I Am Overencumbered: Why Game Inventories Matter

By Rob Sherman on April 8th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

Rob Sherman, author of interactive fiction project Black Crown, asked if he could write about videogame inventories. We were powerless against the result, which pairs a personal journey through the English countryside with the a treatise on the power of possessions and the reasons videogames must do better in representing them.

There was once, and still is, a boy and a man called me, and one summer, two summers ago, I could be found tiptoeing along a main road in southern England, my boots full of dusty blood.

I had only taken them off once in the last day, and at that point I had nearly wilted from the sight and smell. I took my diagnosis on top of a chalk escarpment, a widow’s peak, a combover of woodland. The couple on the bench next to me were after-work drinking from cans, and looking at the wealds rolling away from them. They must have thought that some medieval leper had staggered out of the local hospitalers, holidaying on his stumps.

I had walked nearly 80 miles in the previous three days, and in that moment I decided to give up on my journey. My aim had been to complete the North Downs Way, a 153-mile path along the southern lip of London, one that follows, or might as well follow, the legendary Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury that Chaucer and his epicurean crew took, giggling in echoes.

I had to leave the Way to get into Godstone, where I could meet my Dad and his blessed car. I barrel-rolled down steep slopes of oak and lime, over a high fence into the yard of a fearsome traveller and his trained horses. I crept by the house, under the sound of the motorway. I loped along avenues, trying not to whinny in pain, and finally sulked across the footbridge, the cars uproarious. I tried to hide myself, and my gammy foot.

And so there I was, on the Roman b-road into this market town on the edge of Kent, all bonhomie gone, all cheeriness squandered. All I could feel were my feet, and the weight.

The pack on my back was depression-blue and full of rotting food. I could smell the farting bacteria getting hedonistic on my chorizo, and the parmesan was like a poisoned knife. My camp stove, so far unused because the apertures were clogged with yoghurt, clanked cheerily like armour. I did not feel much like a warrior. The acne on my back was felt, dimly, blinking green and white and red under the straps, and the sweat was barely worth speaking about. The strap marks, I was to find out, would not disappear for many weeks.

To pass the time, I once again added up every gram on my back, doing the sums in my head:

  • A sleeping mat that sucked in air like a diver with the bends.
  • A tent like a coffin, apart from all the light and sound of the living that it let in.
  • A set of army mess tins, though until that point I had only eaten cold macaroni cheese out of the can.
  • A hardback copy of Thoreau’s Walden.

There was the French pocket knife, bought on Amazon. A tarpaulin, for covert operations. A notebook to write it all down in. Cutlery, hot chocolate, toilet roll, field guides, spare t-shirts, a growing collection of chert.

My inventory weighed 40 kilograms in all, and most of it had not been used. However, as I slumped down at Godstone’s first pub, leering at my pint like it was some sort of shimmering pillar of jasper, I knew that I could not have left any of it at home. There are very few people who look at a battered old rucksack and do not get a fizzy drum sparkling in their gut, telling them to pack it full right now, and go off to be aimless for a bit.

There has always been art made on the subject of belongings. Videogames have been especially quick to explore the desire for migration and ownership which survives in the hazier, mint-green recesses of the human imagination. From its very beginnings, the medium has used the inventory as a mechanic designed to organise, display and utilise a character’s possessions. The backpack is this mechanic’s most common symbol, though of course inventories are not limited to games where the player controls a distinct character. Tetris includes the concept of accumulation and the need to order the result. The entire screenspace is a constant rain of awkward gifts, and the player’s mission, opposed to such gift-giving, is to finish with nothing whatsoever.

However, despite their ever-increasing complexity, most games still treat the player-character’s relationship with objects on a tight planar scale. At one end is emptiness, exclusion, unpossession; war games such as Call of Duty exemplify this, in the constant pressure to rid oneself of bullets. At the other end, a more traditional want, found in games from Baldur’s Gate to The Sims; collection, curation and hoarding. Most games can be located somewhere on this scale, and so the inventory, the carried life, becomes a vapid mechanical inclusion, a trope so default that very few people question its presence.

With this inclusion so final, the questions that are asked of inventories are often perfunctory, and utilitarian.

Should we make the user interface less busy?

How do we rank items?

Should we display them in a stack or a grid?

I have seen inventories represented in many different ways, and these questions are important ones. In many games, players are estimated to spend one fifth of their playtime inside the inventory menu, purely spring-cleaning. These are undoubtedly evergreen queries of design, weighted down by tradition, industry ritual and accepted wisdom. Jimmy Baird, a designer at PikPok games in New Zealand, has called the inventory a “lose-lose situation” 1. In the eyes of many, we are at an impasse.

However, there is an enormous assumption in trying to fix the inventory as a closed problem, purely of design. The problem is larger than this, and more exciting. If designers take for granted the human component of inventory, the unbelievable massif of psychological, cultural, intellectual and social cache which is unlocked when you talk about human beings and their belongings, they risk never solving their “lose-lose” situation at all.

Possession is fundamentally human, our most defining feature. We are not the only animals that recognise ownership and the need for the safe transport of our treasures2, but we are close.

What is more, the need for a human, non-heuristic approach to inventory in games is no less necessary because we sometimes play as aliens, or an anthill, or a drop of liquid. Whatever the role we assume, there will always be a human in front of the screen, and our prejudices, memories and associations with the act of owning an object, and bearing it with us, are gargantuan.

Games have a problem with representing possessions, and their effect on those that carry them. I propose a simple, but rather lengthy, solution. Walk with me.

Half a day before my glum parade into Godstone, there I was, struggling through a cornfield, a breakfast platter of cereal looking like cut butter. The sun was a tureen of fire, and I had no choice but to hold my head over it. The weight on my back was appalling, and my shoulders felt as if they were about to divorce. The cornfield rises up steeply on one side of the M25 motorway, and there were those cars, snickering at me again. Never mind; they were behind me in a moment.

I was in so much pain that I did not really think. I have since climbed that cornfield without a pack, and it is a beautiful walk; gate after gate of high trees, giving on to lush, brittle gold and gold and gold. But in that moment, all I could think about were my shoulders. I tried, for the first time, to inventory that hulking bag on my back. There was the water bottle, the spare shorts with the bottle opener in the pocket, a tin3 of colouring pencils, and perched on top of it all, my copy of Walden, a book which made me feel virtuous, but which I had lied about reading in the past. I only glanced at it between my furtive shits, and silent meals in churchyards.

Henry David Thoreau was part of a philosophical tradition which stretches back, in popular imagination, to Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who lived in the barrel 4 and was disdainful of personal possessions of any sort. Walden is the story of Thoreau’s own walk in the woods, to a small cabin beside Walden Pond. There he owned little, ate flowers, walked circuitously, touching the same trees everyday and carrying nothing on his back at all; he was elated by it. Thoreau saw acquisitiveness as a primary evil, and humanity’s spiritual fulfilment hampered by its reliance on objects.

Minimalism and asceticism can have a place in videogames, as well, despite this medium’s role as the mooncalf of late capitalism. There is a lax happiness to those people who can count their possessions on their hands and feet, a levity which many videogames have sought to emulate almost at system level. Minecraft, in its early stages, is perhaps the most modern expression of this monasticism that I can find. It is a marriage of two doctrines, the Laputan desire for a world with limitless resources on one hand, and the homely appreciation of hard work and ingenuity on the other. Steve’s inventory is theoretically limited, but as well as swords and picks, artisan tools 5, he also spirits up vast tonnages of sand, soil, granite and feldspar. In the earliest moments of a Minecraft world, we see minimalism at its purest; only what is to hand matters, and the experience is positively Arcadian; at least, before night falls. Items are lost quickly, shattering into the past, but there is always more with which to build. Before the cogs and chests and redstone is discovered, before industrialism, we have a distillation of this Romantic, pre-millennial ideal of the itinerant ascetic, looking for a place to rest, to be alone, to own nothing and yet everything all at once.

This via negativa is perhaps found most keenly in the adventure game genre, where the player-character is practically forced into non-ownership. Adventure games such as Botanicula and Machinarium, two recent examples of a venerable tradition, not only keep the character’s inventories extremely small, but imbue the objects within them with totemic significance. There is, in the adventure genre, perhaps the strongest stirring of the true nature of objects; as complex components of a character’s emotional machinery. This, however, is where adventure games fall back into the mathematical imperative of design. Though a hammer, in an adventure game, is never just a hammer, and a plaster is never just a plaster, their true identities are clownish, rarely tied to any artistic semblance at all. They are mostly negated by the Rube-Goldberg puzzles of which they are a part.

father’s watch
bungie cord
The seagull is dead.

And, of course, such items are rarely in the game for sentimental or overtly artistic reasons. This desire to empty oneself 6, that most adventure games possess, is intricately tied to the problem-solving at the heart of their gameplay. The watch is gone, the bungee cord is broken. Next puzzle.

Asceticism in videogames is as deliberate a choice to a designer as including an extensive inventory system. What is more, this choice is not only mechanical one, or one of workload or precedent. Making a tiny suite of items usable in your game, and therefore the rest of the world only scenery, requires a respect for the items which you choose. As we can see, minimalism is a psychological and social choice, a refusal to conform or become sedentary, and perhaps evidence of a deep unhappiness with the state of affairs as they stand, and this can be a philosophical position for any game character. Thoreau was noted for his sine waves of depression, and in his choice to reject an inventory, a weight on his back, a panoply of tools, he found a complex and contradictory peace. He said, perhaps most famously,

“I love to be alone. I never found a companion so companionable as solitude.”

