The crate is extremely common in video games, even if you rarely see them in real life.
They are a key gameplay element, allowing players to hide from patrolling Mooks or shelter from enemy fire. Some games have entire warehouse levels filled with these crates.
Crates can often be broken open to reveal a Power-Up or treasure, though usually only one per crate and much smaller than the crate itself. (It's a mystery why even small objects get a whole crate and surprising that most of the items manage to stay at the center of the crate. It is never explained why the item is always in perfect condition no matter how fragile it is and how violently you smashed open the crate.) Finding money and items in a nearby crate can help defuse the Money Spider problem: players wonder why the giant spider was carrying 31 gold pieces, lacking such amenities as pockets, but are often happy to loot the crate in its lair.
Crates are sometimes filled with explosive, blowing up in the face of players conditioned to bash everything breakable with a crowbar. Such crates can be quite helpful, however, if shot while an enemy is standing next to them.
Crates are often arrayed to form a Container Maze, or feature in Block Puzzles, where they must be slid or carried into place, to hold switches down or to form a staircase to otherwise inaccessible areas.
Crates are easy to render in 3D: six flat sides that can take a flat texture without causing too much comment (their simplicity also makes them one of the first objects 3D modellers-in-training learn to make, if not the first). This adds to their popularity with game developers. They are generally popular with players, too, who are willing to overlook such things as big crates behind small doors and a general absence of pallets and forklifts.
In short, crates satisfy three of our basic monkey drives: climbing, finding things to eat, and breaking things. They are so widely used that humor website Old Man Murray coined the term "Start-to-Crate", referring to the length of time between starting a game and encountering the first crate or barrel - most games don't rate especially high. Tropes Are Tools: crates have too many gameplay uses to ever die.
See also Die, Chair! Die!, Exploding Barrels, Inexplicable Treasure Chests, or Rewarding Vandalism.
Link comes across randomly located crates in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which he can destroy with his sword (or, if you're a wolf, your claws) to reveal hearts and Rupees. These crates are found all over the place; there are even crates, for no discernible in-game reason, on small islands in the middle of Lake Hylia.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker notably contains crates (with Triforce logos) in the Tower of the Gods dungeon. It makes you wonder if the Hyrulean gods are really the executives of a shipping company.
Beyond Good & Evil has crates employed in various uses: broken to get money, pushed into mines to destroy them, used to block lasers, etc.
Shadow Complex uses these from time to time. Most contain health, but a few do not, and a select few also cannot be aimed at without large amounts of luck. Excluding the prologue mission, the StC is pretty high, though.
Skip the fancy book opening animation and moody cutscenes at the start of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and you'll be whipping boxes within two minutes of game start. For shame, Mercury Steam!
Howard: Y'know, for something designed to hold stuff, these crates sure break apart easily. Kreese: Actually, they're designed like that, so that weaker contestants feel good about themselves that they can break stuff.
In the Tomb Raider games crates get pushed, used as weights, used as platforms to climb on, and broken open for fun and profit. In Tomb Raider Legend you can even launch a crate into the air!
In Batman: Return of the Joker for the NES, you see your first crate as soon as you enter the first level. Crates in that game contain powerups.
In Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Episode Five: Eight-Bit Is Enough'', Marzipan goes totally Lady Crate-Ape and starts throwing crates around. In the next screen over, there's a whole pile of crates, one of which you have to smash to get at a plot-critical item. Later, if you smash it again, there's that same plot-critical item you already have. Strong Bad rejects it on the basis that he has the original, and doesn't need any lousy respawned copy version.
Crates in the Super Smash Bros. series show up in order to be broken to get the items inside (or to throw at the other players). One must be careful though as some of them explode. Also in Brawl the crates and barrels are themed to the level and some come with wheels. Brawl also has a specific explosion crate that can be triggered early by fire attacks. Fire-based characters might want to keep their distance.
The Half-Life series features several crates, mostly empty, although some have items. As of Half-Life 2, the ones containing stuff have a distinct appearance (and are much smaller), and both kinds (among other items) can also be thrown at enemies with the Gravity Gun, not to mention be used as platforms to float on. Thanks, Source engine!
Half-Life's copious amounts of crates make sense, considering the game's signature weapon is a crowbar. Which you use to bludgeon the crates open, Gordon being a busy man. Interestingly, Half-Life 2 also features a lot of pallets, but the crates are never actually placed on the pallets - suggesting the designers realize crates and pallets have something to do with each other, but aren't familiar with their exact relationship.
