What Are Ya Buyin’

At its core, the hack and slash game is a rather simple one: get a weapon, slay monsters, get a more powerful weapon, slay more powerful monsters. The draw of amassing wealth and power is strong. Developers have tapped into players’ kleptomaniacal urges to the point where some proudly advertise their game’s impressive quantities of collectible junk.

Bazillions, you say?

The best hack and slash games are the ones that provide the players with ample opportunities to hoard everything that isn’t bolted down, and many things that are. Typically, these will be weapons and armaments, but they are almost always inferior to any equipment the players already have. So, they quickly liquidate these at the going rate for “useless miscellanea,” which, oddly enough, never seems to get driven down, no matter how many goods the adventurers dump into the economy. The heroes may have flooded the market with suits of Tattered Chainmail, but they can always count on finding a local merchant willing to buy one for a hundred gold pieces.

Occasionally, players may gather enough money to actually buy something. It might be a new sword, a suit of banded mail, or an axe with some extraneous enchantment. However, for any item available on the market, there is always something better to be found in the wilds. Furthermore, the statistical benefits of newly bought equipment are often so meager that it is typically not worth the effort of even going to the store in the first place.

One wonders how these shops turn any profit at all. Consider this: in hack and slash games, shops offer goods to the many adventurers visiting town. However, the adventuring troupe will have found equipment in the dungeon that is worth far more than anything the shop has, rendering its stock inferior and undesireable. Because of this, the party will have no demand for any of the shop’s goods. However, the shop owner will still have a demand for the party’s leftover supplies, and will pay out substantial amounts of cash to acquire them. This leaves the shop owner with a huge cache of goods, but who does he sell them to? The party certainly won’t buy them back. Any other adventurers in town will already know that the best supplies are out in the wilderness, so they won’t have any demand for the shop’s wares. Other shops in the market, having also spent all their money to buy the same unsaleable goods, cannot even afford to become buyers.

Hack and slash games can often be played with a second player, but this is not recommended. When playing with another person, all semblance of alliance breaks down the instant that riches come into play. Everything becomes a dash to collect more than the other player. If there is a hallway with a treasure chest at the end of it, both players will race to open it. If one player has more cash than the other, the disadvantaged player will accuse the affluent one of blatant greed and bad-faith practices. If a player has to make a choice between saving the life of his embattled comrade or running away from the fight to loot the nearby weapon rack, his comrade will be left for dead every time.

The economics of the hack and slash game are fascinating, in that they are theoretically unsound, break down under scrutiny, and do not work at all. Perhaps they are actually one gargantuan sociology experiment, and we’re all playing the fool here. Put a group of kids alone on an island with no adult authority figures to supervise them, and leave them with a copy of Champions of Norrath. Social order will break down in no time.


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