We can’t stand thieves or liars. Stealing from someone and denying it is about as disrespectful and shameful as you can get.
So why does it feel so gloriously wicked in video games?
The recent Thief reboot reveal got us thinking about why playing as a thief is one of the most gratifying video game experiences.
It’s not really about amassing a virtual fortune. You can do that in Grand Theft Auto by beating innocent pedestrians to death and running off with their money, or in Fable by buying up an entire town and raising the shops’ prices.
Robbing banks in Red Dead Redemption was rather enjoyable, but Wild West bandits riding on horseback and holding up a bank or a train is a bit of a cliché.
It’s not about a power trip in terms of physical prowess, either. There’s only so many headshots you can make in Call of Duty or Counter Strike, and so many goals you can score in FIFA.
We’d argue not many games have been able to master the art of virtual thievery. Very few, actually.
The Thief and Elder Scroll games are the obvious game series that spring to mind, while Dishonored is a recent example worth mentioning, even if only a few levels really captured the essence of professional stealing. Check out the following guide: How to be a master thief in Skyrim.
Scoping out a medieval village in Skyrim at night, before breaking, entering and stealing valuables from citizens while they’re asleep is particularly good fun, as is raiding an entire mansion’s worth of valuables in a Thief game – without even being noticed. Stealing an Elder Scroll in Oblivion is another highlight.
Even stealing a shield from a shop in the original Game Boy Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening game, before running around the shopkeeper three times and exiting the store to keep it, was a thrill. However, your name would be permanently altered to Thief for the rest of the game, and going back into the shop would result in instant death from a somewhat maniacal shopkeeper.
It’s the feeling you get from taking what’s not yours, whether it’s a gem worth a lot of in-game money, a powerful weapon or other rare artefact (or even a note/treasure map, which can be even more exciting to discover and pilfer). And it’s that feeling – without being seen by an enemy AI or non-player character – that makes playing the thief so rewarding and potent. Being devious and tricking the computer into not even knowing you’re a thief is another reason why we love to steal a virtual sword or three.
It’s the sense of empowerment that being a thief gives you in a video game; it’s a power fantasy not unlike any other.
Walking around Skyrim, stealing items from villagers behind their backs, then talking to them as if nothing has happened, is both cheeky and humorous. If you haven’t tried playing the thief in a game before, we implore you to give it a try, if not just for the novelty aspect.
The latest Thief game – due for PS4, PC and likely the next generation Xbox – could be the next big game that puts ‘stealing games’ back into the spotlight. Dishonored came close last year, but as mentioned, it was more a stealth/action game than a thief game.
It may have a new-look and Garrett has a different voice, but early previews suggest Thief (the fourth in the series) will be a fun game. Each time you steal an item, Garrett holds it up and inspects it, before putting it into his pack, rather than the usual highlighting of an item, clicking the steal button then it magically disappearing into the inventory. You can also shoot an arrow into a bottle to smash it and distract nearby guards.
Don’t get us wrong. The bow and arrow is an essential item for the thief in the world of video games – it’s ideal for getting out of a tricky situation or for assassinating an enemy if you’re more of a violent thieving character, but we’d rather have the option to steal than kill in a video game.
Sod stealth games. Give us more stealing games.
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
A keen League of Legends and World of Warcraft player, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He works as full-time content director for the British Esports Association and runs ENUK in his spare time.