Things Adventure Games Lied To Me About Part 27: Crowbars

I have never used a crowbar. Meanwhile, adventure games have told me since I can remember being able to sit up that crowbars are a part of everyday life. So where am I going wrong?

Yes, of course, Half-Life has perhaps made crowbars more famous than any other game, but in terms of genre ubiquity it’s the adventure game that holds the flag for the bendy metal tool. Since text could be displayed on screens, games have informed me that wielding a crowbar is a normal part of a person’s daily routine. And yet I have never held one.

In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen one.

I’ve been to hardware stores, you know, a regular amount. I was in one on Monday choosing paint colour for our new garden fence. I’ve wandered up and down their towering aisles searching for items like gate hooks and shower rails, passing through corridors of pipes and tools of the like I hope I never have to use. Being in a B&Q or a Homebase feels like stepping behind the scenes of real life, seeing how normality is made in a way that breaks the fourth wall of my own reality.

And in all these visits, amidst the trowels and guttering, I’ve never seen even a sign for a crowbar, let alone one of the mystical objects themselves.

But adventure games have told me that they’re lying around in all sheds, garages, car boots, dresser tables and attic trunks, there to be grabbed and slid into one’s pocket, inevitably to be used multiple times before the story is through.

There’s a door that can’t be opened, and the lock is broken? Crowbar!

There’s a hidden trapdoor under the rug in the main hallway? Crowbar!

There’s an enemy looking the other way who has the secret code? Crowbar!

There’s a dime in some gum glued to the floor? Crowbar!

In fact, most adventure games eventually take the crowbar away from you, since it can be used to solve pretty much any situation.

How many situations in my own life would have been better if I’d only had a crowbar?! It’s hard to even guess – so far removed from my personal reality has the option felt that it’s never crossed my mind to consider the possibility. I daren’t even reflect on the matter, lest it leave me in a regret-fuelled funk of self-condemnation and lamentation.

So can you even buy a crowbar? Goodness me, yes you can. I just looked it up on Amazon, and they’re like, £6. On Prime! I could get one delivered today! I’m… I’m so tempted to buy a crowbar.

I’m going to do it.

I just bought a crowbar.

My Amazon recommendations are going to be so bloody rugged from now on, baby monitors and plastic cars pushed down the screen.

I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to use my £6 crowbar for, but I’ll be darned if any puzzles thwart my progress for the next few weeks until I forget where I put it.

This post was originally written as part of the RPS Supporter Program. Thanks for funding the site!

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81 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    Looking forward to the ‘Whot I Think’ Mr John. I may pre-order. Any news on DLC?

    (ooc: Do be careful where you keep it won’t you old boy ).

  2. Phrumptious Bandersnatch says:

    I reallllly hope we get a Wot I think…

  3. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    Actually, I have held a crowbar (no shoving, people, I’ll shake everyones hand). It wasn’t mine, though, my dad is of the hunter/build stuff/fix car variety, he has a house dedicated to his tools.

    My own tool collection is more of the “You’ll need to have one of these”-hand me downs from the parents, gathering dust in a drawer type.

    • Jediben says:

      It’s called a shed.

      • Premium User Badge

        Qazinsky says:

        No, he has several sheds, I mean an actual two story house.

    • Reetgeist says:

      I think I win, by not only having used a crowbar, but having caused myself injuries and a nasty infection by misusing one!

      Sidebar: if when using your bar you find somethings wedged to tight to open, using a scaffolding pole to extend the length of your lever isnt always as clever as it seems.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Philopoemen says:

    I regularly use crowbars when doing search warrants, but as far as I can tell the only people who have crowbars are criminals who break into things, and policemans and womans who break into things.

    They also very easy to lose, as they’re unwieldy things that get put down in the most innocuous locations. No carrying it around for the duration of the level/mission/game.

