The 8 Rules of RPG Inventory Management, and How They Apply to Life

I’ve been playing RPGs for a long time: The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, Chrono Trigger, Pokemon, and more. All RPGs require you to manage an inventory of items, armor, weapons, and other objects to assist you in your quest.

Inventory management systems share a lot of similarities, despite a few differences. Games like Baldur’s Gate have more realistic inventories wherein your character only has a certain amount of space to put items in, whereas other games like Final Fantasy let you carry an absurd number of items with no logical explanation why.

Having played video games for 20+ years, I’ve long ago learned the language of games: how to maximize resources and exploit rules to play the game most efficiently. This knowledge, though, isn’t confined to any game: this knowledge has translated into my life. The following are 8 life lessons I’ve learned from inventory management systems.

1. Keep like-items next to each other

Final Fantasy Inventory

Inventory from Final Fantasy VII. Image courtesy of the Final Fantasy Wiki.

A sloppy inventory makes for disorganized game play. Similar items should be close to each other so that you know at a glance what you have. That means potions get grouped with potions, armor gets grouped with armor, and rings get grouped with rings.

How this applies to my life: My desk drawers, art supplies, papers, and books are all organized into like-boxes or shelves. I rarely have something where it does not belong (like a book next to my computer instead of on the shelf).

2. Stack like-items whenever possible

Stack of tupperware

Good inventory management means “stacking” items whenever possible. Instead of having 10 of the same potion taking up 10 different slots, most games will allow you to stack like-items on top of each other (see in the first image how each item stack contains 90+ units?). This keeps the inventory clean and saves space.

How this applies to my life: I live in an apartment with three other guys. These guys are constantly going home to see family, and invariably they return with food in Tupperware dishes. These dishes accumulate until the next time they go home, so understandably our cupboard contains 15 different kinds of Tupperware at any given time. For a while, the cupboard was a mess, as nothing went together. It only took 10 minutes to clean it out, organize like-Tupperware together, and discard Tupperware that had mismatched lids and bottoms.

And surprisingly, it’s stayed organized for about two months now.

3. Keep the most frequently used items easily accessible

Minecraft inventory

Some games, usually computer games, allow you to assign some of your items to “hot keys,” usually numbers 1 through 0. Even if the game contains dozens or hundreds of different items, chances are you only use a portion of those items on a regular basis. In Minecraft, for instance, I always keep my common weapons and tools in the first five slots, torches in the last slot, and then whatever blocks I need at the moment to construct my world in the remaining slots.

How this applies to my life: When I go camping or backpacking, certain items go to the top of the pack: knives, water bottles, snacks, first aid kit. When I fly, same thing: clothes and shoes go to the bottom of the carry-on, whereas the laptop, a book, pen and paper, and snacks go to the side pockets where they are easily accessible during the plane ride.

4. Sell the stuff you’ve outgrown, and throw away the worthless stuff

Butterfly in Skyward Sword

I caught another butterfly! Image courtesy of Zeldapedia.

In RPGs, not all items are relevant by the end of the game. In fact, most won’t be. Many RPGs give you weak weapons and armor early on, then you upgrade it to better stuff. At this point, it’s wisest to sell the old stuff: it’s no longer useful to you: you’ve outgrown it.

Or, in other RPGs, you’ll end up accumulating a LOT of a certain item. In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I ended up catching a ton of Blessed Butterflies compared to other bugs. When this happens, sell the excess as soon as you can. Even if this stuff isn’t taking up space in your inventory, the extra cash can help finance future purchases.

How this applies to my life: At one point, I realized I had 3 computer monitors but was only using one (the HD widescreen monitor). So I’m in the process of selling the other two: I’ve outgrown them and haven’t used them in years. Not everything is worth selling though. Sometimes worthless items in RPGs will only net 1 or 2 gold pieces, so selling them isn’t worth the time: I usually just toss this stuff. In the same way, some of my possessions aren’t worth reselling or donating: faded or torn clothes, dishes that have lost their non-stick surface, or ratty old cleaning products.

