lies in being the best; simply stating that “I cannot stop or else I’ll lose my rank”.

Whilst an extreme example, as someone who also holds an interest in trophy hunting, I must admit that competition (although to a varying degree) is something that pushes me to collect that ever-elusive platinum. I dare to say it’s a driving factor for many of us in this cult we’ve found ourselves in. For example, I have recently finished gathering all the trophies in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and whilst I did this for my own gratification and because it’s my one of my favourite platformers, I also did it to bump my numbers.

See, my brother and I have always competed against one another: whether it was who could finish a game faster, who was stronger, who was smarter or who was the better wrestler (we were children… it was me), we’ve always enjoyed trying to one-up each other when it comes to certain things. We had a true sibling rivalry. I inevitably lost most of the time – because I’m seven years his junior and infinitely more handsome (the last point might be unrelated) – it was something that we bonded over, and that competitiveness bled over into trophy hunting.

It’s only human after all. It’s in our nature as animals, as much as we don’t like to admit it, to contend with one another and strive to come out on top. So, when I desperately try to inflate my score – which sits at a measly 15 platinums compared to my brother’s 28 – I am having fun with the game, but that opposing trophy count remains a niggling reminder of the consequences of giving up. Giving up would be akin to admitting defeat to my rival, and I don’t like to lose (especially not to him).

But competition and community are not the only motivators for pursuing these pieces of virtual silverware. Being a somewhat novice trophy hunter myself, I decided to seek out a more measured, qualified voice on this niche subject. You know, so this article isn’t totally dominated by me talking out of my behind and making an arse of myself (there will be plenty of that though). Luckily, I was able to enlist the help of Lucy Reid (AKA LudiXP), a hobbyist trophy hunting YouTuber, who at the time of writing has 5767 trophies, 89 platinums, over 8000 subscribers and more gaming talent/dedication than yours truly could ever hope to possess. She was gracious enough to give me her thoughts on why trophy hunting is so appealing to her, calling on her own exploits to do so.

When asked about the appeal of hunting trophies, Lucy gave this answer:

“Originally, I got into trophy hunting because I couldn’t afford to buy many new games each year, so trophies gave my games more longevity. There was also the ‘Great PSN Outage of 2011’, meaning I couldn’t play Uncharted 2 online – which I was addicted to – so I had all this extra time and thought I’d give earning trophies a go. Having extra tasks to work towards was like a fun to-do list and gave me an incentive to try things in a game that I may not have before”.

She added, “In the past, I would have never replayed games on harder difficulties, as I never saw the point, but now with the allure of a gold trophy it made me want to test myself and see if I could rise to the challenge.” She elaborated further that “When you do finally achieve that hard-to-get trophy you feel really accomplished and I think that’s what hooked me. Also, that ping of earning a trophy after you’ve put the time and effort in is one of the best sounds ever – so satisfying!”

This is an experience I can easily relate to. A side effect of hunting trophies is that you tend to explore every dimension of a game, doing things you often wouldn’t even think of – such as visiting Calendar Man on twelve specific dates in Arkham City, or awkwardly attempting to chip a football into a basketball hoop after countless tries (curse you FIFA 19!). In this sense, the appeal is found in getting to experience everything a game has to offer – getting your money’s worth if you will.

Despite the occasional awkwardness of these achievements, like Lucy, I felt a great deal of satisfaction (and I’m sure many do) in prevailing over these trials; especially when looking at the nice little prize signifying my efforts. Even if the effort I put in was often disproportionate to the reward – I mean really, collecting every single Riddler trophy is enough to make a man question life (and I did it FOUR DAMN TIMES!).

