The FEAR: Running out of items

[Editor’s note: SWPM talks about the fear of running out of items for his Monthly Musing piece. — CTZ]

It’s the end stretch of the Cliff That Time Forgot. All that stands between me and Giygas is one last Starmen. What should be an easy bout before the big finale is has taken a turn for the worse though. Paula’s HP is starting to trickle down, and Poo is already in a critical state. As the Starman finishes another onslaught, I’m left to decide my actions. I could stay the course and keep on trying to bat him down, or I could finish him off in one turn with one of Jeff’s Bottle Rockets. The correct course of action is obvious, but a nagging voice keeps me from taking it. “But what if I need that rocket for the boss?”

Jump ahead a bit and were in Rapture; Olympus Heights to be exact. An enraged Big Daddy is trying his best to send me to a watery grave. As I weave around the ruins of a dead city, taking post shots with a machine gun. I’m struck with a profound desire to just pull out my rocket launcher and end this with a heat seeking round. I don’t though, because the same voice is back, worrying: “What if I need that to beat Fontaine?”

As odd as this may sound, my greatest fear in gaming doesn’t come from zombie dogs jumping through windows, corrupted data or even from the Ultimate Embodiment of Evil itself. My biggest fear is that I’ll run out of items. 

I’m convinced that there must have been some kind of traumatic experience that occurred when I was just starting playing videogames that I subconsciously blocked out, but whose moral still remains firmly imprinted in my psyche: “Save every item till the last possible moment.” It’s the only way to explain this near maniacal packratism I can’t help but display. I’ve reached the end of many a game with an over abundance of ammo and supplies, and yet I continue to hoard and refuse to use. Talking about it now, it seems utterly ludicrous and I laugh at how foolish it is, but for some reason, everything changes when I get into a game. The fanciful threat of running out of goods becomes a very real one, or at least in my head.

About half of these will never be used

I wasn’t aware of this unusual quirk until it was directly pointed out to me by a less conservative player. Prior to that I still frugalized my items, but it was far less conscious. Take Megaman for instance. The thought to use the special weapons outside of a boss fight simply never occurred to me. Same was true in many other games, like Super Metroid. As I struggled against a particularly nasty patch of Space Pirates in Lower Norfair, a friend quipped: “Why not just use you’re missiles?” I was flummoxed by this, as I knew that there was a reason I wasn’t using them, that I couldn’t express. It didn’t take long for the words to come to me. “Those are for Ridley.” “But you have like 100, you don’t need to save them all.” And then I responded with the fatal phrase, that summarized my prime most fear when playing a game “But what if I run out?”

Special weapon outside of a boss fight? Inconceivable!

In truth, I can count the times I ever truly run out of supplies and suffered serious in game consequences on one hand. One finger really. Apart from that particularly disastrous romp in Ravenholm, it’s all been (relatively) smooth sailing, which either proves there’s no threat, or my conservationist techniques prevent it. I’m guessing the former though. But despite this, in my mind at least, running out of items is still a looming threat I always need to watch out for. But, I doubt (read: hope) I’m completely alone in this. Plenty of others have discussed and mentioned this phenomena, and while it my not be commonplace, at the very least it’s not a singularity. Which makes it worthy of at least a little bit of examination.

The hoarding of item stems from the belief that they’ll be needed later. Whether “later” refers to a specific instance like a boss fight, or just to a vague time in the future varies from game to game, and moment to moment. The actuality of this threat may be real, or merely induced by the game itself. In BioShock, the threat of running out of ammo is actually quite small, what with the abundance of ammo dispensers, and the prevalence of cash. But you don’t feel that way when you’re trusty Shotgun (nicknamed Winchester) is running low on bucks, and Spider Splicers keep crawling out of the cracks. It’s a great design choice, but it terrified me like nothing else and led to me trying to blast every enemy with my not as trusty pistol (nicknamed Erwin) or my even less trusty Wrench (Nickname not given), having barely touched some of the finer guns in the game by the time the credits rolled around.

I’m that guy

Not all is bad about packrattery though, the surplus of goods it leads makes final bosses quite a bit more manageable, and it a pretty awesome feeling to unload all you’re bottlerockets and bombs one after another on the that one last guy, especially if that one last guy is a complete asshole, like Porky Minch.

Whether it’s good or bad though, my fear of running out of items is, and most likely always will be a part of me when I game. You may think it’s crazy, and you’re probably right, but you try fighting off Fast Zombies and Poison Head Crabs with just a crowbar, and come out not a raving, hoarding maniac 😉