Ridiculously parodied in Too Many Crates!, wherein a warehouse has become "dangerously infested" with crates... but only one man in this city owns a crowbar.
About two-fifths of Episode 2 Map 2 of Doom is a maze made of crates. And if you abuse the Doom engine, you can go Crate-Jesus and run along the tops of them as if they were side by side. The multiplayer sourceport Skulltag has a skin which is a crate.
System Shock 2 has high-tech looking crates. Fairly reasonable, since supplies have to be stored somewhere on a starship. In an arguably pleasant turn of events, however, the region of the game with the highest crate-density is one of the tensest, most terrifying, and generally survival-horror oriented in the game. (Especially if you didn't already activate the bio-reconstructor on the engineering bridge.)
Quake has a Time To Crate of zero since every episode begins next to a pile of crates. There's also a Game Mod for Quake that replaces all the player models with crates.
Deus Ex features both supply crates and climbable crates, with some of the latter becoming useful only later in the game, depending upon how you choose your nano-augmentations. Go for extra arm strength, and you can move and position crates that would otherwise be too heavy to lift. Augment your legs, and you can leap onto crates that would otherwise be too high to climb.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution features crates and boxes of various sizes throughout the game, though they're all empty. They can be very useful as makeshift walkways, staircases, and for blocking the view of security cameras and guards while hacking. If you upgrade your arm prosthesis, you can even toss heavy ones to take out enemies.
Lampshaded in SiN Episodes with signs in industrial areas reading: "When in doubt, use crates." "An overuse of crates can lead to anger." and "Pipes: The new crate."
Escape from Butcher Bay has very noticeable crates. The STC time is very short, but the crates themselves are not real. The first level, the obligatory training level, is a dream and, of course, so are the crates. Since the game is fictional, the crates are doubly not real. Oooh, now my head is spinning.
Parodied in Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, in which Sam's starship crash-lands after being hit by a crate transport ship. Later on, the player can find the crashed crate-bus as an Easter Egg in the first level, which will cause Sam to announce how much he hates crates. Aside from using crates as a joke, the games are suprisingly barren of them otherwise, and Old Man Murray, the website that coined the term Start to Crate, was one of Croteam's few vocal supporters during the game's development. Early in First Encounter, there is a secret area containing a massive 'pyramid' made of crates.
Serious Sam II plays the trope more straight with wooden and metal crates found in lots of places and majority of them containing an item or a monster.
The Metroid Prime series has crates in areas occupied by space pirates or the galactic federation. They're not wood though but metal. And they contain ammo and health. Other areas have non-crate storage items with these and a few offer justification when scanned as to why they don't always have items inside. There are also forms of "living crates", which are plants, cocoons, or even balls of premature nightmare monsters, which act exactly the same as crates except for the fact that they're not cubes.
In Team Fortress 2, Supply Crates that contain a random weapon or item drop sometimes for players randomly. You need a key to open these crates, and frustratingly enough the keys can only be bought from the Mann Co. Store for $2.49 a pop (Frustrating because unlike any of the items that are potentially inside the crates, the keys cannot be acquired from the random drop system or crafted). Of course in the normal game itself, there are also plenty of crates and boxes visible in the official maps, most of which are just a part of the scenery.
Both the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors series hide money, powerups, and weapons in crates. Which are often just standing in the middle of an open field or mountain path for no apparent reason.
Diablo 2 is unique in the gaming world for having precisely one real interactive crate in its entire length - in the Countess' Tower Cellar, in the left-hand treasure trove, at the base of the tower, lies a single, lonely, breakable treasure crate. There are plenty of other crate-type objects in the game, including several dozen that are simple environment objects, but only one real crate. Crates will also rarely spawn in the Barracks.
Most villain lair types in City of Heroes come liberally furnished with crates, the style of which inevitably matches the flavor of the lair (high-tech, warehouse, neo-Fascist base...). The default MacGuffin when on a "find X" mission is a glowing crate most of the time, at least at the lower levels. Unlike their counterparts in many other games, though, COH crates are invulnerable to all damage and superglued to the floor. City of Heroes used to give several Cosmetic Awards depending on the number of times a character clicked on or destroyed a glowing crate (or barrel, or computer, etc) in its Mission Architect. As of issue 15, this was downgraded to giving one badge per type of action (clicking/destroying).
Lampshaded in Kingdom of Loathing, with a reference to the Start-to-Crate review system. One of the first areas encountered by a new player, Noob Cave, is a zone full of "combats" with crates for you to smash (while they do count as combats, the crates can't touch you, since they're, well, crates):
You're a little nervous about encountering a crate this early in the game.