    On a side note, they’re very good as a melee weapon. Games got that bit right.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      Really? They always felt very awkward to swing around.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      Nah, anyone who’s mentally unstable enough to remodel their bathroom or kitchen has probably spent some satisfying time with a crowbar and a sledgehammer.

    • John Walker says:

      You win Coolest Person!

    • aepervius says:

      Crowbar were used a *lot* ion legitimate business, mostly when it comes to packing/unpacking of stuff which are in wood box. I have not worked in such outfit for a long time, but the firm iw as in used to get those box delivered in bulk. Nowadays with europalette and container probably a lot less…

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        I think you’ve hit on why crowbars (pry-bars) are culturally ubiquitous but not actually that widespread anymore. A lot more stuff used to be shipped around in wooden crates that needed prying open, now we have a lot more packaging which doesn’t require heavy tools to open.
        Except those bloody blister packs, I’m considering getting a plasma cutter just for them.

      • Fnord73 says:

        Very handy when removing nails from old logs, much more leverage than your average hammer.

    • Premium User Badge

      hemmer says:

      I’m either a criminal or a policeman now. The things you learn about yourself. :o

      Honestly though, I live in the countryside (in Austria if that makes a difference) and I think most people around here have one. We even have two!

      I mostly need it to clean out the drainage next to the road. Could never get those grates off by hand.

  5. Llewyn says:

    Pah, you probably don’t even have a pickaxe either. I’m not surprised in the least.

    • Optimaximal says:

      Get this. I’ve never owned a crowbar, but I do own a pick-axe.

      Look at me, I skipped a level! \o/

      • CdrJameson says:

        I inherited a pick axe when I moved into my house.

        I have to hide its very existence from the children, or they might let the creepers into the garden.

  6. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Most games also mistakenly refer to a wrecking bar as a crowbar. [/Attempting to look like I know things.]

    Also, what kinds of products do British hardware stores have if they don’t have crowbars?

    • Llewyn says:

      Anvils, chimney brushes and ploughshare blades, mostly.

    • Optimaximal says:

      Glass hammers, tartan paint and sky-hooks, mostly…

      That is, if my grandfather was to be believed.

      • kderby42 says:

        My grandpa would send you to the neighbors to borrow his board stretcher.

    • FLoJ says:

      Fork handles.

      • Llewyn says:

        Not to mention billhooks. Or alternatively knockers.

        • onodera says:

          Billhooks? Pah. The Welch hook or forest bill, has advantage against all manner of weapons whatsoever.

      • Premium User Badge

        Minsc_N_Boo says:

        The wax kind please…. 4 of them

    • Eddy9000 says:

      THANK YOU!
      This has bothered me ever since the original half life, and I thought I was alone in this!

      A ‘crow bar’ (or spud bar, or jemmy in the uk) is a straight iron bar with a chiselled end, a curved bar like the one in Half Life is a ‘wrecking bar’.
      I wouldn’t be surprised if video games are actually responsible for the common misuse now.

      • unimural says:

        As a non-English speaker, who was taught UK English in school, but has spent his entire life watching mostly US entertainment, my use of English is a real mess. My grounding is strongly in the UK English, but I have drifted towards US English in all aspects. I still tend to type the UK way, but most of my colloquialisms are from US. My pronunciation is a truly horrible mess by this point. The worst thing is that as time goes by I become more and more aware of the mix’n’match my English is. I had no idea crowbar wasn’t a crowbar.

        I know it doesn’t really matter, but my brain can’t help itself.

      • maninahat says:

        I’ve had the pleasure of using both in temp labour jobs. The most fun though is a breaker bar, which is basically a sturdy long pipe you use for snapping off bolts that stick up out of the ground.

      • Dare_Wreck says:

        Wikipedia says that a crowbar and wrecking bar are names for the same thing: link to en.wikipedia.org

        I’ve never heard use of the term “wrecking bar” here in the States, at least, so perhaps the general term “crowbar” is mainly an American English thing. Considering Wikipedia also briefly mentions how British English also calls it a jimmy bar or jemmy, which no one here has mentioned, I should probably take that article with a grain of salt.