Of course, in this solitude, he still had his hut, and his books and his walking stick, mute and friendly, companions nonetheless.

A few hours before my trudge through the cornfield I was stood at the foot of Reigate Hill, feeling very sorry for myself. What I did not know was that, in around an hour or so, as I moved off the baked clay and the cutting flints and into a yewy sort of gloom, I would find a secretive treat; a Land Rover, overturned at the foot of the hill below me, grown through with ivy and wild garlic, and me the only witness. Then, however, I was too busy patching my foot. A tumulus of a blister, a proper barrow on my heel, had popped, and the blood was all over the grass. I found the dryest tussock that I could, an imperfect gurney, and attempted triage with pinesap antiseptic and white bandages that already smelt of Italian cheese. The rubbing of my boots and the swaying of my pack had absolutely eviscerated me.

However, I was smug. I had completed an ancient equation, and used the tools that I had brought with me. I had no personal attachment to the bandages and the antiseptic, and they had quietly and reliably fulfilled their use, justifying their presence on my back. As I mopped up the blood, I looked at the interior of the blister, suffering a slight attack of vertigo at its depth. My foot took on the appearance of a prop in my hand, a badly-made one, the veins painted too prominently, the weight all wrong, and the wound too red to be convincing.

I spent the last of my bandages, and hobbled on, unknowingly, to find the Land Rover, and the cornfield.

That fucking pack.

If we proceed eastward along our scale of possession, from minimalism to maximalism, from ascetic to baroque, we come near the middle to a vast collection of games for whom an inventory is a vital, yet strictly utilitarian, feature. The items which the player retrieves in these games are intensely useful, and are instantly categorised according to some system which the character seems to understand inherently.

Though this is a site which treasures PC games above all others7, I am not sure that I could talk about this breed of game without mentioning Nintendo’s Legend Of Zelda series, a part of the canon thoroughly mocked for the enormous and unrealistic size of its inventory. The protagonist, Link, often depicted as a small boy, carries around bombs each the size of a drawing-room globe, bows and arrows, bags of weighty crystals with which he buys nuts, seeds and shields. I am envious of how he glides along unburdened. The items that Link owns each have a specific use, and in fact the entire series’ architecture and geography is predicated around the slow, purposeful and generational dance of acquiring items, and using them as integers in the algebraic dungeons of Hyrule. The mathematical metaphor, I think, is apt; the Zelda games are about solving an equation with one’s possessions, albeit a poetic and arcane one.

The Zelda games represent, unsurprisingly, a manifestation of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, where the archetypal hero is a highly mobile explorer and adventurer. Their constant pilgrimages mean that their possessions must be finely attuned to the needs at hand. I’m reminded of the trinity of basic objects that pilgrims all over the world possess, from Japan to Spain, from Bashō to Peter The Rock; the begging bowl, the stick and the wide-brimmed hat.

For something like Zelda, this is not such a problem; Link at least admits to being an archetype, blade-eared and lighter than air. But for the likes of B.J Blazkowicz, it is something to think about.

It is an interesting kink that many of these games that evoke the Hero’s Journey are wargames, perhaps the most popular topic for videogames now and ever. Guns, and their ammunition, are the sticks and begging bowls of our disruption-pattern pilgrims, the tools with which problems are overcome. The ammunition never stays in the hand for long, slipping through the fingers like doubloons in a crude simulation of economy. Though some games, such as the Borderlands series, turn the tools themselves into an economy, making the player’s inventory into a rainbow flash of passing pistols and carbines, most keep your weapons in perpetuity. Once acquired, they cannot be dropped, unless the plot demands it, at which point the process of accumulation, of heroic encumbrance, starts again. Every other item8 is politely termed ‘consumables’9, and when encountered is swallowed into the unseen character’s maw.

It is no coincidence that most of these games maintain a strictly first-person perspective, a term that is used quite differently here than in literature. Instead of a painfully personal perspective on life, the perspective of Ishmael, Humbert Humbert and Kathy from Hailsham, first-person implies a negation of the personal in videogames, one where acquisitions from the gameworld disappear off-screen, into whatever form we might imagine our characters to take. Without form, our characters cannot be burdened by their load, all that burnished steel, and so we drive them around serenely, like vehicles, never looking down at the upholstery.

However, it is clear why the character must be careful with his weapons, and flippant with other items. As the only possessions that the character cares for, or values (most often because he is a soldier, with no apparent life before his endless wars) the guns must be preserved. They are not only utensils; they represent the only character progression that it is possible for the player to influence. Each new gun represents a new trait, a new weakness, a new jealousy or proficiency or advantage, and in doing so takes the place of personality. I am not sure that this is necessarily an inherently bad design, but in its endless repetitions, its countless calls of duty, it begins to lack in spirit.

I do not propose the abolition of the FPS. Incalculable work and love has been poured into that particular cauldron. Instead, perhaps priorities should be changed. Perhaps these games should instead focus on how these gunmetal keepsakes, these belt-fed knick-knacks, say something about the psychology of possessions in the first place.

There is a depiction of war outside of videogames that I think this industry could learn from enormously. It is a novel, called The Things They Carried, written by Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam veteran, in 1990. It follows a combat troop before, during and after that war, and tells their stories through their belongings. Their weaponry is mentioned, the uniforms and standard-issue character builds bestowed on them by the Draft Board, but they also carry subtler, more delicate things in their packs, things that in a videogame might only be part of the geometry or, if interactive at all, only fodder to be gulped down by the hero in their pre-homo wont. The men in O’Brien’s book lug around extra ration packs, marijuana, tranquilisers, foot powder, mocassins, a girlfriend’s panties tied around the neck as a kerchief, chewing gum, pocket knives. Nothing overtly poetic, but out of this more ordinary character customisation, we can see, arises an art.

The night before I set up my field hospital, one summer two summers ago, I stopped for the night at Box Hill, on the banks of the River Mole. It is National Trust land, and illegal to camp on, but I had no choice; I had walked seventeen miles that day, and was on the point of tears trying to find a patch of quiet, loamy land in the sub-London laeth of sprinklered gardens and pub car parks.

There, in the long grass, teenagers high in the tyre-swings above the river, I repacked. The tent was single-occupancy, barely long enough to sleep me; absurdly, this was my one concession to lightness on my walk. I was terrified that I would be moved on, and have to sleep on the hard shoulder of the A24 into Dorking. I sat and nibbled at the cornucopia spilling out of my open pack, waiting. I froze when a pop-orange hang-glider glid over the tops of the trees, and the stylish pilot peered down at me, as if sighting bombs.

As the sun set, and I was too scared to wander down to the river and cool my feet, I just lay there hating myself and my pack and all the things I thought that I needed. I spent the evening making a second rucksack, an ideal one, inside the tent. Everything had its place; my shawl was tucked into corners, my drawing paper rolled up and my paracetamol squirreled into the pockets along the inside wall. There was barely enough space to turn, and I rummaged and grizzled and searched for all my lost things. A year later, airing out that tent, my quarry appeared; a set of wax earplugs. If I had found them on that night, I would have laid the box neatly by my head, an ersatz sideboard, and stuffed my ears against the children whooping. But, as it was, I didn’t sleep much that night.

One of this country’s cheeriest Pucks, a lifelong walker called Roger Deakin says, in his book Wildwood:

“there’s more truth to a camp than a house… the house represents what we ourselves would like to be on earth: permanent, rooted, here for eternity. But a camp represents the true reality of things: we’re just passing through.”

A beautiful paragraph, Roger, and, just so you know, I miss you. However, I cannot say that I feel the same way. Wherever I stop, even briefly, is a new installation, and the possessions that I bring with me must be arranged just so. Sometimes there is a glamour to this, like the old woman in Titanic who brings her photographs, complexes of them, everywhere she travels. Sometimes, as with me, it is a symptom of homesickness. But many characters, in those games that we call RPGs, rise above the ‘wandering ghost’ discourse of Call Of Duty and its ilk, and share my instinct to nest.

The world of such games is open, the possibilities for possession heady. Not only weapons are carried and valued, but also clothing, goods, food, drink, potions, books, jewels, keys, vases, cans of drink, thumb drives. But, of course, human beings are both covetous and afraid of choice. Possession in and of itself is desirable, but disorganisation is not. Even the neolithic homes at Skara Brae, on Orkney, which I visited last year, slate pits dug into a coastline 5,000 years ago, have areas which look a lot like Ikea cubby units, designed to divide items by their constituent use; herbs in one, antler in another, whale tusk somewhere else.

If we turn back to RPGs, we see that, likewise, the player is a deeply-invested, organising presence. They bring value and meaning to the items represented in these games. Therefore, a major problem for designers, and the source of Jimmy Baird’s frustration, is the inventory. Many designers balk at the incredible webs of association that all these items have, from swords down to steaks down to spoons, and so their categorisation is predictable and tactical. Swords go in one cubby, potions in another, and everything else? Well, nobody is quite sure.

As I have already discussed, many games are chiefly acquisitive. It is no coincidence that the main verb used in relation to in-game items is ‘grab’; grab this gun, grab the food, grab the ammo. There is a selfish, childlike quality to this word, which reveals the magpie consumption that forms the heart of most modern play paradigms. We fetishise collection, our growth in power shackled to the number of items we possess, and before long we lose sight of the individual items themselves. They become a variable in a strategy, part of the medium’s insistence on the overriding utility of the lower reaches of human psychology, what might be called ‘the tyranny of fun’. RPGs are less about the worth, or worthlessness, of the things our characters own, and more about the curation of a collection, as if the player is a drone-like museum of things, pillaging the landscape of significance.

