For the Hoard?
As I stand here, playing Diablo II, butchering harmless natives for gold and colored letters engraved on belts, lusting for their experience-filled blood, my attention is drawn to the nearby television. Restraining my previous thoughts of requesting a sandwich to my girlfriend, I violently threw the laptop out of the way focusing on this so called “newscaster”. As his voice pronounces these far too familiar words, my mind becomes blank. Angered by the turn of events, I feel the aggressiveness in me rise. Somehow, I know they’ll blame these deaths on video games and that just makes me want to punch them in the face.
I’m sure by now you’ve realized that I’m talking about death by hoarding. Surprisingly, this is a thing. An increasing-in-frequency thing that, eventually, will be blamed on video games. Maybe not now, but it’s only a matter of time before the house of an avid game collector catches fire when the vintage Xbox 360 first edition catches fire through the Red Ring of Death. When that time comes, Fox News will be all over us. Therefore, I decided to study some retro games to see if gaming encourages or actually prevents hoarding. I hope this preliminary study will help us defend ourselves when the time comes.
The Hoarding Baits
It’s hard to deny that many games enforce hoarding, some even use it as a gameplay centerpoint. Why, yes, I am talking about Banjo-Kazooie!
Since the dawn of games, players have been tasked with collection of various items. There’s no real problem with that. In some collection oriented games, like Yoshi’s Island, the stack of things you grab throughout the stage isn’t something you carry around. Its purpose remains for score, as it was with classic games. However, in games like Banjo-Kazooie and, to an extent, Super Mario 64, you need to collect everything in order to progress in the game. Amassing items becomes a requirement. But, simply amassing stuff does not necessarily lead to hoarding. Google defines hoarding as: “a large board in a public place, used to display advertisements…” proving once again that Google is useless… In more competent dictionaries, hoarding is defined as the act of a person who… hoards… Let’s just agree that it’s collecting useless crap you’re never going to use.
Ahem! Indeed, it’s not the actual collecting in Banjo-Kazooie, and other similar games, that entices gamers to hoard, it’s the use of what you do collect. Despite all the musical notes, you never find the key in which you’re supposed to play them, nor the octave, nor an instrument. You never use the Pikmins to get Banjo’s ship working again, either. At least, in this installment, you actually solve the puzzle, but you still let them hang afterwards. In the end, what did all that hoarding bring you? Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. I hope you’re happy.
Of course, platformers aren’t the only ones guilty of encouraging hoarding. I’m sure all of you can open a random RPG save file and find at least 5 or 10 items in your inventory you kept “just in case”. You never use those elixir, ethers and other unique items. That’s real hoarding.
And I won’t even go into the Pokémon argument. You know animal hoarding is a thing, right? Nothing good could come out of being a crazy cat lady. Except in Pokémon… the cats aren’t the most useless of pets you can keep around…
I’m gonna use them! I swear!
But the items you keep around are rare, right? It’s justifiable that you keep those, but what about all that other crap? Rocks? Shells? Horns? Excrement? Why do we keep all of these around? Because they sell. If RPGs taught us anything, it’s that everything has value, even useless objects. In fact, in some games, you help others become hoarders. Fetch quests are omnipresent. Many of them ask of you to collect multiples of common objects so a random stranger can build their stack of garbage, polluting his town, his family and your mind. Worse yet, they reward you for helping them hoard. Seeing this behavior, how can the naive mind of a gamer realize that hoarding can be dangerous? Diablo 2 comes across as a great example, encouraging you, especially early on, to pick up small change and weapons that you can’t even use, just to build your stash. Speaking of Diablo II, the “Gamble” store serves as an awful role model. Take Alkor, in Act III. This shopkeeper has 3 actual items he sells, but in his “Gamble” store, he has an infinite stack of unidentified items piled up in the back end of a crappy shack. Talk about glorification of hoarders.
You never know when an old man is gonna ask you for junk
The Hoarding Blocks
Fortunately, not every game mechanic encourages hoarding. Apart from the ethereal aspect of most items (that end up traded away for money or scores), other mechanics directly impede your hoarding tendencies.
I remember the choices I had to make in Pokémon with this horrible limited bag space. Not only that, but your “stash” also had limited space. Considering there were things you couldn’t even throw away, difficult choices were mandatory. The struggle of choosing between a ether you’re never gonna use and a TM you’re never gonna use is indescribably painful. Pokémon isn’t the only game with limited inventory. Resident Evil comes across as another good example of limited inventory. Unlike Pokémon, though, the lack of inventory makes sense in Resident Evil; there’s not a lot of storage in a tank. You have to make sure your backpack is light, or else, stopping to turn every few seconds would have you falling flat on your face thanks to inertia. Furthermore, these awful menu accessing controls will have you walking on eggs anyway. All in all, in many games, you don’t have the luxury to hold on to everything you want. In other games, you don’t want to hold on to everything.
Hated when this happened, but it’s a hard lesson to learn.
Bronze helmets? That is SO backwater starting town. At least, that’s what I’ve been trained to think. It seems every new town has a fetish material that seems to slightly edge the former. In the end, no one wants you to keep your old stuff for too long, probably because they are hoarders themselves. In this scenario, however, considering they’re the idiots buying your crap back, hoarding is only discredited further. By giving you the habit of upgrading everything you hold every few steps, games are showing you that the stuff you carry is basically useless. It also allows you to get rid of it and makes it a habit to do so.
When even megaphones can be bought at stores, why hold to one?
Two against two… Still, considering the arguments above, I think we can emit a definitive conclusion: The scenario in which gaming causes cases of varying importance of hoarding-like behavior in people remains plausible in instances where a combination of various decisive factors is met, but the general hypothesis remains to be supported in an iterative scientific process by experts relevant to all field of studies expressed within the various scenarios.
Come back next time as I reuse the exact same arguments to see if gaming is at the source of over-consumption and excessive waste production.