Last year, I attended a lavish preview event for a run-of-the-mill role-playing game. It was held at a hip Soho museum in Manhattan, and part of the evening was taken up with an on-stage interview featuring one of the game’s designers. This guy had been making video games for over a decade, and his entire philosophy seemed to be that people love treasure: “Players just get so happy when they open up a box full of goodies!” he squealed. He further explained that in order to make his company’s game fun, he had been sure to include many, many treasure chests—go figure.
If only it were that easy! Unfortunately for this enthusiastic fellow, nobody is more jaded about virtual treasure than the present-day gaming audience. Your average video game player has opened countless thousands of treasure chests in her lifetime. We play stuff like Diablo III, in which we click on a parade of ghoulish piñatas until they die, spewing make-believe trinkets that are slightly better than the ones we already have. Your average Facebook game will barf a thousand “gold coins” or “buxxxxxx” in your direction just for showing up.
Virtual treasure is a fiat currency, and inflation rates long ago entered the realm of the silly. So contrary to what Mr. Peppy was saying at the preview event, truly effective treasure isn’t about quantity; it’s about quality. A zillion treasure chests will always be less impressive than one extraordinary on-screen bauble that has craft and cachet.
But what makes a great treasure? We’ve put together a little bracket-style tournament to let you decide. Over the next couple of weeks, some of the greatest treasures in video game history will duke it out, with your votes deciding which treasures advance and, ultimately, which one earns the title of Best Treasure Ever.
Over the course of a surprisingly intense and grueling afternoon, the Gameological staff assembled the bracket you see above. We’ll have further details on our picks in the days to come. The treasures are divvied up into four divisions: animal-themed items, weapons, “throwback” (pre-Dreamcast/pre-1998) items, and miscellaneous.
We need you to help choose the No. 4 seed in each division. (Why the No. 4 seed? Just because. Don’t take the seed numbers too seriously; we didn’t.) Make your nominations in the comments, and be sure to “like” the nominations you support, too. We’ll take the four most convincing nominees and use them to complete the bracket.
The criteria for a bracket-worthy treasure is whatever you want it to be. There’s a reason it’s called a “Subjective Judgment Bracket.” But if it helps, we gravitated toward these qualities in making up our list:
Rarity and obscurity. How hard is it to acquire the treasure? An item feels more valuable if you need persistence, skill, intelligence, or all of the above to acquire it.
Originality. Oh, your game has a sparkly blue crystal? Join the club.
Power. In other words, what the treasure does for you, functionally. This one cuts two ways. As the staff debated the most memorable video game treasures of all time, ultra-powerful items naturally came to the fore. But we also found ourselves fondly recalling treasures that did absolutely nothing—whose value was simply in having the item itself.
Memorability and comedy value. Since the whole notion of virtual loot has a certain inherent silliness to begin with, we applauded treasures that had a sense of humor about themselves or boasted some other cleverness of construction. Silliness is a good thing. Embrace it.
Voting begins in earnest tomorrow when the No. 8 seeds face off against the No. 1 seeds. Until then, let’s hear your nominations!