Indeed, in many modern RPGs, when we move from ten to tens to hundreds of items in a player’s inventory, our characters are in danger of becoming our storage units, merely furniture. We make our rich, dearly-loved avatars into cabinets and drawers for for our possessions, the possessions themselves having little bearing on the character’s personality past the Eternal Triumvirate.

Mage. Warrior. Thief. Mage. Warrior. Thief. Mage. Warrior. Thief.

The problem is that the inventory has almost always been part of the user interface, rather than the gameworld, part of the playerspace rather than the characterspace. The orthodox UI for inventories has barely changed in the thirty years of the medium’s existence, and I believe that we are starting to run into problems.

Let us look at one of the recent pinnacles of inventory design, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. There are few games that can match Skyrim’s hot buffet of playable objects. Accordingly, the player inventory is a centrepiece of the game. The game’s director, Todd Howard, once said in an interview that he had taken a lot of inspiration for the inventory interface from iTunes, Apple’s music management software. The influence is palpable; everywhere is sable-brush minimalism and stylish blackspace. The items themselves are rendered fully in 3D, manipulable and gorgeous.

At face, this seems to be a celebration of the inventory as a vital organ of the game’s themes. And yet a closer look will reveal old, corrupting conservatisms creeping in. In Skyrim, items are segregated based on designer-dictated value systems, making the seemingly organic interaction of the player with the world subtly feudal and brittle 10. The game is ruthless with these categorisations; any item that is not directly useful to the character’s art of war, not weaponry, armour, or potion, is composted neatly into the Miscellaneous section, all things to all Argonians, a salmagundi of keys, torches, books, scrolls, salmon steaks, artefacts and balls of twine.

There was a great opportunity here to give such objects meaning, to imbue them with the sort of accidental significance seen in The Things They Carried, but no such attempt is made. The textures on the ‘miscellaneous’ objects are muddy and meagre compared to the heroic, high-definition glint along the edges of the axes. One need only look to the modding community, and the flurry of activity after the release of Skyrim, to know that players were not indifferent to this hierarchy. As well as a few retextures of the game’s weapons, far more were being released for the mundane objects in the game, wine bottles, forks, potatoes and cartwheels, all re-rendered lovingly.

Skyrim’s inventory, for all of the ordinary beauty with which it can be filled, is a mechanical diagram. Corruption, decay, and fluid have no place here. Endurance is binary, exhaustion instant, with none of the personal revelations that the true, dusking onset of tiredness can bring. The items in your pack do not graze, or mix, or take on the qualities of others, sluicing in interesting and separate simulations as you walk along the road to Winterhold or Karthwasten. I suppose that it does not matter. The inventory in Skyrim is meant to celebrate tactical elegance and artistic ingenuity, not the fallible, granular nature of objects in a world.

Some games pay more attention to the poetry of everyday life. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series comes from a left-field, Eastern-European tradition of gamemaking, and takes a more roughspun approach to its inventories. Items are barely categorised at all, and the effect that their weight has upon a character is far more scalar and draining. The item set is necessarily much smaller, given the post-apocalyptic fiction of the games, but many of the items evoke a particularly Caspian culture; vodka, raw beef, old industrial equipment. There is a combination of the industrial and the domestic, the agricultural with the speculative, which is deeply embedded into the playing of the games.

However, the user interface, as we seem to find everywhere else, has barely progressed in three decades; everything is laid out in grids, as if being field-stripped on a table, a far cry from the true experience of walking in the wilds with your home on your back. Some games, such as Papers Please, suit such a strategic presentation. The player, in that game, spends their entire time looking at the pitted surface of a desk, hurriedly flipping through countless rulebooks, visa applications and passports to find the right document. These emotions of frustration, these acts of rummaging and losing the objects most needed, are a huge part of everyday human experience, and should not be inimicable to the making of games. More games need to be made to celebrate human forgetfulness, the inadequacies of life on the road, and the peculiar ability of most objects to disappear into thin air, just when you need them.

I would like to finish this section with a thought. Please look at the painting above; it is a vanitas in the Dutch style, by Harmen Steenwyck. People take many messages from still lifes such as these, but there is one particular one that I would like us to take away. Look at the placement of the objects, highly artificial yet designed to provoke a sense of accident. Look at the decay on the book edge, the lacquered gleam on the sword, the fissures in the skull. Despite this picture’s mission to make us think on the unimportance of the material realm, the painter cannot lie. He loves the objects that he paints, renders them gorgeously and sumptuously on the canvas. However, they are ordinary, these objects, and other paintings choose subjects even more mundane. The sword is given as much importance as the pitcher and the silk, and so we see how ordinary objects, not immediately useful, can have a profundity all their own.

What we must do, as we continue to tell stories into the future and on and on, is not to treat the inventory as a software experience, as a challenge in usability only. Inventories are messy, handsome things, cheeky and social, where items have a life and death of their own, and a thousand associations which can be mined again and again. Of course, human beings will always try to fight this naughtiness that objects have; we are creatures of organisation, of order.

There is a simple reason for this.

The inventory is not just a repository of our stuff; it is a barrier, a veil between our inner vulnerabilities and the cruel world, all maelstrom, beyond. It is a psychopomp, a Papa that consoles us and interprets the outside world in a form that we can understand.

We organise because we are lonely.

It was two days before I made my sad little camp at the foot of Box Hill, and my first day on the North Downs Way. My step was an awful lot lighter then than it would be, my feet like lively marble, dry and clean. I knew that my pack was heavy, but I didn’t feel it in the shoulders yet. The rash had not spread, the food was still cold and fresh from its night in my friend’s fridge, and for much of the day I forgot entirely about the belongings on my back. That they were there, joggling, in time to my step, was enough. I instead marvelled at the sunlight, waded through lawns of mushrooms in the shade, skipped past trees uprooted and showing roots like mandrakes, like spread legs. I clumped through copses of plane trees, their trunks spackled with lichen, plasterer’s radios.

There was still a little bit of pain on this bright day, however. It was the loneliness. I had, before this walk, considered myself a solitary creature, a hermit born in the wrong millenium, a desert father always in want of a desert in the Home Counties. However, a mere four hours after saying goodbye, I was on the point of tears. I talked to myself incessantly, booming like a troll in the drainage tunnels under concrete bridges. That night, at a pub near Guildford, I spoke to my girlfriend on the phone and loved her more than I had ever loved her before. I talked to my possessions, wrote in my copy of Thoreau, trying to elicit an IM chat with him. It did not work, I think.

At lunchtime, sheltering outside an art gallery, I was given a bar of chocolate by one of the directors in his pinstripe suit, a gift from the gift shop. I did actually cry, just after leaving him behind, letting the bar melt in my hand. I was convinced that he was the most generous man in the universe.

As you can see, there is a huge dimension of inventory which I have neglected until now, and I regret giving it such short shrift. Ownership, by definition, requires the presence of a foil; other beings who, in comparison, do not own your possessions. How you and these other beings interact is the basis for much of our culture. The notions of theft, loss and gifting are so important to our emotional, political and social states, that we take them for granted on a constant basis. We use our possessions, our inventory of goods, to bribe, cajole, blackmail, keep secrets, hoard, enslave, miser, invest and divest. The role of all the archetypes about which I have already spoken, the ascetic, the hoarder, the hero with his roll of tools, are all predicated on the social network of possessions. When you possess something, you take it out of the general arena of existence, rarefying it, making it sacred. This can lead to some rather bizarre behaviour in other human beings, and ourselves, much of which videogames choose to ignore entirely.

Take charity. Charity is a yawning, moralistic division of possession, a deliberate ritual act which is common to all peoples. Anthropologists are fascinated by gift-giving, as it remains one of the great mysteries of human psychology. The classical anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski became enchanted with a group of Pacific islanders who took part in something known as the Kula Gift Ring, a huge migration present-exchange of ritual, ostensibly ‘useless’ items across many thousands of miles of island chains between neighbouring, and sometimes rival, tribes. There was, unlike Western gift-giving, a full expectation of reimbursement, albeit in the format of an unspoken, unmappable ritual. Similar traditions exist everywhere, from the potlatch of the First Peoples of the North American continent, to the Christian concept of alms, and their analysis unlocks all sorts of potent social data.

In videogames, however, gift-giving is a binary decision, if it is even included at all. The loss of an item is almost always viewed in a tactical light, especially when the receiver is part of the game itself. The frothy cocktail of emotions that the giving and receiving of gifts invites fits most interestingly, it would seem, into multiplayer games. We are not blind to the value of purely digital gifts when other, real humans are involved.

The F2P market is a monstrous example of the power of games over the human mind. We shrink at paying 99 pence for an app that would vastly improve a sector of our lives, but when an attractive codpiece or merkin is part of a live gameworld, some people will pay many hundreds of times this amount for items that are as spectral as air. It is their embedding within a fiction, alongside ourselves, which manifests as incredible social attachment. Some of us buy so many digital goods that in a game like World of Warcraft 11 players will open multiple character accounts, stuff their inventories with riches, and then designate one character as the shepherd, leading these mute sacks made in their image, self-chattels.

This leads me on, rather horrifically, to the possession of living creatures, a hugely delicate subject in life whose implications are rather ignored in videogames. Due to the current limitations of artificial intelligence, those characters which are nominally our ‘partners’, or ‘companions’, to use the parochial buzzword, are in effect slaves to our whims, bound to us and unable to exercise their free will. This has enormous implications, which are often glossed over as a limitation of the medium. Other games go further, and actually make characters fill a slot in your inventory; the Final Fantasy games certainly spring to mind, and Zelda’s Link and his fairies, and even the Total War series, where princes peer out of tiny windows in your user interface, looking extremely worried. Then again, so would I, if I was about to be wedded to a French princess with the teeth, hair and brow of a beaver.

