Continuing my train of thought from earlier.

Immediately after I wrote, “the moment the item is required to unlock a mission, players will stop caring about its story,” I asked myself why I thought this to be true. I mean, I believe it’s true, and I think I could explain it if someone asked, but I also know that it isn’t true of all players. It’s mostly true for me, but why?

My first thoughts were along the lines of gameplay and story segregation. When you’re handed an item, there’s usually only one thing you can do with it. Either it’s equipment, a consumable, or a plot coupon. So rare is it that an item might serve multiple purposes, that a player is unlikely to care about meaning beyond its basic function. I don’t care about the ninety-nine healing potions in my inventory.

Star Ocean: ‘Til The End of Time almost averts this by having over nine thousand different types of otherwise generic healing potions. Some are berries, some are candies, some are fruits, some are drugs … I mean, the list goes on. But there’s still no reason to care about the item’s background beyond the bonuses it gives you, though. It just amounts to more bookkeeping.

The items in many, many video games fail basic logic tests. You can carry around a rope or a torch in your inventory, but it can only be used to do one thing. You might approach a deep pit and think to yourself, “I could cross this if I had a rope…” but then you remember that the rope can only be used to climb out of a pit when you’ve fallen in — why can’t you use it to cross? Maybe you fall in and climb up the other side?

When you encounter a villain who you defeat but for whatever reason refuse to kill, he gets away. Why did he get away? Why didn’t you tie him up to prevent his escape? It makes sense that games have limitations on the sorts of things the player can do with each item, but single-task items stifle creative thinking and train players to not care about an item beyond its function — and it has only one.

So why does a player care about the name and history of an object that serves only one purpose — to buff their stats, or make them not die, or to simply advance the plot? Why does a player care about any of these things when their name and their background offers no insight into the game beyond their immediate use?