The Trouble With Collectibles

Ah, collectibles. Whether it’s the Wumpa fruit in Crash Bandicoot or Sonic’s golden rings, they’re certainly nothing new to video games as a whole. And whether you’re picking them up to earn upgrades or trying to 100% a game for a platinum trophy, they all serve specific purposes that keep us hunting in a near-obsessive manner.

That being said, there have been significant changes made to games and gaming as a whole that has all but transformed the medium from pixel graphics and chip tunes to full-scale productions and immersive story experiences over the years. But while they may have changed in size and scope, they still try to hold on to the idea of collectibles today.

In some ways, this works well. After all, you are still playing a game when engaging these titles, and part of the game is the goal that is collecting these items in an effort to reap some sort of predetermined reward.

But recently, I’ve found a few games that have managed to use collectibles in a near-nefarious way. How, you ask? By burying key elements of the plot and narrative in collectibles hidden around the world. While it’s not necessarily something that is pervasive on every story-driven experience seen on store shelves today, it’s still something that needs to be considered when a game is in the creation process.

A great example of this is the complete mindboggle that is BioShock Infinite’s narrative. If you’re anything like me, you were left staring at the TV screen with a puzzled expression on your face as the end credits rolled. The ending was a solid one, but the sheer number of questions and places where the story simply didn’t connect well were somewhat troublesome in my mind.

Of course, it wasn’t until after I’d done some research online and listened to other’s commentary on the game that I realized a fair amount of narrative content for Infinite was locked away in Voxophones scattered throughout Columbia. Now, this wasn’t just small, ancillary details that fleshed out the ideas and personalities of characters found within the game. Rather, this was crucial information that linked together much of the story’s connective tissue in a real and meaningful way.

Sure, there are many important Voxophones that are placed directly in your path throughout the game that help fill you in on the details or shed some light on the happenings in Columbia as you experience them. But the few placed directly in your way didn’t do enough to really help smooth out the rough patches in the story and fill you in on the important bits as a whole. To me, this is troublesome. While I did occasionally explore and look for the odd Voxophone while looting, it certainly wasn’t something I was actively trying to fully accomplish while playing. Rather, I was more interested in finishing combat encounters and making my way to the next story beat.

Now, I realize this is anecdotal, and I realize this is reflects my personal experience with the game. But I am hard pressed to imagine I’m the only one who feels this way about the narrative and the move to hide key plot elements away on Voxophones for only the hardcore fans and completionists to find. With a narrative as deep and ambitious as that one, it’s a bit disingenuous to lock away important details where they probably would have been better served being integrated into the storytelling in a more seamless manner.

Another game that suffered from this was Dishonored. While the world of Dunwall was a highly stylized and admittedly interesting one, it still managed to feel somewhat one dimensional in its inability to flesh out the citizens and state of the city in general.

That is, until you start digging around in abandoned apartments and finding documents hidden throughout the world. Any looting or exploration you do will yield notes, diary entries, reports, and all other kinds of documents that shed light on the illness plaguing the city, the state of the classes, and the quality of life in Dunwall as a whole. You’ll also learn about the history of the city and how it thrives on technology such as Whale Oil.

Now, this is all well and good if you’re interested in rummaging through drawers for hours on end. But when playing Dishonored, I was more concerned with pulling off stealth kills and teleporting around environments without being seen than exploring apartments and abandoned buildings. Why? Interestingly enough, I think it’s the game’s inability to convey a unique personality from the start that left me feeling somewhat uninterested in learning more about Corvo’s world. Much of what needed to be at the forefront in order to connect me with the goings on and the personality of Dunwall was unfortunately hidden away in documents throughout the world.

The thing is, I don’t at all mind finding collectibles or documents throughout the world that help flesh it out and encourage me to learn more to appreciate it on a whole new level. We simply begin to enter a dangerous territory when so much of the game’s soul is tucked away in hidden corners for only the most savvy of players to ever stumble across. It’s one thing to reward the hardcore fans, but it’s quite another to withhold key information from the typical player who is more interested with getting through the experience as a whole than seraching every nook and cranny of a game’s environment.

How do you feel about collectibles hiding key plot details? Tell me in the comments below!