The word chattel, meaning personal property, comes from the word ‘cattle’, and the livestocking of other beings, artificial or not, is a rather peculiar culture that is an extension of videogames’ child-like relationship to possessions; the same selfish, psychotic character that will murder people for their houses in Morrowind, using their persistent corpses as a sort of squelchy ottoman, will also load down their companions with all their finery. These courtiers remain polystyrene-faced, mouthing the same rote platitudes over and over, and so the procession moves off, headed by the pompous, junior emperor.

The night before my loneliness on the trail, I had not begun my walk. The North Downs Way stretched out in front of me. I still had the blisters, the strap marks, the acne, the headaches and the dehydration and the mouldy bread and the sleepless nights and the glossolalia to come. I was unburdened then. It was June two years ago, and everything that I would carry with me was spread out on my bed. Each item is a different node on a titanic, numinous blueprint of meaning of which this backpack is only one sheet.

There was the chocolate bar, specially formulated for long-distance walkers, bought for me by my girlfriend. She thought too much of me.

There was the huge carabina, too heavy but key to my daydreams of climbing chalk cliffs on my own.

There was the toothbrush, the handle hacked off to save weight.

I would look ludicrous, tramping across England with all of this on my back, and by the time I carried myself into Godstone I would know the limits of my endurance. My things have weight, far beyond the kilos upon kilos.

Videogames need not concern themselves with such burden. They are after all, exercises in abstraction. Games condense elements of human psychology and experience and present them in a form which has yet to be perfected. However, inventories in videogames exist as a trope for an integral reason, and are currently at their slimmest value.

Improvement is needed, and I do not suggest such improvements for a Kosterian 12 injection of fun, nor a McGonigalite plea for social enterprise, for valuing our own things more, or teaching the basics of aesthetics to children through play. These are worthy causes, but I believe the need is more basic than this.

As creatures, as the billowing nonsenses of protozoa that we are, we are some of the greatest kleptomaniacs on earth. We are magpies, macaques and two-footed molluscs, carrying our homes with us, defending our inalienable things, imbuing them with personality, use, hope and scapegoatery. The bare sliver of these relationships that are represented in videogames is frustrating to see. Designers are not wed to the act of creating blank systems which only the player can imbue with meaning. They can make statements, like any artist. Changing the way we think about inventories, about collection, about acquisition and ownership in games, will allow us to represent more of the warm mess of human experience, and not merely bow down to the imperative of the tactical, of balance and function, that infects so much modern games design.

Players, as much as designers wish to believe it, will never see a game inventory as just a grid of weights, sizes and +1s. Players are macaques, just as I was, bringing a thick book of backwoods philosophy on my hike just because I liked the way it made me feel. On many levels, designers are not dealing with tacticians, but rather with footsoldiers, carrying the things they carry because they are cowardly, romantic and human. Games do not only need to appeal to the baser elements of psychology, and the heightier heights of logic.

After giving up in Godstone, I will be finishing the North Downs Way this summer, taking the last three days and 70 miles in my stride. I still have vestiges of acne on my shoulders, but my posture has improved. I have bought a new pack, smaller and cheerier, and this time, as much as it pains me, the Thoreau will stay at home.

Rob Sherman is the author of Black Crown, an interactive fiction game funded by publisher Random House. You can also find more of his writing at his blog.

1. Jimmy Baird at Gamasutra, Feb ‘10  

2. We bestow mirrors on budgies in cages, and even in the wild orangutans fashion and jealously guard their own toothbrushes.  

3. A tin!  

4. Who, I have just realised, bears a striking resemblance in lifestyle and temperament to Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street.  

5. Interestingly, these items are not stackable, and are thus accorded a special reverence.  

6. A desire that the Greeks, as they always do, had a name for; kenosis, though originally it was used in a strictly religious, sacrificial sense.  

7. As worthy a doctrine as any other.  

8. The Bioshock games are particularly guilty of this.  

9. In other games, the term might be ‘vendor trash’.  

10. Of course, I’m not trying to be cruel. I understand why they made this decision. I just hate that they had to.  

11. Or so I have been told, anecdotally, by a friend in the pub, like John Mandeville relating his stories about lambs growing on trees in Syria.  

12. I have an awfully large soft spot for these people, as key subject tutors in my auto-didacticism. However, I just happen to disagree with them.   

__________________

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117 Comments »

  1. minstrelofmoria says:

    I feel like I’d need to take a college course in something to understand what this essay is talking about, but I’m not even sure what course it would be. Maybe it comes down to this:

    “Players, as much as designers wish to believe it, will never see a game inventory as just a grid of weights, sizes and +1s. Players are macaques, just as I was, bringing a thick book of backwoods philosophy on my hike just because I liked the way it made me feel. On many levels, designers are not dealing with tacticians, but rather with footsoldiers, carrying the things they carry because they are cowardly, romantic and human.”

    In real life as well as in games, I just carry things around if I can use them, and if I don’t use them, I don’t carry them around. I have no clue what kind of game would make me care about my inventory, because I have no clue what kind of life would make me fetishize my inventory in the way this article describes.

    • Baines says:

      I gave up around the time it started talking about the elegance of Skyrim’s inventory, and saw that the article kept going. Then I scrolled up to check the date to see if it was an April Fool’s Day post that somehow got stuck on the wrong page. (I did skim the rest of the article afterward.)

      And people collect stuff in games because:
      1) They don’t know what they will be expected to need
      2) They expect what they can pick up has been put there for a purpose
      3) They know that they can’t just find what they need when they need it

      #3 is a rather important bit. In real life, I don’t carry stuff unless I think I need it and won’t be able to get it. I can expect plenty of stuff to be around as well. I’m not at risk of starving unless I go off and get lost in the woods, as it takes a while to starve, I’ve food at home, and in a worst case situation I can depend on neighbors. In a videogame with starvation, you stock up on food when it is available because you don’t know if it will be available when you need it. You take a flashlight or lantern because only one apartment in an entire city block will have one. Etc. (And I know it isn’t practical to fill up a rucksack with everything not nailed down, to take it to the local merchant to exchange for gold coins. Repeating until the merchant is out of gold or everything lift-able has been sold. People in real life frown upon such behavior in ways that videogame characters do not.)

      • guygodbois00 says:

        +1. I got the same sentiment out of this article.

      • aleander says:

        TL;DR: you didn’t actually read the article.

        • frightlever says:

          Yeah, I gave up pretty quickly too because contrasting personal opinion on carrying stuff with any game inventory system is flawed. No more flawed than a LOT of other game criticism but flawed nonetheless.

          If he wanted to make a case for more meaningful, less gamey, items in a game then he probably could have taken a different tack. By emphasising the important of inventory space, something which probably winds up gamers more than most game issues, and suggesting that we should put more weight (!) on something which most people just want to be seamless, he misses the point that people want inventory/item management to be invisible to playing the game.

          But whatever, it’s going to be interesting to some people, I just don’t want to be one of those people.

          edit: personally I’ve no issue with the length of the article, I just rapidly didn’t like where it was heading and I could either keep reading, in the hope that the scales would fall from my eyes, or hit up the comments which are invariably more entertaining anyway.

          • AngelTear says:

            I think you’re missing his point instead. By making the inventory seamless and “invisible”, he says, you’re missing out on a lot of what makes our relationship with certain objects special, precisely because you don’t give them weight.

            As long as the way games treat inventories remains the same, sure, a seamless inventory is the ideal solution, but he’s arguing precisely against that basic philosophy that objects in games should be either slaves of game mechanics, or non-existent.

            As a personal addendum, I’ve heard of people who play Bethesda games with a cheat enabled so they can carry unlimited amount of stuff. When I hear that, I think they are missing out on part of what makes the idea of a limited inventory enjoyable: choice, and doubt, and “maybe I should carry this, I could drop that but maybe I’ll need it? and this item is really valuable but it’s also so heavy” etc. That kind of thought, I think, is a minuscule step in the direction that the article advocates, as it makes objects more meaningful as we choose which ones to keep and which ones to drop, albeit only in terms of game mechanics and not in terms of human, emotional attachment to things.

      • Graham Smith says:

        The article goes on to criticise Skyrim’s inventory on a number of fronts. I’d respond to your other points, but I stopped reading your comment after the first couple of sentences.

        ZING.

        • DatonKallandor says:

          Brevity is the soul of Wit. Considering the torrent of words in this article one can draw the obvious conclusion….

          • AngelTear says:

            I know, right?
            I personally make it a point to only read twitter nowadays. With only 140 characters, it’s sure to be packed full of pure wit.
            Also, burn every book that is more than 50 pages. We have evolved past that.

            BRESOWIT!

          • Gundrea says:

            The article wasn’t trying to be funny Daton.

            Were you?

        • Baines says:

          I didn’t stop reading because it praised Skyrim. I stopped reading because I realized I’d been reading for a while, already the length of a “long” RPS article, and had yet to really see a point. The Skyrim remark was to say where I’d stopped reading. Yes, it caused me to wonder about the seriousness of the article being posted, but it wasn’t some “Oh my. He praised Skyrim. This is obviously a joke article.” moment. Afterwards, as I said, I went back and skimmed the last half of the article. And still felt it was both way too long for the little it actually said, and on a wrong track with what it said.

      • surftuft says:

        You’re looking at it in the purely logical, games as systems to be beaten, sense. Items in games can have emotional weight. Sure this sword helps me kill things faster but I care about it because I worked my way up to it, it is a symbol of my achievement.

