Most of us will spend a great deal of real money on video games, wherein we can spend a great deal of fictional money—only for much cooler things that are more likely to explode. Here are five video game currencies, a general appraisal of their respective economic outlooks, and an indexed exchange rate for aggressive interstellar and inter-dimensional travelers.
1. Coin (Mario)
The Mushroom Kingdom’s established currency is the gold coin. Despite permanent siege conditions brought upon by the Koopas, and the frequency with which the ruling monarch is kidnapped, the purchasing power of the coin has remained astonishingly consistent. One hundred (100) coins have purchased exactly one (1) resurrection since at least 1985. Still, it’s clear that the realm of Toadstool has endured much hardship since the start of the war. Consider the abundance of bricks throughout the kingdom. They are clearly of very poor quality and extremely fragile. (The punch of a fully grown adult can generally shatter most bricks into dust.) More importantly, the bricks suggest numerous abandoned construction projects. Infrastructure upgrades are essential to maintaining any modern state. Under the reign of HRH Peach, Princess of the Mushroom Kingdom, few if any such projects have been witnessed.
While Her Majesty has been preoccupied with the ongoing conflict with Lord Bowser, King of the Koopas, her dominion has begun to crumble around her. Such hazards as open pipes, gaping crevices filled with lava, and dilapidated, reportedly haunted mansions present ongoing challenges not only for residents of the Mushroom Kingdom, but also its Italian foot soldiers.
2. Rupee (Zelda)
Like the Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule is plagued with conflict, here in the form of a sorcerer desperate for an ancient relic owned by the ruling family. Unlike the Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule’s dominant currency is a gem, as opposed to a precious metal. The turbulence of life in the kingdom appears not to have unnerved its citizens. This is perhaps because of the rustic nature of Hyrule—the people are simply too far removed from the situation to worry. At any rate, swords and armor are a part of everyday life. A people comfortable with fighting octoroks while plowing the fields are hearty enough to handle attempted burglaries against its monarchy.
From the earliest recorded history (i.e., the forging of the Master Sword during the so-called Skyward Sword saga) through the telling of the Legend of Zelda, one crafted item has remained largely unchanged: the small wooden shield. Time has neither diminished its utility nor limited its availability in general goods stores. This gives us some idea of the state of Hyrule’s economy. The cost of one (1) wooden shield has increased more than 200% over the years, rising from 50 to an astonishing 160 rupees. Because of such items as magic ocarinas, time is a relative construct in Hyrule, and it is impossible to determine the actual age of the kingdom. As such, standard models fail us. But clearly the purchasing power of the rupee has diminished over time. Notably, a decade after the final slaying of Ganon—whereupon Link set off on his final adventure—there is no evidence of shops or rupees at all, suggesting ultimately a catastrophic economic collapse. Considering the stress put on Hyrule by external forces since its founding, this is hardly surprising. (The Mushroom Kingdom would do well to learn from this tragedy.)
If, in fact, the rupee collapses entirely, it would not be without precedent. In Hungary following World War II, for example, the Pengo to Forint exchange reached four hundred octillion to one (400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1).
3. Bottle Caps (Fallout)
Image credit: Etsy Shop Owner OXthell
Regardless of whether Hyrule suffered a devastating economic collapse, or the Mushroom Kingdom is ultimately conquered or destroyed by the Koopas, survivors can take some comfort that new currency and economies will rise. Post-war Europe is an obvious example (see: the Danzig gulden), but another notable case is the fallout-washed post-apocalyptic American wasteland. There, bottle caps became the successful, stable currency. Though crafts aren’t often negotiable currency but in the strictest of senses (i.e., bartering, but even then with little consistency—see: Craigslist), it’s not a wholly alien concept. In the early 20th century, one Congolese Katanga Cross would buy you six chickens. In West Africa in the 1880s, two Kissi pennies (six-inch, crafted iron rods) could buy a bunch of bananas; two thousand could score you a cow.
Under the circumstances of a thermonuclear apocalypse, bottle caps are as good a currency as any. They are plentiful but limited, geographically well-dispersed, culturally acceptable, difficult to counterfeit, and sufficiently durable. Just as gold is valuable because we’ve all decided to agree that gold is valuable, so too might a cap rush sweep the irradiated post-industrial-pre-industrial continent. When the first dweller of underground Vault 13 emerged in the mid-22nd century, 20 caps could buy one (1) Iguana-on-a-stick. A century later, travelers from Vault 101 would report that iguanas-on-a-stick cost a mere 5 caps. As no living iguana was ever actually seen in the wild during that era, there’s no evidence of a population increase. The price should more or less reflect the performance of the cap, which is pretty good considering the mutants, zombies, and slavers. And there is reason for optimism: President John Henry Eden has promised to devote his administration to rebuilding American infrastructure. And when John Henry Eden builds a country, he builds it to last.
