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Use Item

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"Lutz only said 'use' the Neisword to return to Dezoris. He didn't actually give us any instructions on how. We were trying all sorts of silly things with it."

Obviously, potions are something you drink, food is something you eat, lanterns are lit, ointments rubbed, and so on. But what verb do you associate with, say, a swiss army knife?note 

Fortunately, for the purposes of a videogame, all of these are verbs are generally accessed through a single command: By selecting the item in question and hitting "Use". Exactly what happens next? Something useful! Sure, that NPC may have instructed you only to "use" a sword, or a crystal, or a medal when you get to the appropriate spot, but they didn't exactly tell you how, did they? Because the player doesn't need to know; all they need to do is select it in the Items menu and their characters will do the rest.

This also applies to any game where items have a use that may be obvious, but not how you'd use them in a real-world situation. How exactly does Gordon Freeman in Half-Life use those medkits? Or the medical stations, for that matter?

Distinct from Plot Coupons which automatically activate when you take them to a certain location, in that the player is taking an active role, even though it isn't clear what this is.

In console games, the mysterious usage is often triggered with the Context-Sensitive Button, which the guide will vaguely label as "Use Item" or "Interact".

Common in Interactive Fiction, except for anything written by Infocom or Legend, which will snarkily reject "use sword" just as they reject "look sword" (which yields a query whether you want to look at, through, or inside it). On the other hand, they do accept convoluted sentences like "drink all bottles except the blue then put it in the large bag"...


