Gaming’s Guilty Pleasures: In-Game item collecting

[Editor’s note: Sure, the time stamp says May, but it’s still April. I’m not going to let the date prevent me from promoting one of my favorite reads from April’s Monthly Musing topic. Read on as Ashley Davis talks about In-Game item collecting. — CTZ]

Many people enjoy the normal, everyday hobby of collecting things. I am certainly one of those people. Whether it’s old cereal boxes, bottle caps, or baby teeth, I have a ton of various collections stashed away, and they make me happy. I am pretty horrible about it, though; I like for collections to be vast and complete, and I will go to any lengths to finish them. But as bad as I am about collecting useless garbage in real life, somehow, I am ten times worse about it when I’m playing a videogame.

Now, collecting items in video games most likely brings to mind visions of the 64-bit era, where Super Mario 64 and the largely in-bred family of 3D platformers that followed suit thrived and covered the Earth. Sure, in previous years you could grab some coins and/or rings (whichever you prefer) as you made your merry little way across a level, but games like these took the concept of item collecting to a whole new height of importance. Instead of an option, items were made crucial to progress; now you could not get very far unless you had a stockpile of shiny, magical objects on hand.

More after the jump.

As much hate as some of these “collect-a-thons” receive from the general consensus, I am a little uneasy to admit that I just could/can not get enough of them. Sure, most everyone likes Banjo-Kazooie to a certain extent, but what about Croc, Gex, and Mario 64’s other bastard children? I even gave the dreaded Donkey Kong 64 a spin prior to starting this article, as I never had the chance to play it earlier, and regardless of the metric f*ckton of shit (for lack of a more fitting term) that the game throws at you to grab up, I did so quite contentedly. I actually … liked it.

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been quite the pack rat, even in the earliest years of my life. I suppose it was only natural that, when first presented with collection-based gameplay, I ate it right up. The first time I can remember really getting into how many items I could find in a game was actually a little bit before I ever played Mario 64. It all began when I started to play a little game starring a creampuff that we all know and love, who gets stuck in a vast underground cave littered with strange and valuable treasures. Yes, The Great Cave Offensive was my first real bite of delicious item collection.


The bottomless pit could be some sort of metaphor, here.

You could argue that you don’t really have to even bother with the treasures to get through the game, because you don’t, but damn, I would feel as if I had thrust my hand into its metaphorical chest cavity and ripped out its metaphorical heart if I were to do that. It seems to me that Cave Offensive is one of the least liked of Kirby Super Star’s several games, at least by anyone who I have ever co-oped the game with. We fire it up, I select Cave Offensive, and my partner exhales a disappointed groan. So, mostly by myself, I give the game a new run-through every once in a while, and that’s not just because my copy of Kirby Super Star has a dead game save battery. It does not matter how many times I complete the game in full; getting to see Kirby unearth Captain Falcon’s helmet or the bucket Mario wears in Mario & Wario (though I believed it was an empty chicken bucket prior to discovering its origins) is enough of a reward in itself.

As the years went by, I played several of these sorts of games and held many of them near and dear to my heart. But the numbers of such platforming games made began to dwindle. My sickness, however, did not start to fade along with them. Thankfully, to pick up on the slack, many modern games offer a side dish of collecting. Features like the insane amount of character trophies and stickers crammed into Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl are right up my alley. In a similar vein, my absolute favorite items to collect would have to be The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker’s figurines. Using Link’s camera (that can only hold three pictures at once) and the Song of Passing, I begin the process: go out into the world, snap a picture of three characters and/or enemies, turn one in, conduct night, conduct day, turn my next photograph in, repeat until all three figurines are made and then sail out for more photos. I admit, they are sort of a pain in the ass to obtain, particularly the bosses, and thinking about the process makes my head hurt, but my save file boasts a full collection. And damn, it just feels great to walk into each display room and see them entirely filled up with hand-crafted virtual plastic.

There cannot be an article about a lady’s love for collecting in the video gameworld without any mention of the numerous games that allow for the capture of strange but oh-so-cute beasts. These were the games that really kept me going after platformers began to shy away from excessive amounts of collecting. I absolutely adore catching every species of Pokemon, raising each type of Chao, going through every CD I can get my hands on to collect all of the different varieties of creatures in Monster Rancher, and so on. The enormous number of different monsters and animals packed into each of these games, though satisfying, made me want even more.


In this place, the world is my curio cabinet!

The collecting disease can grow to such an ungodly mass that you eventually begin to search for any and all excuses to collect, no matter what game you happen to be playing. It can make you go a little crazy, and even cause you to invent new ways of playing things, just to satisfy your need. It is because of this that I consider the Animal Crossing games to somewhat fall along the lines of the other creature-collecting titles. It’s not really, unless you play the game like I do. What I love most about Animal Crossing is not the collecting of clothing, furniture or dinosaur bones. Though those items are nice, and allow progress, they are not my true goal here (which would be why I have yet to pay off either of my houses completely). My collection in these games, you see, are the townsfolk; I “collect” my animal neighbors.

I realize that most likely sounds either very strange, creepy, or a combination of the two. It might not help it be less weird, but I will explain: in the Animal Crossing games, randomly chosen animals filter in and out of your town. Each one is unique; some have better attitudes than others, some are rarer than others, and then some are just too darn cute. There is no rhyme or reason to which ones come and go, and so it’s mostly a big waiting game. But once an animal moves into my town that I take a real liking to (usually the “lazy” or “normal” personality types, or any of the birds), I will fight tooth and nail to make them live with me forever. Especially in Wild World, where a player is able to convince an animal that is all packed and ready to go that they should not move away. There’s more to it than that, though. I send them love letters and gifts on nearly a daily basis. I always tell them precisely what they want to hear. Sweet-talking your animals is an ongoing process, but having a town with no flaws (besides weeds) is totally worth it. What collection, virtual or real, could ever trump a band of your favorite cute animals who actually respond to you (in adorable, funny ways) when you say hello? Eat your heart out, stuffed animal collection.

Collecting things within the various worlds of videogames is an activity quite often seen as dull and monotonous work, especially in modern games, and I don’t blame people at all for thinking so. Even I admit that there are times where I’m searching high and low for the last few golden giblets, or what have you, and think to myself, “Why in the hell am I wasting my time on this?” But deep down, I know that it is simply the satisfaction of seeing a game to one hundred percent completion that keeps my fire burning. Regardless of whether or not it really matters as an aspect of game play, it still makes me feel great to know that I found everything that there was to be found, like the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. Also, like the junk I keep around in real life, they just make me happy to look back at. Or I could just be a masochist. Either way, it’s my illness, and I can not seem to ever be cured. I will likely forevermore swim blissfully through my hoards of shiny stars, jigsaw pieces, bananas, and Pokemon.

Ashley Davis