Nov 12 2008 9:28am

The Greed of the Jedi

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.


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?

David Lodge
1. revcorwin
I remember playing one of the X-Men video games my friend's original Xbox, and realizing that the true reason the normal citizens hate mutants is because we kept running through their city smashing trash cans and benches at every turn.

There really needs to be a LEGO Marvel heroes game. I'd play Hulk exclusively and run around the world shouting "Hulk SMASH!"
2. Angelslave
My biggest problem with loot in games is when it is where it couldn't or shouldn't be. Where did the ghost I have just slain carry... well.. anything? An the zombie I hacked to pieces, do I really want the moist cornbread it was carrying? And why is it moist? There does not seem to be an acceptable answer to these questions that would make me want to chow down on the cornbread. Though it would benefit me at some later point to have the cornbread, I find myself unable to keep it in my bags for fear its 'moistness' will corrupt my other foodstuffs. On a somewhat related note, I am so glad no developer has created smells in game, I would hate to think what my bags in World Of Warcraft smell like!
3. CharlesP
My son (and I) are playing Lego Indiana Jones (we'd done the Lego Star Wars on the gamecube), and I must admit that while I understand that the busting stuff up to get things is a large part of the game, it annoys me when he destroys everything for treasure instead of advancing the story and solving the puzzles. Some of it is because I want to get things moving, and part of it is because I apparently don't have a desire to wantonly destroy stuff all that much.

FWIW: I don't recall EVER having this problem with Lego Star Wars, but Lego Indy has had numerous places where you get "stuck" and just have to restart the level because you did one part of a puzzle in the wrong order and can't go back to get it right. As a programmer, and a gamer, this annoys the crap out of me and I must restrict my screaming at their QA department to "in head" so as to not scare the little kids.
4. Lance Miller
"But young Obi-Wan, fear leads to hatred. Hatred leads to vandalism. Vandalism leads to treasure!"

Agreed, Mur. With all the potential for realism in games that's arisen through better tech, these kinds of gameplay elements are definitely hold-overs from times past.

I was jarred out of any immersion several times in Fable II after my dog lead me to buried treasure, which turned out to be things like condoms, or hunks of tofu. I wouldn't be inclined to make use of either of those subterranean finds! :D
Twitter: LancerX
Natalie Luhrs
5. eilatan
The Chocobo mini-game is the very best part of FFVII. I spent a good month doing nothing but playing with Chocobos back in the spring of 1999 when I was unemployed leading up to a relocation. It was awesome.

And actually, you need to breed the Chocobos so you can get the gold one, which is required to get the Knights of the Round materia, the best summon in the history of ever.
6. Haakon
Obviously you haven't heard of the sacred commandment of roleplaying: Kill them and take their stuff!
Michael McGovern
7. mikemcg
I totally do this in Fable II. The fate of Albion hangs in the balance as evil Lord Lucien's minions terrorize the land, but I am running around buying up real estate and chopping wood to earn some extra gold.
William Hassinger
8. iObject
Actually, in your paladin's defense that's pretty much what people on holy crusades do: kill people and take their stuff. You're also not supposed to go through Diablo games feeling as pure as the fresh-fallen snow; you're living in one of the darkest worlds ever created for a video game. Hell, one of the playable characters is a necromancer. You kinda have to adjust your usual ideas of good/evil.

As for the other two, you don't actually have to destroy n' loot everything or play every minigame to complete the story. In fact, the LEGO games have two modes for that exact reason. You can't get all the loot in the story mode anyhow. As mentioned above, the Golden Chocobo thing is for a totally unnecessary treasure. Cool, to be sure, but you don't need it to win.

Besides, I'm pretty sure we all know how the Star Wars story will turn out :)
Tim Keating
9. MrTact
Yay for the OMM linkage! You get +3 reputation points with the True Nerds faction.

Speaking of which, if you haven't already, play Portal. The script was written by one of the OMM guys... I forget which one.
Del C
10. del
I'm imagining the Christian computer game where you get points for turning the cheek, giving up the cloak, and walking the second mile.

Sorry, did I say points? I meant you get cool artifacts for doing it.
Gabe Carr
11. Okorikuma
I play Lego Batman on my PSP instead of reading when I go to bed. I will say, for some reason, after unlocking both the x4 and x8 multipliers so that every stud I pick up is worth 32 times its value, smashing everything and watching my total spiral up ridiculously has become somewhat more enjoyable than much of the actual gameplay.

Also, the Bard's Tale remake of a few years ago (which was an RPG that was also a parody of RPGs) had a relevant joke. At some point early on when you kill a wolf, the Bard has a lengthy exchange with the narrator on the subject of why the hell the wolf was full of weapons and gold coins.
Eric Tolle
12. ErictheTolle
“But I needed those magical pants to do God’s work!” is now my favorite personal saying.

It kind of grates on me that game considerations so often contradict the sense of immersion. the games go to all that effort with their physics engines and graphics, and then have sillyness liek wolves that evidently ate two handed swords or shields.
Alexander Gieg
13. alexgieg
Actually, the Chocobo thing isn't something you're really supposed to do on your very first play of the game, although sure, you can if you want to. There are some absurdly powerful secret enemies in the game, which are indeed linked to an obscure aspect of the plot that doesn't get solved otherwise. Killing them requires not only that you get all the most powerful items in the game and that all you characters have reached level 99, but also a lot of skill from your part in using those things correctly. The main enemy, in contrast, can be killed when you're 40 or so levels behind...

So, in short: play FFVII the first time, go straight to the end, kill the main boss and watch the credits. Play again (or reload) and this time go after the gold Chocobo to open the path to the REALLY difficult boss.
14. rogerothornhill
I've been watching two seven-year-olds play Lego Star Wars for five months now and I couldn't agree with you more. Whatever it is, it's not the Star Wars universe of either trilogy. I'm not talking about extradiegetic ethics or morality here; I'm talking about intradiegetic consistency. Lego Star Wars is just a melange of abstracted fight scenes, and the rewards involved aren't true to the mythos. Tell whatever story you want, but keep it true to itself across all media.
15. Jonathan Schiefer
I ran into a similar ethical problem in World of Warcraft. One of the main early quests for the Alliance, is killing Edwin Van Cleef. THe first few times I played through the game, I just clicked through the quests to get them and then go and hack and slash some bad guys.

And then, on my third or fourth time through, I read it. It turns out Van Cleef helped build the castle for the king, but the king decided he wasn't going to pay Van Cleef or the rest of the masons, what he promised. So Van Cleef revolted, and tried to make a life for himself. And then I (the ubiquitous player) was sent to kill him.

I'm a nice guy and I like helping people who are having a hard time, who have been cheated or mistreated. Van Cleef is the kind of guy I would let stay in my house until he got back on his feet. But, in order to get MAD XP, I have to kill him. Le sigh.

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