    • Mags says:

      Ah, they do. My local Homebase has them next to the axes.

  7. Premium User Badge

    RealWeaponX says:

    I think the real question is what *can’t* you do with your £6 crowbar? You can open the post with it. You can stir soup with it. You can just stand around holding it knowing that anyone who sees you will be thinking, “now there’s a frood who really knows where his crowbar is!”

  8. Buggery says:

    Next you’ll be telling us you’ve never silently knocked a man out with a single blow. Have you never lived!?

  9. Wisq says:

    Wait, you mean, not everyone owns a bright green, glow-in-the-dark crowbar? That they use mainly as a back scratcher, because they honestly don’t have much use for a crowbar? Maybe I’m weirder than I thought …

    More seriously, I suspect crowbars are mainly a) a legacy from Half-Life, b) an homage to Half-Life, and c) left over from when first-person games used to be measured in “time to crate” — and where there’s crates, the logical weapon is obviously a crowbar.

  10. Craig Stern says:

    Huh. I usually come to RPS looking for games to want, but today I’ve come away wanting a tool.

  11. kud13 says:

    Crowbars are awesome. They’re usually in the gardening isles, next to the shovels and pickaxes.

    The one John has pictures of is a new fancy one. They’re heavy as hell, and hard to swing. I prefer the older, worn cast irons- smaller, and much more manouverable.

    Neither version really fits in your pockets, though. Unless you’ve got the batman-belt.

  12. vexis58 says:

    I can’t say I’ve ever seen one in real life, but I do remember that the zombie survival guide highly recommends them because they’re an inexpensive weapon that is very effective at destroying a zombie’s brain while also being useful as a tool to get into locked places that might have food. Might be worth it to keep one around in a closet somewhere in case of apocalypse.

  13. Frog says:

    Ok, I’m going to gloat. I live out in the country a bit and am the proud owner of a crowbar, a couple of pry bars, a pick axe and a sledge hammer. So there. The pick axe is a hand me down, it has a wonderful patina of rust and wear, it would look great in any post apocalyptic setting.
    And, I’ve used them all in their respective proper functions, fixing fences and such.
    I’m still waiting for the headcrabs to show.

  14. jonfitt says:

    I went looking for a nice red crowbar a while ago and I couldn’t find one anywhere. I was thinking of wall mounting it.

  15. ariston says:

    This article just made my day. Thanks.

  16. Vern says:

    I’m embarrassed I can’t identify that Space Quest screenshot. I’d have to guess it’s from SQII?

    • Vern says:

      The internet says it’s from Space Quest 0, the fan-made tribute made in 2002! Coincidentally, at the peak of Half-Life fame. The low-fi graphics however, make it seem as if this was vintage 80’s adventure game. But no such mythical “80’s crowbar” exists!

      I think we can conclude the one true nature of the crowbar – Half-life.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Day of the Tentacle would like a word, being the the other screenshot and gum example and all.

        • HopeHubris says:

          Google says Day of the Tentacle was released 1993, so still no 80s crowbar

          • LionsPhil says:

            True, but still six years before Half-Life, if memory serves correctly.

            I’ll be pretty surprised if none of the Sierra classics used one, but honestly I’m struggling to recall a case! Full Throttle had some kind of pry bar, but that’ll be another early-mid ’90s-er.

      • kderby42 says:

        The Lurking Horror, Infocom, 1987

  17. Don Reba says:

    I’d just get one from the nice family-run Crobarrie around the corner or from the local Crowbars’R’Us if I need something fancier.

  18. Baf says:

    It’s funny. I read this thinking “Of course I have a crowbar. Who doesn’t have a crowbar?”, but the more I think about it, the less sure I am. I’ve certainly used tools for prying things, but when I’ve needed such a tool, either a claw hammer or a flathead screwdriver is generally just as good and closer to hand. I’m going to have to check my tool chest when I get home.