  • In Phantasy Star II, Rolf is instructed to "use the Nei Sword" to teleport to the spaceship Noah.
  • In Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole, you unlock a dungeon door with an idol. How? It's not described. This is rubbed in a bit because some friends of yours saw the bad guys using their own statue to get in: they say "They used something".
  • The original Quake was very controversial for omitting an action button in favor of having you activate everything by shooting it, stepping on it, or some other oblique method.
  • Kingdom of Loathing has many items that are 'use'd. This even includes several items whose use is to be combined with each other, such as clingwrap or duct tape. Other 'uses' are to read things, assemble or disassemble charm bracelets, open cases, and cash cheques. And that's not even getting into items whose 'use' command winds up meaning things like "hold out in the open, attracting a random antique coin enthusiast", "dump contents of box into well and disassemble box for its parts", "pay currency to mercenary so it will attack", or the infamous "make a hole with a gun perpendicular to the name of this town in your opponent with this item".
    • There are also items which despite having the same 'use' link even your character can't figure out how to use. Usually this means the implementation for the item hasn't yet been written, or that your character is missing something else, but there's one item nobody's ever figured out how to use that's been around for at least four years.
  • In the Crusader games, Medkits and Energy Cubes. Exactly how does the Silencer get a Medkit out, open it up, and apply it to his skin without even dropping his weapon, let alone remove any armor? How does he use an Energy Cube to recharge his battery when the battery is built into his chestplate? And how does he do it all in a fraction of a second?
  • Roguelikes tend to avert this trope, with complex control schemes that use almost every key on the keyboard.
    • Angband has different commands for quaffing a potion or zapping a rod.
    • NetHack focuses heavily on multiple uses for items. You have to specify whether you want to eat/drink/wear/pour/rub the item. You get different results from lighting a lamp, rubbing it, and pouring oil in it. You can wipe your hands and face with a towel, or wear it to blindfold yourself. You can even get into situations where it makes perfect sense to ''eat'' a magic ring (It's cursed (and can't be removed) and you have either 1:polymorphed into a form that can eat the ring, or b, you have stone to flesh cast on the ring).
    • Though NetHack still does have an "apply" command, for "miscellaneous" but usually obvious things (such as using keys to lock/unlock things, lighting/extinguishing lamps, playing instruments, and, oddly, breaking wands) as well as an "invoke" command that uses an artifact's special power, whatever that may be.
  • Mother:
  • Averted in EarthBound Beginnings, where items have both a Use and an Eat command. There is a difference - for example, eating a loaf of bread obviously eats it, but using it will start dropping bread crumbs behind you. Using the bread crumbs in your inventory will warp you right back.
    • Lampshaded in EarthBound (Mother 2) when attempting to Use the Insignificant Item. The resulting message neither elaborates on the nature of the item nor explains how it is used. (However it's used, the item is not consumed in the process— fortunately, since it can be traded for an item that actually accomplishes something).
  • In Zombie Smashers X 2 (a beat-em-up like River City Ransom), your character is depicted as eating everything that he buys in shops. Including cigarettes.
    • Surgeon General's Warning: You shouldn't eat cigarettes!
    • Probably intentional: in River City Ransom your character would happily eat the food he purchased without bothering to separate it from the plate/bowl first.
  • Deus Ex raises disturbing questions about where exactly Denton puts bioenergy cells and upgrade canisters.
    • He's got the standard three-pin adaptor.
      • To quote the game: Augmented agents have been equipped with an interface that allows them to transparently absorb energy from bioelectric cells.- Jaime Reyes, UNATCO OPS FILE NOTE JR289-VIOLET. In other words, JC rubs his face into them.
    • The computer version requires a med-bot to use canisters, implying surgery. What that means for the console versions, well...
  • Many Dungeons & Dragons-derived RPGs have equipment that also functions something like magic wands, such as a magical shield that you can also "use" to cast a blessing once a day.
    • This was extremely common in the Magic Item Compendium, which aimed to make items more diverse and more useful than they had previously been.
    • Generally, magic items with "use" functions are said to be activated by a command word.
  • In the first few games of The Elder Scrolls series (through Morrowind), Enchanted items can work like this. When creating the item, you can choose to have the spell effect activate in one of three ways: "When Used", "On Strike" (weapons only), and "Constant Effect" (which requires a massively powerful soul gem). By selecting "When Used", you can ready the item as a spell and activate it's enchantment in this fashion. Oblivion and all subsequent games drop this mechanic for enchanted items. In them, weapons can only be enchanted to activate the effect on strike, while items like clothing, armor, and jewelry can only be enchanted as constant effects activated by equipping them.
  • The Game Gear game Defenders Of Oasis brings us a number of these. Upgrade items for the Genie include Plating, Gilding, and Crystal, all of which are somehow used on his lamp, without tools. Then, there's the magical stones "F. Stone" and "H. Stone", which, despite you never being told this, are used thusly: You have to equip a character with a hilt as a weapon, then use one of these items on them. This somehow creates a weapon by adding the stone to the hilt, creating a blade. Best guess is, the Genie did it.
  • Downplayed in Left 4 Dead; when you use a medkit, the camera switches to third person to show your character actually bandaging themselves up.
  • More so in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Medkits consist of bandages, splints and sutures, and the PC receives distinct slashes and fractures when hit. Thus every injury must be treated with an appropriate remedy.
  • Pok√©mon has the TMs, or Technical Machines, used once to give a Pokemon a move. Just what the hell these things even looked like was complete mystery. When items finally got depictions in the third generation, it was decided that they look like CDs... which still didn't explain how they were used. Fire Red and Leaf Green had an extremely generic "use item" animation for all items; in the case of TMs it hilariously looked like it worked by stapling the CD to the Pokemon's head.
