OXM OPIN­IONS

Steve tells the in­fu­ri­at­ing fetch quest to take a hike

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Steve also writes about fid­dly non­sense for pub­li­ca­tions like City A.M.

Here’s a his­tory les­son. When God in­vented the Earth some time late in the 17th cen­tury, ev­ery­thing was per­fect and bril­liant. Adam, the only man alive, lived in a gi­ant gar­den cen­tre and had ev­ery­thing he could fea­si­bly ever want, and it was ex­actly where he needed it.

Then, on 5th Jan­uary 1991, a crazy goat called Satan chal­lenged Adam to throw an ap­ple over a house for a bet. Adam’s wife, Eve, was in a lot of debt thanks to a Wonga loan gone wrong, and the pair were hurt­ing for “a bit of scratch”. I’m sure you know the rest: Adam’s aim was ter­ri­ble, the ap­ple sailed through God’s bed­room win­dow and ru­ined an al­most­com­plete jig­saw of a long-necked horse.

Nat­u­rally the Big Man was livid, and ban­ished Adam and Eve to live in the earthly crap­hole we’re all still stuck in to this day. No more gar­den cen­tre, no more fat ba­bies with harps, and (most per­ti­nent) no longer would ev­ery­thing we de­sire be pre­cisely where we wanted it.

In­stead, stuff went ev­ery­where. Food is lodged up in trees, buried in the ground or locked up in­side cows as “meat”. Want a car? Once, you could just con­jure up a Skoda Oc­tavia, but now we have to dig metal out of the ground and do all sorts of fid­dly non­sense with fac­to­ries and in­dus­try and what­not. It’s a to­tal bum­mer.

Hu­man­ity now has just one real pur­pose: move some­thing from one place to the other. Food, cars, books, crates, money. All of it is wrong­placed and freight­wor­thy, and we’re the for­saken id­iots who have to deal with it.

The prob­lem

This fun­da­men­tal need for things to be else­where man­i­fests in videogames as that most ma­ligned of tasks: the fetch quest. Whether it’s a blush­ing cour­te­san on a Vene­tian rooftop ask­ing you to re­trieve her miss­ing swan egg, or a busty alien on a space station ask­ing you to track down her neck­lace, or an an­cient mummy who dropped his favourite ankh in a wheelie bin, fetch quests are the most te­dious and un­nec­es­sary of virtual du­ties.

On­line MMO and ru­iner of lives World Of War­craft may not have in­vented the things, but it cer­tainly ce­mented their rep­u­ta­tion as gam­ing’s big­gest time wasters. Now ev­ery RPG from Mass Ef­fect to Fall­out inevitably has you re­triev­ing ran­dom bits of garbage for ab­so­lute strangers, with the goal of pad­ding out the main quest with end­less dis­trac­tions. These mis­sions give no in­sight into the work­ings of the wider game world, add noth­ing to a story and usu­ally present no chal­lenge. They are the equiv­a­lent of a Ja­cob’s Cream Cracker: dry, bor­ing and an im­ped­i­ment to spoon­ing cottage cheese di­rectly into your mouth.

The so­lu­tion

Short of some­how ap­peas­ing the sulk­ing de­ity who doomed us to this mess, we’re all stuck with nearly ev­ery­thing in the uni­verse no longer be­ing within arm’s reach. But while the sec­ond law of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics means that our be­long­ings have a nat­u­ral ten­dency to even­tu­ally get lost in­side dun­geons and be­hind sofa cush­ions, there are a few things we can do to mit­i­gate the te­dium of fetch. We can start with the abil­ity to tell needy peo­ple to take a hike.

While tech­ni­cally op­tional, there’s a galling sense of so­cial obli­ga­tion that’s at­tached to any re­quest to re­trieve a lost ob­ject. So give us the option to re­spond in the neg­a­tive, but in a way that still feels morally sat­is­fy­ing, nar­ra­tively con­clu­sive and gets rid of the hov­er­ing ques­tion mark above the quest giver’s head.

For ex­am­ple, a griev­ing wid­ower asks you to trek five miles into a haunted jun­gle to find the di­ary of his dead wife, who fell down a well. Why not give us the option to say, “Oh, I’ve got your di­ary right here,” as you reach into your pocket and pull out your mid­dle fin­ger? From there, it would be nice to be able to of­fer to “read” to the man from this “di­ary”, fold­ing out your in­dex fin­ger as if it were a page of the book, and then pre­sent­ing the rude new con­fig­u­ra­tion to the guy who had the temer­ity to ask you to go find his crap while you’re on a quest to save the gal­axy.

Af­ter do­ing this a few times, NPCs would be fear­ful of your scathing re­sponses to pleas for help, and only dare bother you with the most in­ter­est­ing and whole­some of side-quests.

“A cour­te­san on a Vene­tian rooftop asks you to find a miss­ing swan egg”

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