        On top of that, ‘worthless’ items can have value. Whenever I play an Elder Scrolls game I try to collect all the books, even if that means leaving other loot behind. Logically incorrect gameplay but the possessions provide a sense of completion, of order, of success.

        Even further down the line, in Skyrim I picked up every cabbage I saw. Here there can be no completion because I don’t know how many cabbages are in the world and the plants in the fields regrow but I did it anyway. Just for some stupid emotive reason that applied meaning to a round green vegetable.

      • bjohndooh says:

        This reminds me of one thing I’d wished this article had mentioned.
        The general ethereal quality of items in many games.
        You can leave a room and immediately re-enter, sometimes items will vanish, sometimes items will reset into different positions.
        You can never sure what is happening to the items in a game world when your back is turned.

    • dsch says:

      The course you’re looking for is in literary/critical theory, psychoanalysis, Marxism, deconstruction. Happily, you’ll also learn about the ideological bases of reductive readings like the ones found in comments threads here.

      • Grayvern says:

        Accusing people of being reductionist and then pointing to theories that one would use mostly as historic reference is a little gauche.

        • dsch says:

          (If we’re playing this game …)

          ‘theories that one would use mostly as historic reference’

          Do I need to comment on the implicit notion of progress here? Do I need to point out why it is problematic?

          If the answer is yes, then, hey, you’re in luck! I’ve already told you what courses to take.

          • Grayvern says:

            No I was pointing out you cannot be a thought and theory pedant one moment and use non specific umbrella terms the next.

            That and I’m not talking about implicit progress I’m saying that a weight of critical thought means saying Marxist then immediately clarifying position because of the inherent problems within his work is far more effort than using a branch name to define standpoint.

            Using ideas of progress and the categorisation of that progress in western terms subsequently used as justification for socioeconomic or military aggression is clearly wrong.

            But that wasnt what I was saying I was pointing out a weight of critical intellectual discourse that is more nuanced and considered than its root theories.

            Perhaps I should clarify and say some theories are so problematic that only derivative works can be considered useful.

            That and while saying one theory is better than another is always problematic because of inherently biased criteria I still stand by my above point.

          • dsch says:

            I had misread the thrust of your comment. But I do not see the contradiction in pointing out reductive readings and indicating the sites where you can get a training in nuance, precisely because, as you said, the theories are contested.

            Edit: Perhaps I would understand you better if you explained how ‘reductive’ is too non-specific for this context?

            Edit 2: Also, while I would agree that the critical discourse is essential, I don’t think you’d find many participants in, say, Marxist or psychoanalytic discourse who would claim to be more nuanced than Marx or Freud/Lacan.

            Edit 3: It seems hardly pedantic to answer a (more or less direct) question. And the rhetoric of pedantry carries its own ideological load.

          • Grayvern says:

            Sorry I’m just a bit grouchy and the part of the piece about property ownership seems gross to me of course there is also the irony that part of Marx’s basis for communism was the belief that collective ownership was the tribal and essential way of life for humanity, while at the same time even from what little I know relating to anthropology tribes have varying cultural views on property at odds with the article and Marx.

            I think calling people reductionist based on the content of gut reaction comments is a bit mean and elitist.

            I guess when I saw Marxism it set me off because Marxism is a specific thing and from a theoretical and knowing perspective I kind of have a problem with it’s use to refer to all Marxism, but maybe that speaks to my own problem with people who haven’t studied sociology self Identifying as such while knowing much less than my sieve like memory has shed over the past few years.

          • dsch says:

            Yes, that’s fair enough, though I did say ‘reductive readings’.

            I don’t think there is any version of Marxism that advocates a tribal social organisation based on myth/religion and undisguised patriarchal domination. Give him a bit of credit!

          • frightlever says:

            I hope you guys thoroughly lubricated before getting into this.

          • dsch says:

            Such breathtaking wit.

      • weary ghoul says:

        I’m sorry, I have enough bouncing around in my head as it is without cluttering it up with the kind of insipid postmodern nonsense that tends to permeate such courses as those. The less people who are subjected to that, the better.

        • dsch says:

          “I’m sorry, I have enough bouncing around in my head as it is without cluttering it up with the kind of insipid postmodern nonsense that tends to permeate such courses as those.”

          Good news! It doesn’t seem like your head is in any imminent danger of “clutter”.

          (I try not to be mean, but, boy, you are not helping yourself.)

          • weary ghoul says:

            I’m sorry, I appear to have offended you. Here, read one of these, you’ll find it soothing: http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

            If you want more just click the “generate” link at the bottom of the page.

          • AngelTear says:

            I don’t understand post-modernism, the lexicon and style of argument of many prominent thinkers, but I don’t like feeling excluded, so I better make fun of it!

          • dsch says:

            You have produced a link instead of an argument because you are incapable of making such an argument. Feel free to prove me wrong.

    • Stardog says:

      No college course will help you understand this article. It’s incoherent.

  2. Bedeage says:

    That’s a pretty long way of saying “inventory is a fucking weird system, but it works for us”..

    • AngelTear says:

      That’s a pretty quick way of showing you didn’t understand the article!

      • jrod says:

        I agree, the mere mortal should bow to his intellectual superiors!

        • AngelTear says:

          I would have been easier on him if he hadn’t been trolling and being toxic all over the GDC post a few hours earlier. Still, he clearly didn’t understand the article if he thinks it says “it works for us”.

          • Bedeage says:

            Describing an opinion as ‘toxic’ is (in and of itself) a pretty harmful way of conducting a discussion. If, as seems to be the case, you see yourself as taking the moral high ground in these situations then it’d probably be best if you accepted the validity of opinions other than your own.

  3. barney says:

    Italics are not a viable solution to block-level differentiation of text — they work best as inline differentiation within a sentence, or for one or two sentences in sequence at a pinch. For huge reams of text as above, you’re better off using block quotes, or horizontal breaks before and after.

  4. Enkinan says:

    Well, there goes a chunk of my work day.

    That was a great read though. I enjoyed it very much.

    MMO’s and F2P in general have really shown how much people love possessions, even if they are purely cosmetic. It’s quite fascinating to see how much money people are willing to spend for digital goods that have no “real world” usage.

    It really made me start looking back at how much I have spent on these things, which is quite a lot. At first it made me a bit embarrassed, but there was not much that I did not at least enjoy worth what I would have spent the same amount on in the real world.

  5. Philopoemen says:

    The main reason put anything in my inventory in any game is because I wants to sell it, to buy better stuff,.

  6. not-the-beez says:

    Spotted a hole in the market for a VR backpack. People will kickstart anything these days, get on it!

  7. Grey Cap says:

    I think that in games, items in your inventory can’t really be seen as objects; they are a set of permissions. This medkit is a ticket to ignore X amount of getting shot. This key is a ticket to pass the next plot door. This vendor trash can be transmuted, by way of buying a slightly better sword, into doing +2 damage when you left-click.

    And I don’t see myself getting invested in these virtual objects the way I might get invested in a real object I own. The Things They Carried is brilliant because of the reality and heft and emotional baggage (if I may) that accompanies the soldiers’ belongings, but I (as a player) don’t naturally invest that much in whatever I’m carrying around in my inventory. Perhaps the game is going to convince me that my avatar cares about these things?

    But I don’t trust them to do that. Games are notoriously awful at making players care about anything (in terms of tugging at our heartstrings, it feels like a lot of developers can’t manage anything better than the woman in the fridge/only you can save our boring world). That’s a big part of what we complain about when we accuse games of bad writing.

    I think the inventory as set of permissions and of abilities that are a part of the player (via the UI), suits what games are, with all those limitations, pretty well. (But I’ll love you if you can prove me wrong.)

    • Baffle Mint says:

      I think that in games, items in your inventory can’t really be seen as objects; they are a set of permissions…

      Exactly! What bothers me about this article is that there’s no real attention paid to the unique challenges of inspiring emotions in video game players as opposed to the viewers of passive art-forms.

      If I read The Things They Carried, then my relationship to each thing is more or less the same. I read that a soldier carried foot powder, a gun, and a pair of his girlfriend’s panties, my personal relationship to those three items is exactly the same for all of them; they in some fashion illustrate the Vietnam war and the character of the people who fought in it. I have the same relationship with the gun as I do with the foot powder or panties.

      But if I play The Things They Carried, a hit FPS based on the book, and my character has a gun, some foot-powder, and a pair of his girlfriend’s panties, then suddenly my relationship with all those items isn’t just emotional; it’s practical; these are now tools I use to interact with the game, and that builds an emotional connection to them as I use them.

      A gun is the heart of an FPS; you have to master using it to complete the game. All I can really do with the girlfriend’s panties is be reminded of some character who isn’t real and is probably poorly written.

      You can tell me, if you like, that having those panties as a charm is important to my character, but as the player I’m going to build a more solid emotional relationship with a really good gun, because that’s what enables me to have fun and do interesting things in the game. Leave my character stripped naked and powerless, and I’m going to work to get my guns back before I try to get the last remaining photograph of my character’s dead mother, because the guns have a purpose to me, while the photo only has a purpose to the character.

      It’s a really crucial distinction, and you aren’t going to get artistic inventories unless you somehow incorporate and use that distinction.

      • AngelTear says:

        I find it a limit of games/the industry as it currently is, that most (not all) players can only engage with their games through mehcanics and not through story or at an emotional level.

        I don’t think it’s a limitation that is inherent to the medium, but it’s an attitude that is encouraged by the lack of emotional engagement that (most) games can provide.

