If you see something shining, glowing, sparkling, etc., it’s probably important.
This seems to be one of the oldest & surest rules in video games. If you happen to be wandering around & you see something that’s shining, pick it up. Even if it seems pointless, it’ll probably come in handy later. And chances are, the more obscure or specific the item, the more important it will be.
I’ve often wondered if this trait plays on humans’ natural attraction to shiny objects or if it caused it. I say this because I can’t really recall anyone saying, “Ooh, shiny!” before this trend started. I can’t really see the Pong generation every saying such a thing.
In some ways it makes sense why developers would make items shine. It makes them stand out. A lot of the games that employ this are horror games, which usually have dark environments. If developers didn’t do this, you’d have to wander through the game while constantly pressing A (or X, or whatever button your console happens to use).
I can’t say which game first had shiny items, but the oldest one I can think of is Resident Evil. With its pre-rendered background, the only way you could tell which items could be picked up was by the shine. It’s become something of a running gag among video game parodies now. To this day the series has some type of light to indicate where items are.
Another game along the same lines that has shiny items is the Fatal Frame series. Unlike Resident Evil, Fatal Frame’s items weren’t so much blinking lights but bright orbs of light that stood out in the dark environment. The items themselves weren’t orbs, but the orb sort of attached to the item. This included letters & scraps. Unlike Resident Evil, not all of Fatal Frame’s items were indicated in the manner. Some items were hidden inside chest & cabinets, & the only way you could find them was by searching through every object in a room. This led to lots of messages saying basically, “There’s nothing interesting here.”
This shiny trend hasn’t come close to dying out yet, & it probably never will. In both Dragon Age: Origins & Dragon Age 2, there’s a setting where you can have chests & containers with loot inside sparkle. I always enable this because it makes it a lot easier to tell when fallen enemies dropped items. Admittedly, it’s a little useless with chests, because I don’t remember coming across chests without anything in them. It does become more helpful in DA2 when you spend a lot of time going back & forth into areas. If you didn’t enable this, you’d continually be searching through the same crates.
So the next time you see something shining in the distance, go check it out. You never know what danger it might divert.