#DataMines: Mining in Games – Cap Lamps & Pickaxes

Part Five & Six: Cap Lamps & Pickaxes

Without question, experimentation and industriousness are qualities linked to those that go on video game mine adventures.

This is especially the case for a young mushroom explorer in puzzle game Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (2014). As a bit of background information, there are countless thousands of Toads in Nintendo’s video games, and they all tend to look pretty much alike. Squat body, big head, very mushroom looking. You’ll likely have seen them in Mario games, pointing the way for the hero to save the damsel in distress. Sure, you can add a moustache here to make an old Toad or add some ponytails there to make a Toadette, but the real changes happen with the arrival Captain Toad, who distinguishes himself with a rucksack as big as his body; a dandy little explorer’s outfit; and his cap lamp, which – obviously – fits on his bulbous mushroom cap to light the way. 

Mining Fact: The first British caplamps were tested in 1919 and were so much of an improvement that some of the miners refused to give them back.

With the right equipment, Captain Toad inhabits the role he’s given himself and becomes his own hero; with the proper equipment, Captain Toad can conquer any environmental puzzle (jungle, desert, galleon, ghost house, lava caverns, etc.) despite any video game limitations placed on him. He no longer needs Mario and neither do we. And, of course, there’s no reason why this mantra does not apply to female Toads too. As soon as Toadette is tooled up for the job, she’s just as curious, inventive, and formidable. 

Being prepared for adversity helps in games with mining elements, especially ones with an adventure component. There are precisely two reasons why the pickaxe is so ubiquitous across dozens of adventure games such as Spelunky (2008), Skyrim (2011), and Monster Hunter World (2018):

(1)    It can be used to acquire resources

(2)    It can be used as a weapon

It’s an almost universal case that in video games, the pickaxe never tends to do much offensive damage, but equally, it is oftentimes all that a player will have at their disposal, which is what makes their dual function all the more significant. The specialist equipment comes in later.

Mining Fact: The Pickaxe has always been the miner’s tool. Even when much of mining was mechanised, a pick was always on hand, used for a hundred different jobs underground like shaping cut rock or levering in roadway panels.

Fortnite (2017) starts you off with only a pickaxe, the implication being that you should start foraging for better resources as soon as you land. Of all the items that game designers have at their disposal, it is notable that this humble mining tool is regularly the go-to “Swiss Army Knife” of the gaming world placed in the hands of players to fend off hoards while scavenging for their lives. And while you can upgrade this starting equipment in some games, the pickaxe always functions the same: you swing it to hit things.

While games continue to have mining functions – even beyond the point where it’s an obvious influence, such as with Fortnite where you can fight Marvel characters – there will always be space in the adventurer’s knapsack for an old-fashioned pickaxe or two.

In fact, the latest plans for Fortnite are to let players engage in Premier League endorsed games of football where they have to use their repurposed pickaxes to hit the ball. In video games, the pickaxe continues to be a versatile piece of equipment, although this is definitely not something to try at home!      

Next time in the data mine: Surface mining in Animal Crossing: New Horizons and sub-surface mining in Terraria.

By Carl Wilson @CDWilson 

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