The History of Collectables in Video Games

It is a completionist's worst nightmare to purchase a game and discover that there are a total of 700+ collectables found in the game's world.

I am a semi-completionist, if that word exists, and sometimes I do embark on the quest to collect all of the collectables in a game, even if it means dozens of hours wasted on a tedious part of a game.

While playing Red Dead Redemption 2, I found that there are a plethora of collectables, ranging from dinosaur bones to rock carvings to dreamcatchers and exotics. While collecting these, I asked myself, when did collectables become mainstream that almost every game includes them?

Without further a do, I'm going to share my findings on the Internet about the history of collectables.

The Pioneers

There isn't an exact game that featured and introduced collectables for the very first time.

What we know, however, that collectables first started to appear in arcade games around the 80s. Games like Pac-Man, which its entire gameplay featured around escaping ghost-like creatures while collecting certain yellow dots, popularized collectables. Many games thereafter, like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros, added in collectables. Players would collect mushrooms, hats and coins.

These collectables, however, merely served as extra points for the player. Collect 100 coins and you'll get an extra life. Or players will collect them to beat their own or their friend's highscores.

The Evolution

After arcade and retro gaming came 3D games, which revolutionized the notion of collectables. 3D games popularized "dual collectables". I just made that up but it simply means that there are 2 kinds of collectables. The earliest example I can give you is Sonic where you had to collect coins and diamonds/crystals for extra points.

Some games even started to add collectables that you had to collect to finish the level. It became absolutely crucial to collect these. An example is Taz Wanted, which I absolutely cherish, where you need to find and destroy 7 wanted signs to pass the level. It also featured sandwiches to collect for extra points.

The idea that you get more points or lives led to many people trying to collect all these collectables. And this led to the creation of "completionists".

Era of Completionists

Developers saw that gamers were collecting these collectables just for the sake of collecting, so they started to add redundant collectables to extend their games' lifespans. Some games even featured lists or almanac-like pages that show all your collectables.

And here we reach the present day, where almost every game features collectables. Let me explain the types of collectables that can be found in today's games.

There is the world building type. These are completely useless in terms of rewards, as some don't even reward you with a special item or even an achievement/tophy. They only serve to enhance your vision of the game's world. The best example I can give is The Last of Us, where you can collect and read artifacts that tell the stories of certain survivors that didn't make it, or an entire backstory in a certain level.

Then there are the ones that give you powerful perks when you collect them. Maybe it's an overpowered ability, or a certain outfit or skin. 

There are also meaningful story collectables where the story makes it worthwhile to collect these. An example is Assassin's Creed II, where you have to collect feathers for your sister, which later dies in the story.

And last, but not least, there are the completely redundant collectables. These are present just for the sake of being present. They have no story background, no worthwhile reward, no nothing. For instance Assassin's Creed 3's feathers, or Black Flag's animus fragments.

Some of these are tied to side quests, but the story behind them is so weak and dull that you can consider there is no story behind them. They're there just for the sake of collecting, and in my opinion, should be abandoned by all developers.

A fine example is Algernon Wasp, the asshole in the above image, in Red Dead Redemption 2. He asks to collect more than 150+ exotic items for some rich people you never meet or can't even pronounce their names. The reward for collecting these are money and a useless weapon, which I don't use out of disgust.

So here you go, the history of collectables in video games. Do you enjoy collecting collectables? Or you just stick to the story? Express yourself in the comments section and let's have a discussion.


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