Uncharted 3 - Baby Drake

I am a glutton for collecting useless items in video games; I always have been. I’m the type of person who veers immediately off the main quest path and ends up trying to round up every shiny orb I can find. The city is under attack from ruthless gangs with cartoonishly matching outfits? Tough, I gotta climb this building and jump off in the hopes of nabbing that luminescent collectible.

In open-world games with looser story structures and less of an impetus on saving the day in a reasonable amount of time, that’s all fine and good. However, in a game like, say, Alan Wake Remastered (and, for that matter, the original Alan Wake as well), are you telling me that Alan, while searching for his missing wife and trying to elude a deranged FBI agent out for blood, would ever stray from the path to pick up a random thermos that was left on a wooden fence post behind a cabin that is also surrounded by mindless, murderous villains?

Alan Wake - Thermos

Collect 100 random packages strewn about Liberty City? Yeah, sure, I’m already just driving around doing other dumb stuff — pile it on. But you want me to believe that Max Payne is going to stop his crusades for revenge and justice to collect pieces of golden guns? Get the frick out of here!

There is a time and a place for video-game treasure hunting. In my opinion, games with linear narrative and level structures — especially those that hinge on a sense of urgency — are not appropriate vessels for pointless game tropes. Because invariably, while rushing to get to point B from point A to save someone, or while trying to make a frantic escape from a demonic force or a collapsing building, or while walking with an NPC that is doing an exposition dump, I tend to take the time to look around that odd corner, or behind that random thing over there. I’ll just walk away from someone who’s talking, missing out on potentially valuable information or plot points in order to check down an alley we would otherwise just walk past on the off chance that there’s a stack of beer cans I can knock down to further my efforts of unlocking the Trophy tethered to such an inane activity.

Sure, I can ignore that stuff and adhere to the momentum and pacing of the story. Hypothetically, I could simply choose to not be bothered by the obvious video-game trope trying to rear it’s dumb old head, reminding me that this is just a dumb game and dumb games need me to be constantly collecting things. But in practice, I can’t. I was raised this way, honed and calibrated to be a collect-athon warrior. If I get a whiff of collectibles, FOMO sets in and my primate brain goes into Pokémon mode; gotta collect ’em all. And shoot, the developer put these dumb treasure hunts in the middle of their otherwise adult-themed dramatic story, so they must want my simian psyche to kick in. 

Uncharted - Treasure

But why? If Alan Wake omitted these trinkets to collect and cans to topple, I wouldn’t miss them. I wouldn’t think anything less of Alan, of Remedy, or of video games in general. I wouldn’t even notice their absence. But by including them, and designing Trophies as accolades for having collected each one, you’re only doing the actual game a disservice by adding this metagame within the broader game narrative. So many of these shiny trinkets are only discovered at the expense of the story the game is trying to usher me through — nay, the experience Sam Lake wants me to have.

If coffee thermos collecting is where your passion lies, then just make a thermos-collecting mobile game and call it a day. Otherwise, please keep collectibles out of my linear games and let my Neanderthal brain simply get lost in the narrative without catching a glimpse of a shiny trinket during a cutscene, only to spend the rest of that cutscene trying to figure out how to get it.

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