        • Volcanu says:

          It’s true. I can probably count the number of games that have really made me ‘feel’ on the fingers of one hand.

          Mind you I am more or less dead inside – so I’m probably a tough crowd.

        • HermitUK says:

          The point about The Things They Carried brought to mind part of Battlefield 3, actually. There’s a mission where you’re controlling a tank commander, who begins the mission staring at a plastic dinosaur in his hands. One of the other men in the tank (Since you yourself are mute), mentions it belongs to your son. Strangely, this didn’t really connect me with the character on any deeper level, nor did I feel any attachment to the object. My first thought was along the lines of “So this man has a family. I wonder how many minutes before he’s killed off?” (SPOILERS: About 15-20). This is about halfway through the campaign, and the cliched, Call of Duty-esque plot by this point had obviously put me into a state where I wasn’t ever going to engage with the poor man in the tank.

          That said, some games do manage it. Dark Souls’ inventory is absolutely a bottomless pit of storage (though choosing what items to equip is a task in carefully balancing your equip weight and desired items). But you ask about the Covenant of Artorias, and you’ll likely get some interesting responses. in gameplay terms it’s simply a ring that unlocks another area of the world, but players are quite likely to give you a rundown of the history of the ring and talk about who Artorias was, what he became, and why a great wolf now guards his grave. Perhaps that’s because Dark Souls doesn’t do much story-telling through cutscenes, or even dialogue; most of the world’s lore and history is told to the player through hints and snippets of stories contained in the descriptions of items in the game. So hunting down and collecting new items isn’t just about improving your character, but it also tells you a little something new about the world itself.

          • Rizlar says:

            His description of ‘The Things They Carried’ reminded me of Dark Souls as well. When you create a new character, on top of picking your class and accompanying practical equipment, you also get to pick one item with no clear use, a choice made even more personal and evocative since there is actually one practical option: the master key.

            It’s beautiful, such a small detail suggesting so much about your character, that they happen to have this object and that it’s their only really personal possession.

            Great article anyway! Anyone whining about it in the comments without having read it properly can fuck off.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Excellent points. The “characterization and emotion” aspect of inventory is always going to be at war with the game mechanics aspect, and it’s very likely to lose.

        In the original Parasite Eve, an NPC will every so often buttonhole our heroine and give her a good-luck charm. This certainly adds to the characterization of both of them, but it infuriates the player because inventory space is strictly limited and every slot that has a good-luck charm in it can’t have extra ammunition or a health pack in it. Literally, every additional good-luck charm makes the game just a bit harder.

      • El Mariachi says:

        What if the emotional investment in a particular item also had a practical effect? Like, these filthy panties are taking up an inventory slot and I can’t even use them to garrote an enemy, but keeping them buffs my save-vs-insanity when I reach the Ho Cthulhu Minh boss? (And the narrative nudges you towards that end via good writing, rather than you knowing it from a GameFAQs walkthrough.)

  8. cYnborg says:

    Registered to say, more of this sort of thing. Lovely.

  9. foszae says:

    It’s been too long since i’ve read a brilliant article on Man vs Stuff. In an era of perfected capitalist acquisitiveness, it’s a relief to ever hear anyone doubt materialism.

    I finally signed up to this site just to say thank you for addressing the metaphoric malaise that inventory represents. I didn’t expect a dose of rational morality with my video game news, but i sure am pleased to have read this.

  10. GameCat says:

    GJOTY 2014

    It was beautiful and inspiring read, thanks.

    Also, I would love to play a game where I would have to leave behind some equipment. Or accidentally drop a weapon while running away from danger.

    • elasticman says:

      Your last sentence reminded me of a moment in, funnily enough, Skyrim: I was fighting someone with an axe that I’d crafted myself, when they disarmed me with a dragon shout – after killing them with a spare weapon, I then spent about 20 minutes looking frantically for my darling axe.

      I could have just reloaded, or, failing that, crafted another, absolutely identical axe, but those 20 minutes, and the eventual, elated discovery of MY weapon under a clump of swampy weeds, made up some of the most affecting and memorable moments of the playthrough. So yes, more of this kind of thing please.

  11. Llewyn says:

    Overall, it’s several thousand words that can be summarized into “Video games have different kinds of inventory systems. Here are many examples. I think that’s interesting.” Thanks, I guess.

    No. If it’s going to be summarized then it would be closer to “Video games have different kinds of inventory systems. Strangely none of them address the way that humans relate to possessions. I think that’s interesting, perhaps you’d like to think about it too.”

    Good writing – and for the record I think this might be the best writing I’ve read on video games – doesn’t tell you what you should think, what the correct answers are. Instead it presents viewpoints you might not have thought about, invites you to consider situations for yourself and to form your own opinions. It provokes conversation, not confrontation.

    This is something that many writers, as well as many readers, never understand.

    • gi_ty says:

      A well articulated point sir. To further expand upon your point OP’s post suggests that any material has to be argumentative to have value. I find this to be a rather narrow view. On a site with many people active in the development community there is much value to be found in a piece that explores the psychological and societal concepts and emotions of possession.
      This article does this superbly well when discussing the merits and drawbacks of various systems while contrasting it with a real world personal story of attachments to possessions and their value. This has many implications and raises a lot of excellent questions about how these systems could be altered to allow for a more personal attachment to your avatars inventory and discusses several means of doing so (albeit in a rather abstract way).
      I loved this piece. Too much of writing is based on the argumentative. Often allowing for personal reflection is far superior way to make a point.

  12. MattMk1 says:

    If I’m a third to one half of the way through a piece of writing and 1) I still have no idea what the point’s supposed to be and 2) It’s not the first part of a trilogy by Neal Stephenson or 3) It’s not something my thesis advisor is absolutely convinced I should read, I stop and go look for videos of Corgies on YouTube. Hey, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGy6tu6716w !

    • Sir Buildbot Winslave says:

      1) Inventories in games are a tired, stagnant trope that could benefit from looking more closely at the human relationship to possessions. Benefit not only by degrees but in principle.
      2) Neal Stephenson!
      3) CORGIES!!1100101

  13. Bluerps says:

    A bit long, but interesting! I’d love to see the ideas in this text finding their way into a couple of games, even though at the moment I cannot imagine how exactly that would look like.

  14. Eldiran says:

    Very good article. I usually get lost when writers try to get overtly creative with their prose, but most of this article tread the line between readability and flourish just right.

    I daresay it’s rubbing off on me and making me use big words just for fun.

  15. DrollRemark says:

    If this was in print, I’d submit so many parts to Pseud’s Corner

  16. Dave Tosser says:

    The other day I was playing Clear Sky. I thought I’d get my revenge on that bastard military turret in the Cordon by singlehandedly murdering the everloving shit out of those fascists, so I picked them off at a range and cleared out the place in about ten minutes. After that I realised I was now becluttered with more stuff than I could ever carry, but extremely valuable stuff at that. So I grabbed as much of it as I could and remembered that you can stuff corpses with items, meaning I escaped that place dragging a corpse loaded down with military hardware.

    Now, the second you exit the military base after you’ve cleared it out, a wave of reinforcements come tearing down the road to restock all the bastard sniper posts, so they caught me just as I was dragging one of the dead uns out there. It’s midnight and I’m frantically dragging a body back to the village, dodging potshots and trying not to drop the thing and have it roll all the way back down the road. Which happens, obviously, so I have to chase after a corpse rolling down a hill to get all those guns back. It was terrifying. It was morbid and cool and I felt like a proper scavenger, trespasser, loner killer whatever.

    At that moment I was cursing that we seem to have forgotten how Denton and Garrett used to carry bodies, and why we can’t just hold them with that spinecrushing ease. I was also thinking about how cool it would be if, say, I turned my back and a pack of wild dogs snatched the body, or some items started falling out of his imaginary dead pockets as I was dragging him. That sort of semi-logical weirdness that we ought to have in 2014.

    But I was also playing MGS3 the other day and that game has this thing about killing animals to eat them, but you can capture them live and throw them at enemies. Sneaking through the underbrush, you throw a snake at a guard and giggle with glee as he’s bitten to death by the thing. There’s probably other cool examples of inventories in games, and I’d love more meta stuff like an inventory as a character that talks to you, refuses to hold some items, rearranges itself when you’re gone because it wants to look nice, randomly drops things because it’s forgetful, whatever. Why aren’t games cool and transgressive? I want to kill people for their lungs like in Pathologic, and hide away at night with pockets full of lungs. I want guards to smell me when I’m sneaking because I’m loaded down with rotted meat. Video games, why are you all shit?

    • Sir Buildbot Winslave says:

      I love the idea of stuff spilling out of your graven stash “body bag” when wild dogs worry your valuable companion. And guards sniffing out your “pockets full of lungs”. Games don’t have the right to more than four cores as long as no one notices you lugging loads of lungs around.

  17. poetfoxpaul says:

    “Possession is fundamentally human, our most defining feature. We are not the only animals that recognise ownership and the need for the safe transport of our treasures, but we are close.”

    While possession is certainly something utterly inseparable from modern culture (or so it feels), ownership of property is certainly not our species’ defining feature. The insistence on private property was conceptualized through historical events, not a natural compulsion found in every child. Spend some time studying various pre-european contact tribal societies and you might be surprised how little care was given to who owned what and where. Not to say that it didn’t exist, but the concept of ownership as seen from a western viewpoint was certainly not shared to the same extent.

    People seem to forget how a societies values are innately reflected in the media it’s members create, and those values are not universally human.

    I haven’t actually finished reading the article, but that assumptive statement really bugged me. Now, to finish!