Crates are a staple of the browser based game The Nethernet. They're the main tool of one of the six player classes, with various upgrades available.
In Second Life the default primitive is a cube with a wood texture on it—not precisely a crate, but close enough. Also, in the all-water sim ANWR (Take That!) there is an oil rig that produces the wood cubes.
All of the games in the Ratchet & Clank series had dozens of crates that were usually there to be broken for bolts. The game also featured red exploding crates, that counted down when Ratchet so much as touched them, and metal crates, which could only be broken by explosives. The third game introduced the multiplier crate, which for a short while doubled the amount of bolts Ratchet got from other crates, enemies, and the environment in general, and the Inferno crate, which turned Ratchet into an unstoppable dual-wrench-wielding engine of destruction.
There's also the ammo crate, and in Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time, the camo crate, which was almost invisible, and had more bolts than average crates. It should be noted that crates went through a huge graphical update during the transfer to HD, especially the rubble they leave around, so this is hardly due to laziness on the part of the graphic developers. This trope is given a huge lampshading in Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, when the main characters come across a crate factory in their travels. As the Mission Control says, "They have to come from somewhere!"
Crash Bandicoot (1996) not only saw levels filled with crates, but destroying all of them in all levels are required to reach the full 100% Completion. In fact, crashing through crates is one of the series' defining gameplay elements, as well as the origin of the protagonist's name.
Super Mario Bros. 3 has crates stored on some of the airships, many times larger than Mario. They can be jumped on, and run in front of.
Super Mario Sunshine has a fair few crates. They can be broken with a ground pound. Two of the game's 120 Shines require the player to break an arrangement of crates within a time limit (and both Shines are acquired through the exact same minigame, but in the second play there are more and have a more difficult arrangement as well).
Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel both have crates in several levels, which can be broken up with spin attacks or fireballs (via Fire Mario). In the first game, there are two minigames in which Mario has to detonate them with bombs. In the second, he uses fireballs instead.
From the 8-bit, 2-D era, the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers NES game had crates as a primary means of defeating enemies (either by throwing them, or hiding inside and waiting for an enemy to trip over it). They came in two varieties— disposable wooden crates and stackable metal ones. All small enough for a chipmunk to lift.
A fair few Sonic the Hedgehog games from Sonic Adventure 2 through to Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) have crates. In Sonic Adventure 2 you can get power ups to be able to break metal crates, and in Sonic Heroes only the power formation can break the metal crates. Sonic The Hedgehog (2006) is the worst offender though as they are everywhere, usually used for Silver's physics puzzles. The crates are even 200 years in the future, in Crisis City and Flame Core, both ravaged by Iblis's flames. Made even funnier when objects such as robots and ancient stone towers can be taken down with a simple wooden crate. Even Sonic Adventure had some. There were a few at the very beginning of Red Mountain, though they weren't really used for anything other than somewhere to put a couple of robot monkeys.
The Simpsons Game as part of its mission to lampshade every gaming cliche going, supplies you with plentiful crates of various types and designs to destroy, while giving you cliche points for using them.
Trine goes so far as to have a spell to summon crates. They don't contain anything, but they're useful to step on, and if you're feeling violent you can drop them on the baddies' heads.
Hammerin' Harry features many crates that you can smash with your hammer or throw against enemies to kill them. One level, the docks, is partially set inside a warehouse full of them and with a couple of forklifts. There are also enemies disguised as crates.
Scribblenauts has a merit called "Old School." The requirement to get it is to make an object commonly used in classic video games. Its icon is a crate.
The test chambers of Portal usually had dispensers to give you crates as you needed them for Block Puzzles, though the game's love of Expospeak Gags meant that these weren't just crates but "Aperture Science Weighted Storage Cubes". This particular Valve hero didn't get a crowbar, so we don't know what what was in them - except that one of them was probably full of love for you.
The sequel's cooperative play ups the ante with the "Aperture Science Edgeless Safety Cube", which the untrained observer might mistake for a sphere.
Ballance involves crates in its puzzles often. For one, your ball cannot push crates while it is in the Paper form. Also, there's the puzzle where you have to push a crate from under a raised block so that it drops, but keep your ball from going all the way under the block lest you get stuck on the other side.
Limbo has quite a few crates. Mostly for climbing on.
Sokoban's gameplay is entirely based on crates. The title, after all, is "warehouse keeper" in Japanese.