4. UAC Credit (Doom)
Weapons manufacturer Union Aerospace Corporation initially showed great promise as an economic savior to war-torn 22nd-century Earth. A working, stable system of teleportation would have physically connected humanity in much the same way that the Internet virtually connected us. All barriers to trade and social interaction would have been annihilated. Misuse of teleportation technology would have been deterred by a kind of mutually assured destruction (for example, send your army to my capital and I’ll send a nuclear bomb to yours). Likewise, UAC’s tremendous work in establishing self-sustaining colonies on Mars and various moons in the solar system seemed at first to diversify the human supply chain. Then its scientists accidentally opened a gate to hell and destroyed humanity and bunnies alike.
The sheer scale of UAC investments and enterprise, as well as the company’s reliability in volatile times, made it well suited to issuing its own currency, called the UAC Credit. This is not as unusual as it might sound. As matters of convenience, scrips (as private currencies are called) were once used extensively by companies whose activities were located in remote areas. Lumber and mining camps, for instance, would sometimes pay employees with private currency that could be redeemed at company-owned commissaries and exchanges. Similarly, even today, U.S. service members will be familiar with Pogs—small, printed cardboard disks used in combat zones in place of coinage (which is too heavy to transport overseas in meaningful supply). Pogs can be spent or exchanged on any U.S. military installation in the world.
5. Gold (World of Warcraft)
Immediately after the Fall of Stormwind, a strict feudal system seems to grip Azeroth, with lords and ladies providing everything his or her vassals might need. Whether this is an aberration is unclear, but the defeat of such an ancient civilization would clearly have dire economic consequences. Azeroth would soon see historic growth, however, brought upon by untapped and readily accessible veins of gold. Villages were constructed adjacent to gold mines, each of which produced up to 30,000 nuggets even under the less-than-ideal conditions of total warfare. The next two decades would parallel the California Gold Rush of 1848, which infused the global economy with renewed vigor. Twenty-five years after the Azeroth rush and the rebuilding of Stormwind City (later called New Stormwind), the economy reached equilibrium, backed by gold and protected by occasionally organized guilds and factions. The paucity of gold for new adventurers would suggest that the supply was either seized by hostile invaders during the First and Second Wars, or surreptitiously hoarded by the ruling class. As evidenced by the recently remodeled Stormwind Keep, to ask the question is to answer it.
The Toadstool Exchange
The tremendous number of portals, teleportation devices, spells, atomic anomalies, and magic flutes means that truly aggressive adventurers might find themselves in strange lands. For this reason, it might be useful to build a rudimentary exchange, so that a Koopa Troopa knows what to expect, at least monetarily, on Mars. Ideally, we could build an index from the price of an identical item in every world, and thus determine the purchase power parity of the various currencies. One famous example of this is the Big Mac Index, calculated annually by The Economist. (The Big Mac is well suited to such purposes because of its practical nature, and because of the cross-section of industries that go into its creation, from dairy farming to intermodal freight transport.)
Realistically, there’s no precise overlap in goods available for purchase in both Hyrule and Azeroth. However, there is one item of general equivalence found almost everywhere: the simple explosive. Using the least-expensive non-magical explosive available in general goods stores across the board, we can estimate the relative value of currencies. (Added in this index, but not discussed at length, are the Gil, used on Gaia, and the Simoleon, the currency of SimNation.)
In Seaside Town in the Mushroom Kingdom, one (1) Fire Bomb can be purchased for 200 coins (200MK).
A shop on the eastern coast in Hyrule sells one (1) bomb for 20 rupees (20HR).
One (1) Rough Copper Bomb can be purchased in Azeroth for 2 silver, 40 copper (0.024AG).
The going rate for one (1) grenade in the Sector 7 Slums of Midgar in Gaia is 80 Gils (80GG).
UAC vending machines on Mars sell three (3) rockets for 10 credits (3.33UC).
Shops in Pleasantview will sell one (1) Sky Scorcher rocket for 90 Simoleons (90SS). (N.B.: While not a weapon per se, like everything else in Pleasantview it’s likely to destroy property and/or kill someone upon usage.)
One (1) fragmentation grenade from Fort Independence in the Capital Wasteland sells for 25 bottle caps (25CW).
In the United States today, one (1) hand grenade costs the U.S. Army $27.64 (27.64US).**
200MK = 20HR = .024AG = 80GG = 3.33UC = 90SS = 25CW = 27.64US
Reduced, valuation based on the cap:
8MK = .8HR = .000096AG = 3.2GG = .1332UC = 3.6SS = 1CW = 1.1056
**(N.B.: As such grenades are purchased in bulk and not available for general purchase, this is a poor indicator of value, which would be much greater on the street. It’s staggering, however, to see how closely the price compares with the bottle cap. We can extrapolate from this that once the radioactive dust settles following total thermonuclear war, the tens of thousands of grenades presently in the property of the U.S. Army will flood the market and drive down prices. If this is correct (and it’s very difficult to say, obviously), we can also deduce that the government is therefore getting a pretty fair value.)