The holidays and traditional gift-giving occasions are coming up, and soon we'll be caught up in listing all the things we want. As a child, saving up money to buy things was one of my passions in life; getting stuff was a way to show I fit in with society and had taste. I still get excited about new games, but they aren't my life's purpose anymore. Inside the games themselves, it's not the collecting that's fun, but exploring an experience constructed by multiple artists. Richard Clark at Gamechurch uses collectibles in Assassin's Creed to show how the impulse to accrue goods can leave us feeling empty:
Soon you have so many feathers or flags that you think, wouldn’t it be nice to have all of them? From that point on, Assassin’s Creed becomes a search for stuff. We try so hard to tell ourselves that this search is meaningful – but the feathers and flags lead to little more than a pat on the back from some in-game character and maybe some more digital ‘stuff’. If I’m lucky, I’ll get an achievement. They lead to a search. They encourage impulsiveness and indulgence. This stuff is there because the system demands it: the player must be entertained, not for the mere eight hours the story requires, but for 20+ hours. The game needs to give us reasons to explore the world we inhabit. So, we see a white, twinkling collectible in the background and immediately pursue it, passing by the people and beautiful architecture on the way.
The games that resonate with that struggle are the ones on my shelf. They maximize my time, making every moment count, keeping my perspective firmly in the present. Some, like Minerva’s Den, refuse to encourage me to run around merely collecting things, and instead allow us to slowly discover our own past by exploring the setting and artifacts around us. Others, like Red Dead Redemption, provide collectables that feel truthful and poignant, like killing animals for their pelts and stopping to pick flowers. All of them leave me with little interest in the stuff I’ve gained and the achievements I’ve accomplished. Instead, they leave me changed, even if only slightly.