Confessions of a Trophy/Achievement Hunter: Why We Like Imaginary Rewards

featuretrophyportalThere is one thing (two, technically) in gaming that is able turn any gamer into an obsessive-compulsive wreck with an obstinate desire to complete stupid challenges for rewards that are not only non-existent, but also do not offer one an in-game benefit: trophies/achievements.

Trophies/achievements first appeared with the release of the seventh generation of consoles (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3). Microsoft was the first to introduce this multi-title achievement system with Gamerscore in 2005, followed by Valve and their Steam Achievement system in 2007, and then finally Sony also followed suit in 2008 with PlayStation trophies.

Since then they have become a regular part of gaming (it is really very odd to see a title released nowadays without any trophies/achievements) and gained great popularity with some users, while others are somewhat apathetic towards them.

There are even entire websites and YouTube channels dedicated to what is called ‘trophy/achievement hunting’; the aim of which is to show other hunters how exactly to unlock these awards.

Trophies/Achievements have been the bane of my life since they were first introduced. I don’t hate them. It’s actually quite the opposite; I love them too much.

The number of hours I have spent whiling away (making myself hate some of my favourite games) just to say that I got that Platinum trophy or completed the achievements is far too high.

I have retried the combat challenges in Batman: Arkham Asylum over a hundred times over just to get that extra punch in to increase my combo score.

I have forged and enchanted thousands upon thousands of iron daggers in Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in an attempt to level my character high enough to fight a legendary dragon. (I even used to have a little joke that I supplied all the blacksmiths with their stock.)

I made Ezio Auditore’s mother cry by collecting all of those dumb feathers in Assassin’s Creed II.

I have restarted Fallout 4 just to make sure that my father’s (or rather Idiot Jones’ – my character name) vision prevails as well as fails, even though I really did not enjoy the game’s storyline.

All of this just to get some imaginary reward. So why do so many people, such as myself, get hooked into such nonsense even if there is no tangible benefit?


Well the answer could possibly be found by looking at the basic neural structure of the brain.

While delivering a presentation on gaming entitled, “7 Ways Games Reward the Brain”, at a TED conference in 2010, technology theorist, Tom Chatfield, suggested that a primary factor with regards to why people play games is that it makes use of the brain’s internal reward system.  A brief and oversimplified explanation of this concept is basically that playing video games (the stimulus) often creates feelings of accomplishment (the reward). Who doesn’t like feeling as if they have accomplished something? (Even if it is in something so small.)

Video games have always done this, even without trophies or achievements. One of the main reasons people play video games (whether they like to admit it or not) is that playing relays great feelings of accomplishment. You want to finish a game or when you play you want to perform better than what you did previously because it makes you feel good.


There is actually a great body of research that has been and is still being done on this topic. One of the more interesting notions is how these feelings of accomplishment have addictive properties and may induce video game addiction in some gamers, with accomplishment being their crack (but that is a story for another day).

Trophies/achievements is just another element within modern gaming that plays upon the brain’s internal reward system which is why some people (such as myself) love to collect them. You want to be able to tell people how well you’ve performed in a particular task. It makes you feel special and everybody wants to feel special.

So the next time you find yourself spending hours just to gather a thousand collectables in a massive open-world map even though you know it is the most mundane task that somebody could ever think to do just to get an invisible reward, remember that there is a science behind it all and that you probably can’t help secretly loving it all.