Crates are a mainstay in Command & Conquer, although they aren't very common. When moving a unit over it, the owner receives money or bonus units, or other effects such as improving the units speed, defense or level (after Tiberian Sun). However, there is also a chance for them to explode.
The crates got a sci-fi redesign in Tiberian Sun and are also seen in Command and Conquer 3; they also made it possible to select a crate and tell what it would give you. However, Red Alert 3 not only reverted the design to a more classic look, it also made it easy to tell what type of crate it was at a simple glance, and made it so you had to specifically order a unit to grab a crate.
Command & Conquer: Generals does not have these "powerup" crates, but the main resource of the game were crates. The game never details what's in those crates, the content directly translates into money. It also had crates that had U.N. stamped on them that represented foreign aid supplies that gave you a nice cash boost. One of the funner GLA missions had you attacking towns being supplied by U.N. convoys to reach a certain amount of money; you're specifically told to kill the people and destroy their houses to get the supplies hidden there.
Stacking and smashing crates is one of the main gameplay elements in Team Buddies.
Dawn Of War 2 has crates that if shot at with highly penetrating and explosive bolts by the heroes reveal supplies of bombs, grenades, mines and other munition.
Dwarf Fortress. You get barrels and bags with items you buy in the expedition planner, or just get barrels for the sake of getting barrels, and part of the game's recursiveInventory Management Puzzle involves the construction of barrels, bins, and bags to organize the endless clutter you will produce. Crates and bins are simply very useful, but barrels are essential for a fortress. Any player who does not take getting barrels seriously is in for a world of Fun. Without enough barrels, no excess food will be stockpiled, and no alcohol can be brewed. A lack of either can literally mean the death of your fortress. The player can save on the wood that would be needed to make barrels by making stone pots (which can also contain food and booze) instead. After all, if you're in a biome with few trees, you'll need the wood to make beds, as your dwarves apparently can't make beds from anything else.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind doesn't give you time to orient yourself before you see your first crate; you wake up in a ship's cargo hold. The game also But Thou Musts you into interacting with a barrel just a few seconds later.
The Market District of Oblivion's Imperial City is packed with crates.
Skyrim is full of them too. Every building seems to have a basement filled to the brim with crates and barrels full of vegetables. Inverted during the Thieves' Guild quest, when you get to kill someone by placing poisoned fruit in a barrel.
The Elder Scrolls games actually avert the standard format of this trope in several ways: crates are never breakable or mobile, can be used for storing realistic amounts of stuff, and you can put things into them as well as take them out. They're also not usually very useful for platforming. Despite this for some reason they're still visually presented as the classic sealed packing crate (how you open and reseal them is a mystery for the ages), perhaps so players recognise them on sight.
Subverted and lampshaded in Fable II: smashable crates and barrels are everywhere, but are invariably empty. (About halfway through the game you do start seeing the occasional Exploding Barrel of gunpowder, but they're rare.) One of the loading screen's earliest helpful hints is (approximately):
Smashing crates and barrels is good fun, but you don't seriously think people would keep anything valuable inside, do you?
Common in Tales games. Crates are used to make paths, press buttons, destroy obstacles, etc. Typical video game stuff. There are also mini-game warehouses that have you re-arrange crates.
The various Kingdom Hearts games contain crates, of the jump-upon and break-for-lootz varieties. The level that gives the strongest Fridge Logic is Monstro, set inside the giant whale himself. Monstro has intact crates strewn through all of his major organs. Having intact ones in his stomach is even a stretch.
Kingdom Hearts Coded and Re: Coded are particular examples in that pretty much everything breakable is a crate. Some bosses even require crate breakage to be beaten.
Oddly, the wooden crates blocking paths in Kingdom Hearts 3D's version of Traverse Town can't be broken by attacking them in a conventional fashion, instead having to launch something at them with a reality shift.
There are also a lot of wooden barrels in Olympus Coliseum. Breaking them is part of a timed obstacle course, and you also have to throw them at Hercules when you're fighting him.
A typical Might and Magic game is loaded with crates. Most of them are usually booby-trapped, as well.
In Neverwinter Nights you can freely hack open any crate, rendering lockpicking mostly useless. In the second game though you can break the items inside.
Vagrant Story, so much. There are half a dozen different types used in the Block Puzzles, ranging from standard wooden crates to magnetic cubes which attract or repel each other.
The Mass Effect series is part RPG and part cover-based shooter, so it's full of both lootable crates and inexplicably bulletproof chest-high crates, with a few "fragile" (i.e., breakable; one sidequest in Mass Effect 2 has some of the quest items you have to obtain in crates you have to break) and explosive ones thrown in to mix things up.