  18. Jonnyuk77 says:

    Ha! I can pack my solo properly now, it took me a while to get the hang of it but I can manage tent inner and outer, pegs and poles all in the pack provided when I’m out camping too! Never saw someone with the inner out of the bag, that’s just sloppy.

    The trick is to fold it in thirds when it’s on the ground. No probs…

    Anyway…

  19. altum videtur says:

    Minor gripe: STALKER is explicitly NOT post-apocalyptic. Yes, the zone of exclusion is what happens when you take a bustling industrious area and introduce a nuclear catastrophe to it, then follow that up by imposing a causality-unhinging warp in reality atop the already-abandoned and crumbling ruins of that irradiated piece of legend. But the world outside is definitely recognizable as being related to ours; better even. The games make a point of mentioning (briefly) that the artifacts the zone provides are in fact advancing medical science, while more militaristic approaches are constantly roadblocked (ala the ever-present Gauss gun of the series) by inconvenience and swift loss of interest by the military-industrial complex, for instance. If it weren’t for the vague threat of the zone’s alleged continuous (and if true, then quite slow) expansion, the frankly positive image that STALKER paints would be outright utopian.
    If I remember correctly, Call of Pripyat’s Fallout-style ending slideshow includes some pretty pictures of blooming flowers and little birdies making a nest, after the narration ends. The message is not of some bleak and apocalyptic future (ala Metro 2033). It is about the beauty inherent in life’s stubborn assertion of its right to bloody well exist against any and all odds (sort of curious, since the games never cared a whole lot for philosophy). It is sad, but at the same time extremely appropriate that that was the final note on which the series ended.

    … that got away from me right quick, dinnit.

    • like100bears says:

      Since you clearly care deeply about this game, and I think that’s wonderful, I’d like to respond to you. I think perhaps the author did not mean “post apocalyptic” in its common connotative sense of a grim world of pain and struggle and dust. I think he simply meant that the game takes place after a greatly disastrous event, which is true. If you think about it, nearly any post apocalyptic setting has sections of the universe which weren’t affected. Even Fallout has an entire outside universe that was untouched by nuclear war, as is evidenced by the recurring aliens.
      I agree with the spirit of your argument, in that STALKER’s universe is not one entirely full of strife and death for everyone, but the game world presented to the main character is. This whole idea is actually very interesting and raises many questions on how the suffering of some, voluntary or not, might benefit others that they will likely never even meet. I seem to have let this get away from me as well.

  20. Chaz says:

    My tip for walking holidays are to restrict yourself to about 15-20 miles per day. Especially if you are having to pitch up and camp at the end of each day. Take it easy. Enjoy the scenery.

    I remember talking to a couple of guys in a pub at the end of a day doing the Hadrian’s Wall walk, who were doing it in 3 days. It was the end of their day 2 and both of them were in some pain and rather regretting their decision to do it in so few days. And they were B & B’ing it each night too. Myself I did it in a rather leisurely 10 days, stopping off to look round Carlisle, Tynemouth and a full day at Vindolanda, as well as stopping at all the museums and sights along the way. And very nice it was too.

  21. Geebs says:

    Micropore tape is awesome for blisters and takes up almost no inventory space

    Good luck with the next attempt.

  22. Axess Denyd says:

    The point at which I stop playing RPGs is generally the point at which I would have to spend more time dicking with my inventory to have room to pick up useful things than I would actually spend playing the game.

    I don’t know who thinks modelling encumbrance makes games more fun, but they are wrong.

  23. Tams80 says:

    That rucksack looks like it is going to cry. It’s almost as bad as a Frenchman’s packing.

    Regarding inventory; I think for the most part it is regarded as too much work to make it realistic. It would be great if items interacted inside the inventory (or not as the case may be; no one wants a Parmesan smelling axe), but to create that would be no mean feat.

    I do get attached to game objects though; even when they are only displayed in grid form. In RuneScape, my bank was full (and I mean there wasn’t anymore room as well) of items that I had sentimental attachment to. I refused to throw them away and it caused me no end of irritation trying to even use items. On a similar note, I have an issue with using consumable items. It’s not the inconvenience of getting more, or the increased strategy required for their often temporary effects that stops me using them; rather I just don’t want to lose them. I might be somewhat weird.

    • freedomispopular says:

      I’m the same way with consumables. I’m like “I might need those for later!” and by the end of the game I have far more consumables than I could possibly know what to do with, which means I could have had a much easier time along the way if I had actually used any of them.

      On that note, that’s one thing I like about games where the difficulty is brutal enough or that don’t auto-regenerate health/mana/etc., forcing you to actually NEED to use consumables, which then forces you to strategize a little more.

      • Jekhar says:

        Thank you, at least now i know i’m not alone with my condition. The time i have wasted idling in corners, waiting for my mana and/or health to regenerate on its own, instead of using a potion. Or making trips back to the free healing fountain in games without autoheal. It’s best not to think about it.

    • Volcanu says:

      It’s not just consumbales with me. In old style FPS games, the kind where once you acquire a gun you keep it and thus build an arsenal, I would be forever refraining from using my best weapons ‘in case I needed them’ – only to find I just didn’t use the DeathCannon 3000 at all.

  24. TooGoodToCheck says:

    I’m still mentally parsing the text, but before I get to the significant bits, this really jumped out at me:
    40Kg!!!!
    88 pounds!!
    6 stone!

    That’s, like, two of my children – a burden that I rarely carry more than the length of the house. I’ll admit that I am not a paragon of fitness, but that really sounds like way more weight than I’d want to lug across 153 miles

  25. wisnoskij says:

    “At face, this seems to be a celebration of the inventory as a vital organ of the game’s themes. And yet a closer look will reveal old, corrupting conservatisms creeping in. In Skyrim, items are segregated based on designer-dictated value systems, making the seemingly organic interaction of the player with the world subtly feudal and brittle”

    What? Is this supposed to be a satire piece?

    • weary ghoul says:

      Oh god, I thought I was the only one. Yes, there needs to be some variant of Poe’s law, except for the kind of pretentious filler like the interminable paragraphs above. I personally call it: “Sokal’s Law”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe's_law
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair

      Look, I don’t enjoy hurting people’s feelings, I’m sure the above article took a great deal of effort to write and Mr. Sherman’s probably a perfectly lovely person, but this article…. yeesh. Not my thing. I’ll say no more, in the interest of politeness.

    • AngelTear says:

      I’m not sure I understand your objection. Satire and irony don’t seem part of the tone of this article, so it seems unlikely.

      I’ll translate his paragraph in plainer language:
      (From the preceding paragraph) “Skyrim designers said that they had spent a lot of time designing their inventory system”
      “Considering the amount of interaction Skyrim wants (or, I’d say, pretends) to have with the environment, as you can pick up and move around almost anything, maybe their inventory will take a step towards representing/expressing/engendering that kind of peculiar relationship with possession that humans have that I have talked about until now. Turns out, it doesn’t, because while the design of the UI may be slick and useful, it subscribes to the same aged and tired philosophies of managing an inventory – and neatly dividing everything into “useful for the game mechanics” and “trash” – that I’ve been criticizing for the whole article!”

      Now, please explain why this would be a satirical sentence. I’d say it’s a pretty hard-to-contest observation.

      • realmenhuntinpacks says:

        I think it’s probably due more to the meter of the piece than its message. Personally, although beautifully expressed and conceived, this felt like it might have been more at home winging its way to peer review rather than perching on everyone’s favourite glorified blog. Perhaps just serialising it could’ve toned down the journal vibe? Still, a lovely piece of work.

      • hilltop says:

        There is a value in communicating clearly. Not everyone seems to share this sentiment.

        People criticising the article are not all doing it because they don’t understand the content. Some might take issue with the opaque approach the author occasionally strays into when expressing himself.

        He didn’t type what you translated. He typed “corrupting conservatisms creeping in … subtly feudal and brittle”. This is not unintelligible. But it is amusingly abstruse.

        I enjoyed the article.
        But it is hard to believe people cannot appreciate that the flowery language occasionally seems to blossom into outright parody.

  26. freedomispopular says:

    I’d really love to see a game take on a a more “realistic” approach to inventories. Maybe not to the extent of enemies smelling rotten meat that I’m carrying (though that would be REALLY cool!) but treating it like we would in real life. I hate when like tiny pearl or something takes up a whole grid space or actually has a meaningful amount of weight. Stuff like that should take up a negligible amount of inventory space and could easily fit in a side pocket of a backpack or my pants pocket. Weapons — theoretically I could have a pistol at each side, two swords/guns on my back, a few small knives in my pockets, and a couple guns in my pack, with room to spare for food, water, and other essentials– make that happen. Let me squish that loaf of bread so that it takes up barely any space. Let me ditch my knapsack for that huge backpack over there. A full load should really just decrease my max speed and increase my rate of exhaustion.

    • Lukasz says:

      but that’s STALKER. The amount of things you can carry is fairly realistic. and you never really run out of space in inventory as its very big. the weight is what is limiting you.

    • AyeBraine says:

      Actually, there is a whole WORLD of nuances that open up when you start to think about it =)

      1. If you treat items more “realistically”, inventory becomes insufferably complex. Case in point – the Jagged Alliance 2 version 1.12 super-mod, where even the hardcore designers let you choose not to use its updated inventory. It had all the knapsacks, pockets and attachment points, and it was brutal to manage. So grouping items always has to be contextual. Meaning, a) how your character would group his items b) what would be most needed (hence the new inventory must be supported by gameplay itself) and c) a pain/reward system. So small baubles and beads would go in a small special pocket, but at the same time create clutter there. Or be spy-able to criminals. Or some such thing (yeah this is hard to balance, no?).

