In-Game Collectibles Suck
Most games have collectibles in some form, few matter or just take too much time.
Collectibles come in many forms - upgrades, easter eggs or simply filler. As varied as the collectables are, their use for me does not hold up. The time taken to gather than can be greater than the time spent on the rest of the game. I don’t want to collect something simply for the sake of doing so.
A fact that has always been true. Before I became a father I had no issue with hunting down items that would improve my character, give me new skills or allow me access to new mechanics. That’s changed. Not suddenly, but gradually over time, as I’ve come to realize that I want to do other things.
That’s other things outside of the game. I don’t want to stop gaming. But I do want my time gaming to be a more concerted effort. And collectables are a large part of modern games, even walking simulators such as Dear Esther, Virginia or ABZÛ have them. Yet they serve no greater purpose.
Achievements or additional play-throughs may be incentives to some. Not so for me. I’m here for the story and the experience. Additional play-throughs for most games will not provide that. Even in RPGs with diverse character creation systems such as Mass Effect the plot beats are not all that different to warrant a second play-through for me.
Others are likely to disagree. They may find enough to guarantee they keep returning to a particular game time and time again. But for me the experiences of being a paragon versus a renegade are not great enough to warrant another play-through. And it’s no different with collectibles. They just aren’t worth the effort to pick them up.
Searching for something, fetching an item, delivering a McGuffin are fine as long as there’s a narrative justification for such a quest. More often than not, there is no such thing. It’s a time filler. A way to justify the grind. And grind is something I don’t want to do any more. So please ignore the number of hours I’ve put into Destiny.
For all my dislike of collectibles it is worth mentioning a game that did collectibles right - Firewatch. You’re probably saying, “but that’s a walking simulator”, and “there are no collectibles in the game!” Those people at Campo Santo know what they’re doing because there are and there aren’t collectibles. There’s nothing you can find that improves your character or unlocks an achievement. Well one thing, but you wouldn’t know about it unless you read the achievements list.
But your character’s job is to maintain the park you’re stationed in. So it makes perfect sense to pick up every piece of trash you find as you go about your days. That includes confiscating fireworks, cleaning up beer cans, nabbing a half-finished bottle of alcohol and more. Because it’s in character and I didn’t find myself going out of the way in search for other items.
There is of course greater implications to the rise of collectibles in games and what it says about media consumption and consumerism. But those arguments fall flat for the simple reason that not all media is equal. The time they take up may be the same, but how they use it is not. A minute spent transversing an area is not the same as a minute spent in a fight, or solving a puzzle, or holding a conversation, or rooting through your inventory. It can be, Firewatch makes walking across a meadow worth every moment. But in most games don’t.
The same is true across mediums. It’s why you won’t find me reading chihuahua-killing fantasy tomes. But that all goes back to the idea of concision. More on that can be found in my previous post.