Dragon Age: Origins has crates everywhere (as well as barrels). Usually they're just there as scenery (in storehouses, warehouses, caravans, etc.) but sometimes they're lootable. They may serve as cover against missiles, but they aren't climbable or movable.
Several Pokémon XD areas have them as roadblocks and you need to push them around to navigate. One level has you push them onto symbols to open a door.
You frequently dig up crates while diving for treasure in the second Endless Ocean game. The appraiser lady tells you what's inside.
The standardized crates from Startopia. All the same size and shape, but their texture maps indicate their contents. Their complete interchangeability is important when it comes to animation and game mechanics, since it's about as big as a Scuzzer droid could hope to carry, and fills one slot in the standard cargo hold.
Naval Ops - Crates containing ship parts, cash, or ammunition may float up from sunken enemy ships. Other drops are also generally crate-like in appearance.
Crates turn up in a few missions in Armored Core 3 (and maybe other titles in the series). They generally contain nothing the player can use, but your employers may pay a bounty for destruction.
Crates in MySims Agents come in two varieties: the kind that you open (for clothes, paints, objects, and so on), and the kind that are useful for climbing, especially when you get a piece of equipment that allows you to move them around in certain places. The former could be seen really early if you go behind the restaurant you start in; in fact, opening one of them is necessary to solving the very first case.
Dead Space: Lying around the Ishimura are glowing metal boxes filled with goodies great for healing or blasting necromorph ass. Unfortunately, the Extraction version doesn't give the player enough time to use his levitating weapons to break all the boxes.
The first Destroy All Humans! video game had crates appear quite late into the game, and if you have the opportunity to read the mind of a dockworker, one might be thinking, "I hate my job! Climb crates, push crates, jump on crates, destroy crates...that's not fun!"
Crates are parachuted into the battleground in the Worms games, presumably by the same air force responsible for the air strikes, napalm strikes, mail strikes and concrete donkeys. They can give weapons, tools or health, and explode if you shoot them. Also, depending on the game, if there's an animal inside a weapon crate, destroying it might also release a sheep, which will also explode if it touches solid ground.
Odium has a lot of small crates strewn around the city, which usually inexplicably contain military-grade weaponry. Big, unopenable crates are also sometimes found on battlefields and can be used as cover; they can also be moved around, one square at a time, but it's a waste of turns usually.
Russian Aid in Shattered Union. Either boost units, is a trap, or gives player a random Russian unit.
Jagged Alliance 2 has a few scattered around, but subverts the trope by requiring the player to spend action points forcing them open rather than shooting or smashing them apart. A crowbar helps, but unlike Gordon Freeman you have to use it for its intended purpose.
These have been present in the Disgaea series starting from the third game. They're most frequently used to make steps to get over walls with, but they can also be attacked and destroyed for the purpose of filling the bonus gauge. The Thief class is able to generate them at will to be used for either purpose.
In The Godfather: The Game you have both destructible and indestructible crates lying around, as well as explosive-filled ones. Sometimes the destructible ones may contain cash.
Non-video game examples:
The Amateur by Robert Littell. The protagonist's best friend in the CIA is a "crateologist", whose job it is to study photographs of crates and work out what's in them. At one point he deduces that a well-guarded stash of crates contain a shipment of black-market condoms, and is unamused when the protagonist suggests the Soviets have become Genre Savvy and are shipping classified material in condom crates.
Death Lands. The group find some sealed crates in a secret government stockpile and J.D. starts going into Gun Porn detail over what exotic weapons might be in them. Everyone (except J.D.) bursts out laughing when the crates turn out to be full of thousands of plastic zippers.
The Onion has an article about the fictional video game Crate Stacker, which is designed to have no impact whatsoever on kids' behavior. Gameplay is entirely limited to stacking crates in an otherwise featureless room.
As discussed under the Serious Sam example, Old Man Murray considered crates to be lazy game design, and created "Start to Crate" as an unbiased review method. The longer one went before seeing the game's first crate meant the more ideas the designers actually had.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars uses distinctive crates as set dressing in many episodes. They have a circular indentation in each side — unless the rendering team forgot to flip the (CPU-intensive) "round" switch, in which case they're hexagonal indentations.
"Crate Expectations" was the title of an episode of The Completely Mental Misadventures Of Ed Grimley (Hanna-Barbera, 1988). Ed accidentally gets crated up while searching for a birthday present for Miss Malone.