  • Lampshaded in the top-down shooter Crimsonland. Normal powerups are activated by being run over. A "perk" obtained by killing enough of the swarming monsters gives you a bandage to restore some health. How do you stop to bandage yourself when there are a thousand aliens and zombies tearing for your throat? From the perk description: Here, eat this bandage.
  • Averted and lampshaded by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1984) text game. You can "use" many items that should have more specific verbs, but you can also use many other actions, often with humorous results.
  • The Christian Humber Reloaded autopsy jokes about this:
    "What do you mean you "used your will power?" Did you seriously just make your fucking Will save (or rather initially have your Will defense hit, and then finally rolled a 10 or higher on your save) and wash your hands of the Gods of Chaos? How did you use your willpower? And why didn't you use it earlier? Text games, motherfucking text games, won't even let you just type USE (X), because USE is such a vague and all-purpose verb. It ranks up there with "feeling your thing rise up" in terms of vagueness. Good Lord. He USE'd his Willpower, and that was it."
  • Final Fantasy
    • Final Fantasy had some weapons that would cast spells if you "USE"d it in battle. These include wands and swords. One imagines you just have to wave it around vaguely and the bad guys would get zapped by lightning.
    • The original also averted one aspect - "USE" (for items) and "DRINK" (for potions) were different actions. And no, USEing a potion did not have any effect. Presumably, the character pulls a bottle out of his pocket and waves it in the general direction of his enemies.
    • Final Fantasy X has this twice-over; the "Item" command, which every character possesses, allows use of normal items (e.g. Potions, Phoenix Down), while a Special ability called "Use" (which Rikku starts with) allows use of special items (e.g. Fire Gems, Light Curtains - basically, items that contain spells, or different types of Grenade). Oddly, a special type of potion - Al Bhed Potion to be precise - falls under "Use" instead of "Item", despite functioning identically to every other type of potion in-game.
  • Runescape the MMORPG averts this trope while still having a USE option for all items. The USE is actually "USE X with Y".
  • Lampshaded in Escape from Monkey Island: Half the time, trying to USE a wooden, prosthetic hand with nothing will make Guybrush passive-aggressively wave the arm around in the air and say "I'm using the hand!"
  • In Illusion of Gaia, equipping a Red Jewel and pressing the "use item" button will cause the jewel to "fly to the Jeweler Gem in a flash of light!" and a small twinkle will fly around and off the screen. What exactly Will does to make the jewels do that is left to the player's imagination.
  • In Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos, items are generically "used" by right-clicking them on a character's portrait. Sometimes the uses are fairly obvious, but there are some pretty arcane objects in the game, like the Bezel Cup, which heals a character and can be used as many times as there are gems embedded in the cup. Do you drink out of it? The cup appears to be empty, so what are you drinking? And why does drinking use up a gem? Not to mention some of the stranger items, like Vaelan's Cube or The Whole Truth.
  • Averted by The Sims games; Sims are given an array of realistic uses for objects instead of just given "Use." The only exception is the toilet, for obvious reasons.
  • In Tales Series games, the main healing items are not potions, but 'gummies' or 'gels', depending on which word the translators have chosen to use. Fanfic writers differ on whether they're oral or topical. Some writers show eating the item, others show spreading the item on a wound, and some use either depending on the situation.
    • However, Tales of Vesperia has a memorable skit where Karol and Rita talk about how good the gummies/gels taste. The fact that gummies/gels have flavors attached to their names is probably proof that they're oral as well.
  • Tombs & Treasure on NES doesn't have an "Equip" command, so if you want to use the sword in your inventory during a battle, you have to select it with the "Use" command first. If you just select "Attack", you're fighting the monster with your bare fists. The game, at least, does poke some fun at the ubiquitous "Use" command — the icon for it is a man scratching his head with a "?" next to him.
  • Many items in Dragon Quest games can be "used" - some in battle, some outside of battle, some all the time. This includes weapons, too! ("Carver holds the cautery sword aloft! The enemy are engulfed in blazing flames!") If you try to use an item in battle that has no special use, though, your turn is wasted - you don't even get a warning when you choose the item.
  • Fire Emblem has stat-raising items and promotion items. Each can be 'used' to increase the user's stats- though how certain items (or combinations of item and user) work are best left to the imagination.
    • The Magic increaser in the Tellius games (Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn) is called 'Spirit Dust'. It's probably sprinkled over something- the question is 'what'.
    • The Speed increaser is called a 'Speedwing'. This is about as helpful a guide to how it is used as you're going to get.
    • The Constitution increaser is called a 'Body Ring' in the GBA games, and a Statue Fragment in the Tellius games. How either makes you heavier is unknown, though the Statue Fragment is far more confusing.
    • The Movement increaser is called the 'Boots'. Fair enough- until you realise this works on flying units like wyvern knights. How putting shoes on a wyvern knight lets it fly further is just as confusing as the other 'uses' on this list.
    • Most promotion items (in fact, all excluding the Elysian Whip and Fell Contract) are some form of Seal, Crest or Crown. Using these items is not the main question here, though- many classes, upon promotion, gain access to a new weapon type- like Mercenaries getting axes. How 'using' a Seal gives the user the necessary training to wield a brand new weapon type properly is definitely the more interesting question.
  • Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus: Averted. The game won't accept the word "use" in most cases, forcing you to use different commands like "turn dial to 1" or "put acorn in projector".