    My parents definitely had a crowbar, though.

  19. Premium User Badge

    Jekadu says:

    I’ve seen two crowbars in my life, both of them at my former workplace. I don’t even remember what one of them looked like, just that it was technically a crowbar, if a small one.

    The other crowbar was also small, without the 30 degree curve thingey at the end. I seem to recall it was more of a shoehorn. We used it to force open the rusty doors to the cargo container where the owner kept a bunch of lawn mowers, old bikes and other semi-personal stuff for some reason.

    We forgot the crowbar inside the container. I don’t remember if we ever bothered getting it out.

    (This anecdote reminds me that I hated that job — the owner’s tendency to treat the workplace as a personal storage place was the first of many, many annoyances.)

  20. Monggerel says:

    What is this “crowbar” the article is referring to?

    Oh, you mean a prybar?
    Ok then. Ok. I can accept this. Deep breaths.
    *deep breaths*
    Count to four. Inhale.
    Count to four. Exhale.
    *shudder*

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      For those who learn about tools from American games a crowbar is properly a 6ft odd metal bar used for digging. It’d be really awkward to try and pry gum up with it.

      • polecat says:

        Has anyone here actually used an English-meaning crowbar / digging bar? They look far less useful especially in the age of the pneumatic drill. Crowbars (American) are very handy for floorboards and skirting boards.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          I have, its good for fencing or pretty much anywhere you want to break up the ground to make digging easier a pneumatic drill is probably overkill if you just want to plant a tree and not much good if you want to leaver out a rock.

        • Dangerous beans says:

          I used one as a kid while helping my dad dig holes. I strongly don’t reccomend it, no fun at all.
          Also used a pry bar doing renovations. That was more fun, but headcrab baseball in half life is still the best use.

      • KingFunk says:

        I have used a digging bar, which Wikipedia tells me is known as a crowbar in the UK, but first I’ve heard of it.

        I used the digging bar to help make holes for fence posts at a scientific research base in Peru. This is the proper use. They are simply too heavy to just carry around and would be useless as a weapon without superhuman strength which would more or less negate the need for such a weapon.

        • KingFunk says:

          Incidentally, I also used a Gordon Freeman crowbar to help attach barbed wire to said fence posts. This is a proper use. Interesting fact, in Spanish this tool is called ‘pata de cabra’ which means ‘goat’s foot’.

  21. bit.bat says:

    The perfect companion for the crowbar is the wooden crate although I really can’t remember the last time I saw one of those either.

  22. Stellar Duck says:

    I wonder if it’s dependent where you’re from?

    I’m from a family and area filled with manual labourers and as far as I remember back crowbars have been all over the place, usually in the back of a joiners van, on the table in the work shed or just lying about.

    They’re invaluable when doing home improvements, tearing down old work constructions, hashing stuff apart, prying open this and that, getting out reluctant nails and what not.

    I honest to God have a hard time imagining never having seen one. For me it’d be like only ever having seen a hammer on the telly.

    Something something Socrates and the idea of a crowbar.

  23. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    I use crowbars quite a lot – they are very handy for jimmying floorboards up, which is useful for my job. With that said, I don’t exactly see them out and about, ramblers using them as rambling sticks aside of course.

  24. cloudnein says:

    Me, I prefer a pry bar or any of the other myriad other options of flat steel monsters. Great for pulling nails (and screws, although I’ve decapitated many screws that way), great for slipping behind drywall and pulling it down, great for bashing brain crabs.

  25. cuchlann says:

    I own two crowbars, actually, and I’m a teacher. Pretty much no need for one. I keep one in the car.

    In college I did build a bookshelf using a crowbar, though, so the games are actually pretty accurate. They can do just about anything.

    • Jediben says:

      Don’t get pulled over and searched or you’ll be done for going equipped to commit burglary!

