Why I Love: gathering herbs in games

At the risk of sounding like a dangerous wizard, I'd like to take you back in time. 

Many years ago, before handhelds, the only games you could take on holiday were made of paper. You probably already know every travel trailer, caravan, and winnebago comes pre-loaded with a selection of dogshit board games, musty from years of disuse, but I ignored these. I chose something different, and dangerous. I chose to choose my own adventure.

I could fill a bag with Fighting Fantasy books - no, Lone Wolf wasn't better - and swap wet seaside towns for frosted caverns, derelict space hulks, and dungeons full of deadly traps. It filled in the grey moments between trips to the gaming arcades, but it was also a gateway drug. By playing these books - or, more accurately, pretending to play them - I discovered Maelstrom by Alexander Scott. It's an RPG book I never engaged with properly, but it fascinated me. Unlike the rigid, linear Fighting Fantasy series, you could go anywhere and do anything. The things I really loved, though - and the things I still love in games today - were the herbs.

You heard: herbs. Maelstrom featured a delicately illustrated guide with page after page of herbs and their medicinal uses. That magical glossary was a window into something tangible and enticing. A hero might be cursed by a cocktrice or poisoned by a basilisk, but a trained herbalist could fix them rubbing mugwort, lemon balm, or wolfsbane on their damaged bits. It made a distant fantasy world suddenly feel practical. Real enough to reach out and touch - like supermarket basil, but cheaper, and for druids.

It was a fascination that laid dormant for years, until I discovered my first Elder Scrolls game. Morrowind was like playing Fighting Fantasy or Maelstrom but with a unwearied, dutiful GM making everything run smoothly behind the scenes. I'd never played a video game like it. The freedom was intimidating. But instead of rushing into the wild to fight daedra (or, more honestly, cliff racers), I just gathered herbs. Lots and lots of herbs. All the goddamn herbs.

I couldn't go 50 meters without stopping to stuff my pockets with comberry, kresh fiber, or wickwheat. I was dangerously addicted to seeking out rare plants, and the satisfying 'shmoop' of picking them. I never did anything with them - I just liked seeing my backpack full of buds, seeds and pompons. The mania followed me. Every time I start a new RPG, I tell myself I'll try something new - 'perhaps blacksmithing would be nice!', I lie - then I find myself knee-deep in vegetation: green-fingered, red-faced, utterly ashamed. I'm shrubsessed. 

World of Warcraft? Herbalist. Lord of the Rings Online? Herbalist. Skyrim? Herbalist. The Witcher 3? Obviously, inescapably, herbalist. If Hitman let me collect bladderwrack, I'd do that instead of assassinating war criminals. I'm the only man alive who's looked at Uncharted and thought it needed more elderflower. Perhaps it's an infatuation that won't pass until I actually have my own garden. Or perhaps I just need a herbal remedy. I'll check Maelstrom and get back to you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt is GamesRadar's senior commissioning editor. His ideal game would be a turn-based beat 'em up set in Lordran, starring Professor Layton and Nico from Broken Sword. There would also be catapults and romance. Follow me @MGElliott for Darkstalkers gifs and pictures of breakfast food.

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