5. If you store things in a box, you’ll forget about it

Generation 1 Poke Center

That computer on the right stored all your pokemon. Image courtesy of Bulbapedia.

Some games don’t allow you to carry the world on your back. That doesn’t mean you are limited in the amount of possessions you can acquire! Some RPGs feature storage systems whereby you can leave your unused items in a box of some sort to be retrieved at a later time.

In some cases, this is great! You get to keep more possessions! But what I’ve found about these systems is that if I put something in a box, I usually forget about. I continue through the game just fine without that item. And if I’ve forgotten about it, I haven’t used it: I probably don’t even need it.

How this applies to my life: I’ve moved a lot over the past 10 years: I was moving once a year for about an 8 year stretch. Some things get put away in boxes, and when it’s time to move again, I often realize I never opened or unpacked certain boxes. Those unopened, sealed boxes are always a reminder, then, that maybe I don’t need what’s inside. Now, I do keep a lot of things for sentimental value. But sometimes things just have to go.

6. Sometimes 20 minutes of grinding will pay off in the long run

A lot of RPGs feature “grinding.” For those unfamiliar with the term, grinding, or “leveling up” involves wandering an area to fight the same monsters over and over again, usually to get more experience points, gold, or items. Some gamers bemoan grinding and think it’s just superficial “busy work” designed to artificially lengthen the time it takes to complete a game. Maybe so. But grinding doesn’t have to be conducted in four-hour chunks. Sometimes even 20 minutes of grinding is enough to find more items or gain enough gold to buy something you need. And when you break it into small chunks, grinding doesn’t seem like a chore at all.

How this applies to my life: I’ve had a lot of part-time jobs over the years. Sometimes opportunities arise where I can work extra hours. I don’t like working extra hours, but taking advantage of those opportunities when they arose went a long way in strengthening my pocketbook. Putting in extra hours, then, is the real-life equivalent of grinding. The short-term sacrifice of an evening or weekend does pay off in the long run.

7. When you enter a new town, stock up on essentials

Final Fantasy VI town

Town from Final Fantasy VI, Nikeah. Image courtesy of the Final Fantasy Wiki.

Some items are frequently expended in RPGs, usually healing items and ammunition (arrows, bolts, rocks). Every RPG player knows that when you enter a new town that before you blow all your money on a shiny new sword, it’s wise to first stock up on those essential items. Whenever I reach new towns, I stock up on essential items because I never know when I’m going to be crawling an endless dungeon that has few item drops.

How this applies to my life: Buying in bulk is usually regarded as wise because it’s cost effective. Whether it’s groceries, toilet paper, or other essentials, buying larger quantities usually results in a cheaper per-unit cost. It’s hard to buy in bulk when you’re young,: you don’t have a lot of money to think in the long-term, or you don’t have space in a tiny apartment to store mountains of products. Whenever possible, though, I try to buy larger quantities of the stuff I need when I go to the grocery store or Walmart. I know I’ll use the stuff eventually.

8. Never spend all your money at once

As I’ve discussed throughout this post, items in RPGs aren’t always useful: you outgrown them, you find something better, or maybe they just don’t work with your character class. In this case, items are better sold off so you can buy something you really need.

I’ve learned in RPGs, though, that it’s not usually wise to spend all your money at once. What if your party gets severely attacked and you need more healing items than you anticipated? If you don’t have the money to buy them, sometimes you come up with creative ways of surviving until you have the necessary funds to purchase what you need. It can be done, but it isn’t always enjoyable.

How this applies to life: Easy: you never know when you’ll have unexpected expenses: medical, car-related, electronic. Saving money is real-life is crucial if you want to have something to rely on when those unanticipated expenses come up. Getting the items you want in real-life is contingent upon having the necessary funds to do so.

For those of you who are RPG fans, have inventory systems taught you something else? If you have anything to add to this list, leave a comment below!

Game on,

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