  26. Magaro says:

    Crowbars are pretty easy to find, even at HomeDepot (the gardener, patio cleaner, weed killer, light bulb changer hardware store):
    link to homedepot.com

  27. gi_ty says:

    Ah the humble crowbar, mankind’s most versatile piece of metal. I guessing yours has arrived and you have joined the elite ranks of DIY’s finest. I do hope the WIT is forthcoming posthaste.

  28. syllopsium says:

    For best effect the crowbar should be iron and a bit rusty. They’re indestructible and still work well.

    Used them for opening crates and removing nails, although a decent claw hammer is usually better for the latter.

  29. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Love the text on that second screenshot: “The guard is knocked out permanently”.

    So… he’s dead?

  30. kalirion says:

    I don’t understand – how have adventure games lied to you? Now that you finally have a crowbar, carry it around with you all the time and I’m sure you’ll find lots of everyday uses for it.

  31. Jackablade says:

    To a man with a crowbar, everything looks like a cranium.

    If I my get my pedantic handy-man hat on a bit, that’s not a crowbar though, it’s a jemmy. A crowbar is a long, straight, heavy bar used, in my experience, mostly for busting up concrete or as a lever for removing stubborn tree stumps once you’ve dug around them and hacked off as many roots as you can get to.

    Your jemmy will be great if you ever need to pull up some floorboards.

    • Jackablade says:

      I regret not taking the opportunity to use the term handy-mansplaining

  32. ruaidhri.k says:

    I own a crowbar
    and an axe
    and a sledgehammer
    and a double beveled sliding compound mitre saw
    and a compressor
    and a chainsaw
    and a table vice
    and a power hose
    and a leaf blower
    and a bench drill
    all of the sockets and screwdrivers and clamps and saws and squares and pliers
    and many small tools with no obvious use

    the missus says I am displaying typical male nesting behavior.

  33. Michael Fogg says:

    I own a pair of bolt cutters. One time, in chilly weather, I broke the key to my bike lock in the lock (of a cable type), while it was locked up on the street. I got the cutters from a nearby home depot. I was really lucky not to get arrested!

  34. tnankie says:

    To me this isn’t even a crowbar (not sure if it is an Australian thing or just my particular up bringing) The image is a pinch bar.

    For me a crow bar is a 40-80mm diameter steel rod about 1.5-2m long hammered to a chisel point at one end with a counter weight welded to the other.

    link to en.wikipedia.org
    Actually turns out it is my antipodean upbringing.

    I’ve used and injured my self with both; remarkably unforgiving on fingers.

  35. noxohimoy says:

    Following the same argument: ¿How many gatling guns do you own?

    Do you walk by the world seeing a crosshair over imposed on every thing you look at?

    How many vampires did you killed in real life?

    If you were on a real life shooting situation, against lot of enemies (let’s say that you get yourself inside a terrorist attack). Will you run like in DOOM, shooting everything without never taking cover? That’s why the baddies in movies behave like a shooting ducks in a gallery: they played too much DOOM.

    If you go hunting deers, how are you supposed to open the deer without a crowbar?

  36. noxohimoy says:

    I would like to see a console player fighting on a real war, strafing to the sides to aim.

  37. TheButler83 says:

    I found a crowbar outside my house. Although there were builders sort of in the area I did what any true adventurer does and picked it up and stored it in my inventory to stop it falling into the hands of some miscreant. Plus I’m sure it will come in handy!

  38. bill says:

    What adventure games taught me about crowbars was that if the world is about to end and there is a regular door or box between me and the thing that I need to prevent calamity… then I won’t be able to just bash the damn thing with the crowbar, I’ll have to go through some long complex illogical series of steps involving sandwiches, paintings, cat hair and tricking people to get through that door.

    Because using a crowbar to save everyone would just be cheating.

  39. phlebas says:

    My dad has a crowbar. It’s a straight one, and he mostly uses it for gardening – it has a pointy end that is perfect for making holes in the flinty ground.