The distinct sound of a pinging trophy – whether it’s bronze, silver, gold or the greatly desired ‘plat’ – is a tone that always brings a smile to my face. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know if it extends to you, but it feels like an achievement – it feels earned. Hearing it is not too dissimilar to a dopamine rush. It gives me a feel-good factor and sense of fulfilment (God, that’s sad) that, before I started trophy hunting, I would have scoffed at the notion of. Honestly, it’s like an intrusive parasite has burrowed its way into my brain, set up shop and is now controlling my actions to perform a perverse re-enactment of Ratatouille. Trophy hunting, for myself at least, is fast becoming a habit.

Much like Lucy, I’ve pushed myself to play games on difficulties I would never have even attempted, and in the process, have put myself through equal measures of joy and frustration in beating them. There’s a certain appeal to challenging yourself, and if you are a trophy hunter, the challenge is something you’re familiar with.

I’ve also learned things about myself. For example, I am a pretty patient person when I need to be – having pieced together my own trophy guide for an obscure Japanese game which I couldn’t understand. I don’t know why I did it either. I also happen to have the fortitude of Sisyphus; with my journey through FIFA’s ranked modes acting as the proverbial rock and hill. Fine, it might not be the same… FIFA is much more frustrating. Yet, I did it. I obtained the platinum in a game series notorious for having tough trophies, and I’m proud of it.

However, I must admit that all this grinding and banging-of-heads-against-walls can become tiresome when going through this process, and often serves as something to discourage the player from accumulating more and more trophies. Ignoring all of the aforementioned appeals of trophy hunting, sometimes the greatest allure for going on a collection spree is found in enjoying the game. Shocking, I know. Disregarding the fact that this article should have led with this, it’s irrefutable that the primary prerequisite for procuring a platinum is the pleasure (say that three times fast) you get from the game.

Lucy seemed to think so too, noting that “the Platinum trophy is … a nice symbol that you did everything in the game”, she expounds on this by writing “I always try my best to get the Platinums in my favourite games as a way of showing how much I enjoyed them”. To Lucy, a platinum doesn’t just appear to be a signifier of how much she engaged with the game, but rather a badge of honour and personal seal of approval. From this perspective, it seems the reason to hunt trophies is a symptomatic one, a causality directly influenced by one’s affinity with a particular game.

“There have been games I really enjoyed and trying to earn all the trophies meant I got more time out of them as they encourage you to play them differently”.

Whereas, the flip-side of this is that if her enjoyment was diminished by a cumbersome trophy list, then, in turn, her time with the game would be impacted as well.

“On the other hand, there have also been games where the trophies have made me dislike them because the trophies were asking you to do things that just aren’t fun. If I’m not enjoying it, I’ll tell myself to step away and play something else as there’s so much to play!”

Simply put, for Lucy – and many others, myself included – the appeal of hunting for trophies extends only as far as one’s patience for the game’s requirements. The appeal is rooted in the pleasantness of its trophy list, not just a litany of busywork to be rinsed through or checklists to be ticked. To repeat Lucy’s sentiment by using her own words, “having to search for large amounts of collectables or grind for XP for hours on end” just isn’t fun or engaging in most cases.

It can make you want to do this.

*Ping* Congratulations, you’ve just earned the trophy for finishing this article – there’s no specific rarity to it, you won’t be able to display it anywhere, and its existence resides solely in your imagination, but congratulations nonetheless. Now, why don’t you earn another and leave a comment detailing your thoughts on the appeals of trophy hunting? I look forward to reading all of your responses. Also, before I let you go, if you haven’t already, kindly check out Lucy’s channel or Twitter for that matter. She’s a very likeable person and I’m sure she’ll charm you as she has many others.

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  1. Peter Vernon

    I enjoy trophy hunting as it fulfills me with a sense of accomplishment. To be able to play and grind out the more difficult trophies is a challenge I enjoy losing myself to.

    I’m a resilient person and I find going after trophies gives the game replay value giving the consumer more bang for their buck.

    I already do follow Lucy on twitter and on YouTube keep up the good work 😁

    • I can relate so much to this. It seems we’re kindred spirits in that sense. Keep on trucking with that trophy hunting my dude!

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