Video games—the ones I like, anyway—have to strike a balance between storytelling and gameplay. I want an immersive storytelling experience; I want to be a protagonist, a hero. However, there are things in gaming that can’t be ignored. The accumulation of treasure, for example, including the destruction of property and the clear stealing and looting of items.
I had a moral problem playing the paladin in Diablo II. The epitome of the good, righteous, holy warrior goes through the world, fighting the spawn of demons, and… looting bodies. Yup, our holy man just runs up and wrestles a pair of magical pants from the chewed-up legs of a corpse. Perhaps he says a little prayer over the body, but that’s not in-game. Our perfect warrior is now no better than a dirty grave robber.
“But I needed those magical pants to do God’s work!”
These issues came up again when I was playing Final Fantasy VII. Horrible monsters were rising out of the sea and falling from the sky and my heroes had to fight… but we also had large chickens—Chocobos—to capture, breed, raise, train, race, and breed again. Priorities, you know. So there’s a point in the game where the malevolent evil meteor is poised to fall on us all—literally hanging in the sky—but unless you actually move to advance the plot, you can just wander around the world, breeding Chocobos and playing mini-games to your heart’s content.
“Don’t worry about that impending world-wide devastation, I’ll get to it when I get a minute.”
Right now the obsession in my house is LEGO Star Wars on our Wii. And yes, I know we’re a bit behind, everyone is on to LEGO Batman now, but we’re late adapters sometimes. Again, this is the classic storytelling game, we have to get from plot point A to plot point B, and they put treasure between here and there. LEGO Star Wars included, of course, the classic crate MO but decided to hide treasure in everything from cups to chairs to windows to art to trash cans to showers… this means, of course, that you have to blow the ever-living shit out of everything you come across.
PERSONAL DIARY OF PADAWAN OBI-WAN KENOBI
Trade negotiations went downhill rapidly last Thursday, with my Master Qui-Gon and I trapped with poison gas filling the room. Master instructed me to hold my breath, which is a skill, as a Jedi Knight, in which I am trained. I made a move to use the Force to open the locked door, but my master motioned me to the crates in the corner. I stared, astonished, as he split them open with his light saber to reveal treasure! He pocketed what he could, then moved to the grand table in the middle of the room. He motioned me to follow, and together we used the Force on each chair at the table, causing it to dance back and forth, ejecting treasure.
I wanted to ask if this was wrong. Stealing from our hosts, even if they were our captors, it seemed very much against the way of the Force. But as I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t protest. Finally, with my eyes burning with the gas and my lungs begging to expand, I worked the Force on the door while my increasingly greedy Master filled his pockets with treasure. We fought our way through the battle droids, Master Qui-Gon looting all the way, often destroying the walls and items on the ship, holding us up and compromising our stealthy escape.
I must talk to Master Yoda. My faith in my Master is shaken.
But hey, I’m a gamer and do enjoy the quest for treasure even when I’m being all good and virtuous and fighting demons. It’s been this way ever since PacMan, where there was zero story and the only purpose of the game was to run around gathering treasure. Or eating dots. Same thing. It still makes me giggle when we’re supposed to be retaking Amidala’s palace when all we’re concentrating on is busting her stuff up to get her treasure. You get to pretend that Obi-Wan and Padme are delinquents:
“See that window? Watch what happens when I shoot it. Yeah, my dad hid treasure there. Let’s make Qui-Gon go buy us some beer.“
And really, is there a better reason to play video games?