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November 18, 2013

Clothes And House Decorations: Fun Or Lame Rewards?

Believe it or not, this is from GTA.
You've already stumbled upon a game, maybe even a few games, in which there was a story, with missions, or levels, or anything else like that. Regular stuff... right? Yes, and with each mission came a reward. The rewards? Sometimes money, sometimes vital items (as an example, you would get amazing items from Princess Peach each time you saved a Mushroom King in Super Mario Bros. 3)... Sometimes, the rewards would be pieces of equipment, like in the RPGs where getting better weapons and armor is always a plus. And sometimes, you get clothes or decorations. Yaaaaaay...
No, really, what's so great about getting clothes or decorations? What, do the video game developers think we're into clothing fads and interior design? Worse even, do they think we're all girls? No offense, girls and women, I can see why there would be such rewards as clothing and decorations in a game targeted at your gender. but in games that are not precisely targeting a gender or another, or worse even, in games that we could consider more "for men", it's... kinda weird.

Why do we get clothing and decorations as rewards in many video games? Or, we could ask another way: Are clothing and house decorations fun or lame rewards in video games?

Before we can even answer this, I think we have to remember the aspect of customization. In the early days of video gaming at home, the technical limitations of video games offered little to no possible customization inside a game. Then, as time went on, the data space on the cartridges - and later on, disks - has grown, letting more and more stuff get in. The games became more complex. And the idea of rewards grew from in-game money and items to all kinds of new things entirely. Once you've gotten every important object in the game, what is there to win still? Well, obviously, unimportant objects.

Now, I'm not the greatest expert in video game programming and modeling, but I think having new clothes on characters implies that these clothes have been programmed to follow the character's movements. It would be weird if the guy raised his arm and the sleeve wouldn't follow because it wasn't programmed to always stay over the guy's arm. Clearly, programming these clothes to follow the character's movements must take some space in the game's data, right? Yeah, probably. In a way, this gives the developers a new thing to fill up some space, and it gives the player another thing to win after completing a mission, something to customize the character.

Then, what about the house decorations? Well, many of those characters have places they live in, and so you could also win objects to customize the character's house. What does this bring to the game? Almost nothing in most games. Although, placing the 3D models of the objects around in the house or in the room can be fun for a few minutes. Again, it also fills up a bit of space. But in most games, this is not really something necessary. Take Purr Pals, as an example. There are billions of different ways to decorate your house - and it's not the furniture that changes, but rather the walls, the floors, the wood, the granite, and so on and so forth - but none of those actually give something more to the game. Dressing up your cat with a pirate hat, some pink glasses and a toucan beak? Looks hilarious, but it serves no purpose in the game other than being there. Congrats, you wasted 70 in-game bucks on stuff that is absolutely pointless.

However, clothes and house decorations aren't just there to fill up space on the cartridge or on the CD. Well, hopefully. However, even if they serve no in-game goal, customization items do serve a personal goal: The one of feeling close to the characters. You dressed your character the way you wanted it to be; the developers went that extra mile to make sure you could pick its outfit. Hurray! And you even decorated its house, with many items of furnuiture. Whatever your personal opinion on customization is, the fact is that it adds a feeling of proximity with the characters. You might enjoy playing with the game more if you chose its appearance. That's also why there are games that let you decide of all the physical details of the characters. You DESIGNED it, now you can play with your own creation! Isn't that awesome?

There are also some games that let you customize your character, but this customization can bring you to unlock even more things; in fact, things that aren't even customization items. Look at Kirby's Epic Yarn, for instance: You win items of furniture in the game's action levels, which you can then use to decorate rooms and unlock new residents who will give you additional challenges that are required to reach 100% completion anyway. And go back to take a look at the only image on this blog message. The shirt says "I completed [GTA] Vice City and all I got was this lousy T-shirt". Well, even if the shirt is right about being pointless, it's still a damn big achievement: To unlock this shirt, you must have reached 100% completion in a wide-open sandbox game. Grand Theft Auto, that's not just any kind of game!

So yeah, I can kind of see the appeal of using more data to store in the game clothing and interior design customization items, and as long as it doesn't become more important than the game itself (refer to my review of Purr Pals again), it should be fine. The problem is that there are some games out there that put this as some soert of priority, going above anything else that you can do in the game. Good thing there's not a lot of those out there...