Video Game Econ: 6 currencies that make no sense

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Between scouring dungeons for loot, trading with merchants, and paying off shady businesspersons, money is a major component of many video games.

Maybe developers realized that greed is good and that the accumulation of wealth is hugely motivating. Or maybe it's a subtle reminder that capitalism dictates every moment of our lives away from the controller. For whatever reason, a currency counter is always at the top of our inventories.

Out-of-universe, this at least makes sense for some kind of point system. In-game, however, sometimes the cash flow doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Here are a few of the least functional video game economies and the currencies on which they are based.

Animal Crossing - Bells

If you've ever played any of the Animal Crossing games, you know the drill. You've just rolled into town, nervous to leave home, but excited about the prospect of living on your own, when suddenly some thieving raccoon has you cornered and, a short one-sided conversation later, you're suddenly on the wrong end of a life-debt while good 'ole Tom Nook has his boys build you a shack. Seeing as how, in Wild World, you are briefly forced into indentured servitude to make up for money you owe, bells must be very important in this sleepy little village.

Or are they? Despite the hefty sum hanging over your head, bells can literally be found anywhere, notably inside rocks and growing on trees. When those sources dry up, you can always sell bugs, fish, and fossils (all of which are suspiciously localized).

What exactly is Nook (or Cyrus and Reese) doing with all of these specimen? Are they somehow undercutting Redd's black market? Or are they secretly rich collectors? Also, how is it that none of the villagers have jobs? Who is supporting all of these shops? Something's fishy, and we're not just talking about the river.

The Legend of Zelda - Rupees

One would think that eventually Hyrule would stop using precious gemstones as everyday currency. Seriously, who is meticulously cutting all of these into perfectly hexagonal shapes? There's no way that can be naturally occurring, despite the fact that we find these babies just chillin' in the tall grass. Maybe I could buy them being used in some country-wide scavenger hunt that everyone has conveniently forgotten about until Link goes traipsing through the wilderness.

Things are especially weird in the original Legend of Zelda. Every time Link shoots his bow, he loses a Rupee. Like, what is going on here? Is Link actually shooting gems at his enemies? Or is his bow like an automated vending machine that will only dispense arrows at a high speed if you insert a Rupee and turn the dial twice clockwise?

Kingdom Hearts - Munny

"Munny," a cute misspelling of "money," is the main currency in the Kingdom Hearts series. Though each piece is inconveniently round and large, I can get behind the idea of some kind of mystical coinage that magically stores itself in one of Sora's many over-sized pockets.

What I'm not so sure of is how everyone uses munny as some sort of universal currency, despite the barriers dividing each world. I get that the Moogles are exempt from this separation, but we've canonically used munny to buy things through shops in Traverse Town, Radiant Garden, and Twilight Town. The only explanation I can think of is that people used munny back when "the World" was a proper noun and physically a single unit before the events of the Keyblade War. And then everyone was too lazy to make any changes to it for thousands of years . . .

Pokémon - Pokédollars

Seriously, is everyone in the Pokémon universe so obsessed with the "pocket monsters" that they even named their currency after them?  Is there anyone in these games that does anything less than eat, sleep, and breathe all things Pokémon? Does anyone have an actual job here?

If you think about it, you don't get to have a source of income unless you're a successful trainer or you work at the Poké Mart. I guess you could find and sell things. Things that are probably related to Pokémon. Maybe there's some elaborate underground trading going on that we're not privy to. I mean, no one ever seems to be starving in the streets, so I would assume all the citizens are getting money from somewhere.

Kid Icarus - Hearts

Granted, the economic climate of Angel Land seems pretty stable. There are stores. Jobs. A thriving black market. You could make a decent living here. As long as you don't have a problem with the currency.

Upon being slayed, every monster drops a heart, probably symbolic of some sort of spirit or soul or something. More powerful monster, more valuable heart. Cute little angel Pit can collect these. He's basically scooping up souls. And then what does he do? He turns around and sells them. Every store in Angel Land is more than happy to take souls in exchange for goods. What are these merchants doing with all of these monster hearts? Haven't they considered a credit system?

Super Mario - Coins

The fiscal details of the Mushroom Kingdom have always been a little nebulous. Peach is obviously wealthy. She's a princess. She has a castle. Simple enough. But what about Mario? What kind of job market exists in a world where plumbers are regularly employed as princess rescuers? And does Bowser come from money or is the Koopa cache dried up? Is he actually paying all of his minions or are they volunteers with a passion for mindlessly chasing Italian men in overalls?

Don't even get me started on the coin itself. First of all, there is not a wallet in the kingdom big enough to carry around a hundred giant golden coins. Not that you'd need one, because as soon as you hit the triple digits, they all magically morph into an extra life.

I should warn you that I'm no scientist, but I'm still having trouble figuring out how collecting these things gives you extra air while underwater. Is Mario eating them? Maybe it's oxidized metal and Mario has a super useful digestive/respiratory system? Or it's an allegory for wealthy citizens having better access to nutrition and medical care, therefore granting them greater longevity? I dunno, man. I'm still trying to figure out how eight red coins can be used to summon a power star.

What are your favorite (and least favorite) video game currencies? Are there any that you feel should have made this list? Tell us in the comments below!

Published Jun. 16th 2015

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Recent college grad, armed with a backlog of games and too many opinions.

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