So we loaded up Super Mario 64 today on a computer hooked up to a 42 inch TV (don’t ask). And there were we, jumping on pixelated little buggers and earning coins in the process. Needless to say, that’s when it hit me. COINS!
Look at Super Mario! You get coins for killing wee innocent turtley things. The coins arn’t even tied to gameplay. It just adds to your score, but we all know that the only real reason to play Super Mario is to get to the end of that nth level and rescue le maiden fair. Or, as things turn out, slap her for not putting up more of a fight. Why couldn’t she have picked a better monkey to go out with?

Yes, I’m slightly high. This happens when you each too much chocolate cake. But I digress. From early on, the acquisition of money played a large part in our decidedly console-ish childhood. We overcame giant snapping plants, threw down dragons and empires, killed hordes of Orcs and looted their bodies for gold afterwards. I wonder if this din’t, in some way, affect how we grew up. I’m decidely more money-minded than my parents. Maybe they didn’t play enough video games.

But honestly, money is as a double-edged necessity, simultaneously a burden and a luxury. Or rather, a source of burden and luxury. One might think that video games could do without it. Everything’s about money. Far Cry 3 has you digging up dollars out of chests abandoned underwater (logic made: none. sense made: even less). Super Mario has those useless but oh-so-collectable coins…

 

HAH! You thought I was serious, didn’t you? Of course I’m not. There is no sane way for a society to function long-term without some kind of barter system, which inevitable leads to the creation of a third, portable, commonly tradeable resource to serve as a benchmark for all others: money. In video games, the same thing arises. It’s not like anybody is going to want to cross Skyrim for a wolf hide to trade for an enchanted elven dagger. That’s bull. Impractical. Wherever a large number of widely varied good are bartered, another, independent and more portable commodity will be used as a benchmark.
That said, I fail to see the point of including money in a game where it has no discernible effect on gameplay. My rant is not against Super Mario per se – that first game innovated a lot of things in the field of game design, including exploration. The coins were heavy incentive to explore, thus lending to the magic of the gameworld. Following in its footsteps, a lot of games used coins as incentive to proceed. This makes me wonder, however, whether we couldn’t have kept it purer by removing the concept of money as much as possible. Or if, in some small psychological manner, the collecting and spending of coins in-game (on items, upgrades, etc) taught generations of gamers the value of careful spending.

Interesting.