The concept of treasure and treasure hunting has always been a mainstay of video games, and gaming in general. From Mario collecting coins in the 80’s to Nathan Drake going after lost cities and pirate gold in the modern day, treasure hunting will always remain a goal for the collector and adventurer that exists in all of us.
Treasure, money and gold provide a way for the player of a game to track their progress through that game, in the most real sense, but beyond this, it’s just fun for people to roam around, collecting gold, hearing that “ding” that gives instant gratification and keeps them playing.
Pirate treasure is the best, most obvious example. Who hasn’t dreamed of being a pirate, sailing the seven seas, free to do whatever you want? Assassin’s Creed Black Flag showed this idea in one of the best ways in recent years. Whilst all Assassin’s Creed games have some form of loot system and treasures to find, Black Flag shows this in the most realistic way.
Set towards the end of the golden age of piracy, Blackbeard, Black Bart and Anne Bonny all make an appearance. But it is the abundance of treasure that is waiting to be found all around the Caribbean sea where the game really shines. Players have the ability to visit three major cities in the Caribbean, as well as literally hundreds of small islands and locations. There are treasure chests and other collectibles waiting to be found on all of these, and to find all of them takes days, weeks even. In these chests, players find a variable amount of money (Reales) and usually a random piece of treasure, such as a silver candlestick or gold statue. These treasures have no function within the game itself, being converted to Reales immediately upon being found, but they play into the realism of the game, the feeling of looking for and finding treasure.
As well as chests, maps can be found leading to buried treasure. These maps feature a “hand drawn” image of where the treasure is buried, meaning players have to look for these locations themselves, adding to the treasure “hunting” aspect of pirating. There aren’t many other games that have incorporated this idea, and this game is an outstanding example of it.
This being a game about pirates, there are ships to attack in pursuit of treasure. This is where the majority of a players treasure comes from, and it is the most fun to do. From the players ship, another ship appears on the horizon. Looking through a spyglass reveals what treasure the ship holds and roughly how strong it is in comparison to the player. Committing to the attack, real naval strategy is useful to know in order to take down the ships mast. At this point, players can choose to board the ship to claim all of its treasure, or simply sink it, in which case only half of the held treasure is claimed, in the form of cargo boxes rising up from the sinking ship. It’s usually a better, if longer, option to board the ship.
Boarding the ship gives the player a few random objectives, becoming harder with the strength of the ship, from killing a few crew to destroying black powder stores to removing the ships flag. As soon as the boarding starts, the crew of the opposing ship start actively defending themselves and their ship from the player and their crew. This defence of the treasure on the enemy ship makes it all the sweeter to the player when they finally fulfil all objectives given and see what they have won.
In addition to all of this, there are shipwrecks to be found that can be looted for the treasure that they hold. This speaks more to the adventurers, those people who play games as an escape, a way to experience things that they never would in their ordinary life. Avoiding sharks, making sure you don’t go too far from an air pocket, all in pursuit of treasure.
This is merely one example of treasure appearing in video games. You can find a manner of riches, so to speak, in thousands of games. Games such as Rainbow Riches Pick N Mix will give you real monetary riches whilst other video games will give you riches in other ways. For example, players are also able to hunt for treasure in Red Dead Redemption. But in a game purporting to be about assassins, which are definitely there, most of the game, and the most enjoyment from the game, comes from the sense of freedom, the simple joy of sailing around the Caribbean and happening across an island you have never seen before and wondering what will be found on it. And it isn’t that hard to find out, dive off your ship and see. There is a whole world to explore.