      2. Sadly, even the weapon layout you desribed is a videogame fancy. Nobody carries that much weapons, it’s exhausting, and you can’t really access them. Traditinal (but basically non-existent) back holsters are incompatible with backpacks and almost inaccessible. Then we begin to think about the clutter and inconvenience they create. Try slinging a full golf club bag over your shoulder and a shovel in your hands, and then run, crouch, jump and scale obstacles. =) It would actually be nice to see an attempt to recreate the actual fumbling with weapons – slinging and un-slinging them, losing them accidentally, carrying a bundle of looted rifles to a trader (both of your hands occupied and tiring fast, movement slowed to a crawl) and so on. Even shooting yourself in the foot =)

      A couple of illustrations:
      http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mcgswe8qmz1rwjpnyo1_500.jpg (about 60-70 pounds apart from his own gear)
      http://waralbum.ru/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/0003ss0k1.jpeg

    • Baines says:

      Omega, an old Roguelike, tried to implement a slight bit more realism than other Roguelikes of its time. It included two ideas.

      The first was a temporary item slot, “In The Air”, for whatever item you were currently juggling. So if you were holding a sword in one hand and a shield in the other, you could still hold a bucket of chicken “in the air” while mucking about with your inventory. But the moment you did something else, like attack or move, you dropped the “in the air” item. Largely, this led to frustration instead of realism, with people only realizing turns later that they’d dropped an item because they hadn’t stuck it back in their pack or equipped it. The second was that, while your backpack had unlimited storage, the further down the list an item was (FIFO manner), the longer it took to dig it out. This was pretty much ignored by players. The time wasn’t important enough to make it worth keeping your backpack sorted or trim. (I can’t remember, but Omega might also have had a chance for glass items to break.)

      Roguelikes had other attempts at realistic inventory, but they generally collapsed under gameplay concerns, or even other realism arguments.

  27. weary ghoul says:

    misreply

  28. AngelTear says:

    This was a wonderful read. Thank you for writing this.

  29. AyeBraine says:

    Very very cool! Certainly a good thing to read (and think hard) if you plan to create a game and try to do something new in it. I never considered this perspective on inventories specifically – although I thought about how game mechanics can evoke new emotional relationships with game objects. Now I see that while much of game traditions were challenged, deconstructed, parodied and went away better for it, inventories basically were only improved rationally (as in making them more comfortable and useful). Some very flowery style there, but a good read!

  30. moghaus says:

    Generally: the smaller the backpack, the more experienced the traveler.

    • Volcanu says:

      Fun fact: Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ backpack is the size of a postage stamp.

      Nah -I’m just messing, you’re very right. 40kg of stuff for a short trip in Southern England is just barmy!

  31. Gap Gen says:

    As someone who moves city/country every few years, I have a complex relationship with my stuff. I like having a well-stocked kitchen, a desktop PC, musical instruments, but I’d love to just jump on a plane and start a new life somewhere else without the hassle of flathunting, moving stuff, etc. Maybe in the future we can just have some kind of nanopaste that comes out of a tap, and moving involves simply reducing all your possessions to goo and then re-printing it at the new place.

  32. Wowbagger says:

    Yes I agree, shallow and pedantic.

  33. thanejaw says:

    I’d be interested to hear the views on anyone who took the Gnome with them throughout HL2 Episode 2 (3?) – does having to manage an item outside of the inventory imbue an additional sense of belonging?

    • AngelTear says:

      HL2 episode 3 doesn’t exist. I don’t remember a gnome in Episode 2, but I do remember a gnome in l4d2.

      Considering it had no significance, and people just did it for the achievement and the Easter egg fun, I’d say no, it doesn’t add much of anything in my opinion.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Wait, you didn’t play Half Life 3? I thought everyone here had played it already?

      • hilltop says:

        Although I didn’t lug the gnome around for the achievement in Episode 2, I would have thought the idea of having to be attentive to an item outside of the safe space of the inventory *would* have a significant impact.

        The idea of an avatar’s possessions being out in the open, potentially misplaced and therefore requiring more attention would seem to be potentially poignant.

        I think the comments here mentioning the “body bag” rolling down the hill in Stalker or the crafted weapon being dis-armed in Skyrim are examples of this.

    • bill says:

      Not sure, but I seem to remember a particular grey box that engendered a large sense of companionship in a similar game.

  34. Somerled says:

    I loved this. So, even though I will never read it again, I will bookmark it and carry it with me forever.

  35. Adamfostas says:

    I will now share this around the Internet, because it is a lovely thing and cannot be lost to the endless churn of RSS feeds.

  36. deathcakes says:

    Interesting that no one has mentioned DayZ yet – I haven’t found a game that more accurately portrays just this relationship with objects and their possesion. The game revolves entirely around the things you have, many of which are a matter of life and death, and just as many which are pure affectation. As an example, I’ve been carrying around a book for in game days – Call of Cthulu, which serves no other purpose than to make me smile, very much like Rob’s Thoreau. My hat and coat are blue, a ridiculous choice for a game that is focused on personal survival, but I wear them because they make me look rather natty.

    Interesting article.

    • foxhandybread says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I feel upset in DayZ when I die (invariably due to glitching through a wall or off a ladder) purely because of the personal connection I’ve made with the items in my inventory. Because there is no actual character progression to speak of, your inventory’s contents are the only real record of your journey, however epic or insignificant it may have been.

    • Rizlar says:

      Yep. Many times throughout the article I was reminded of DayZ.

      The way guns are so different to other games, being tools for imtimidation and self defence, even with no ammunition. A scoped rifle can be a telescope. You can use them to make noise and mislead people, attract zombies, open doors. They are also an encumberance and they can be deadly awkward if you are caught trying to remove/store one in a rucksack. In a bag they take up vital space, space better filled with beans and bandages.

      Basically they feel more like real objects than any other game I’ve played, thanks to the depth of Arma 2′s simulation.

    • curiousepic says:

      Finally made an RPS account to mention/sympathize with this.

  37. stoopiduk says:

    This article is well-timed as I wrestle with The Elder Scrolls Online and my own frustration at its limited bag and bank space. An article that leads me to properly step back from my behaviour is always welcome. I’m going to take a harder look at my character in TESO and my use/abuse of the slots I have available.

    Your writing style isn’t of the sort I tend to enjoy, I’d rate it as quite inaccessible, but I trudged through to the end. I find I am blister-free and there is no obvious sign of blood, not even from my eyes. An enjoyable read, I hope such pieces become a regular feature.

    • hilltop says:

      I think your sentiment expresses my own feelings towards the article beautifully. I also find it enjoyable and will be an occasional visitor to the author’s own blog on the strength of this piece. Though I can’t help but notice his occasional forays into difficult-to-penetrate verbiage.

  38. Pyrocumulus says:

    This article prompted me to finally register and comment, but not because of the article itself. I was sifting through the comments and read several people confused or annoyed by the purpose of the article, and some not. I then took a step back to ensure if I liked the article or not, or was influenced by the comments either way. I then felt the article didn’t really affect me or impact me in any way, and then I remembered one of the biggest pains I’ve ever had in gaming.

    For anything to impact someone in gaming, it has to be interactive. The dinosaur in Battlefield 3 is in zero ways interactive, but green vegetables are, which makes them impactful. Lord of the Rings Online came out with Legendary Weapons, which at first you had to find, but then could craft, or get from drops off bosses, etc. The pitch when they came out was that they would level up and stay with you forever, your own Sting, your own Glamdring, your own Anduril! The end result was when a new level cap came out, you had to junk it and find/craft a new one of higher level (separate from the weapon actually levelling). This resulted in enormous outcry on the forums, and they never did change it. But losing weapons you’ve invested time and effort and choice into (you could even change its damage type if you wanted) only to restart the hamster wheel was horrible. It wasn’t even the hamster wheel – I would’ve happily ground the same length of time, but the fact that we had to lose that weapon that we named and invested energy and emotion into was horrendous. Two or three years later it was the same, and it was always a topic on the forums, in the kin, and every time I tossed an old one for a new one I, sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly, seethed at tossing something I never wanted to and should’ve kept with me.

    It was one of the deepest burns a game has done, and every developer should learn that lesson. Grinds are not worth ripping emotional investment from your players.

  39. The Random One says:

    A rather interesting piece, even if I find myself agreeing with its detractors (regarding both its single-minded conclusion and its unnecessarily convoluted prose). Still an enjoyable read.

    Of course it reminded me that there was a second half of Rob’s interview about Black Crown that was lost to the ages. Unless Adam is a liar liar: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/09/25/wandering-in-words-black-crown-interview/#more-170246

  40. bill says:

    More guest posts please. (long form good, though this was a tad too long for me).

    The only interesting inventory related thing I remember was getting in trouble in Chrono Trigger for doing regular RPG hoarding behavior. I liked that.

  41. supermini says:

    Several good points, but the jargon detracts from the piece. “Mathematical imperative of design”, really?

    To quote Roger Ebert,

    I was instructed long ago by a wise editor, “If you understand something you can explain it so that almost anyone can understand it. If you don’t, you won’t be able to understand your own explanation.” That is why 90% of academic film theory is bullshit. Jargon is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

  42. legendarybraveg says:

    This article is to long.

  43. Continuity says:

    I read the whole thing. Somehow I feel this requires some sort medal, or perhaps just a commemorative plaque. Damned if I know what it was about though.

  44. El Mariachi says:

    Holy shit, am I really the first commenter to link what he’s talking about (vis-a-vis human attachment to inventory items, as opposed to utilitarian calculations) to the Companion Cube?

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