Games

Which Economy Works Best in ‘Link’s Awakening’?

Despite the seemingly primitive state of most of Link’s Awakening‘s Koholint Island, with monsters running amok, ancient ruins in decay, a giant egg sitting on a mountain for some reason, and village kids consistently breaking the fourth wall, there are complex systems of trade at work that make for a bustling and varied economy, without which Link would never be able to get his hands on a Deluxe Shovel or Magnifying Glass or jar of Secret Medicine. It won’t take an MBA to navigate the various economies that produce such goods, but it’s obvious that this island paradise is having trouble settling on a universal currency. If they are ever to experience growth beyond their wildest dreams, which system should they ultimately use?

trading in Link's Awakening
Is it though? No really, I have no idea.

Barter System

Who knew that a bunch of bananas and a stick have an equal value? Transactions that involve the trade of your goods or services in exchange for someone else’s goods or services are time-honored and make a lot of sense. Unless, of course, they involve taking absurd amounts of time gallivanting back and forth across the countryside to track down random items for random people with random whims just so that a mermaid will finally give up a measly scale in order to unlock a dungeon that holds a magnifying glass. That might be a little inefficient by most business standards.

Still, through the Link’s Awakening trade sequence, one can see how this system really serves the community. Instead of trading items for shiny rocks given arbitrary value by some foreign king (or princess), the process of swapping item for item results in everyone getting what they actually want, and a much happier population for it. Just the sight of the smile on that anthropomorphic crocodile’s face as he wolf’s down that dog food is enough to make all that frustrating backtracking worth it.

Gift Economy

This is kind of an odd one, and involves just giving stuff to people in the surrounding community with the trust and hope that when you need something, they will give in return. That’s right — a system of acquiring goods and services that relies heavily on TRUST. Good luck implementing that anywhere else (unless it’s like the mafia doing “favors”), but on Koholint this sort of economy is actually demonstrated in good faith by Syrup the Witch; bring her a Sleepy Toadstool, and she’ll make you up a batch of Magic Powder, free of charge. Maybe she keeps a little stash on the side for herself, but if so, it’s never mentioned.

So what does Syrup want in return? Does she want an item retrieved, a relative saved, a monster slain? Nope. Syrup never asks for a thing, and that’s what makes her ultimately so suspicious. Nothing’s free in Koholint, lady; what’s your endgame? Well, maybe — just maybe — Syrup is just a nice person who is paying it forward, hoping that if she needs assistance with something in the future.

Heh, heh. I guess she doesn’t know how this one’s going to end.

market in Link's Awakening
The free market at its finest.

Monetary System

Okay, we all understand this one. There’s this thing that some people more important than us have deemed valuable (probably because they have a lot of it) even though it has no practical purpose; we can exchange this otherwise useless item for actual useful stuff, which in turn its new owners can then do, and so on, and so forth. Thus, instead having to trying to find the person who assigns the most value to your surplus chicken so that you can get somehow scrape together enough other stuff to trade for that new wagon wheel you need, society can just use a currency with a universally agreed upon value. Like rupees. So go get some by…selling that chicken.

Now, I’m not sure what commodity rupees representing, but it seems to work in Hyrule, so why not here? Of course, since the shopkeeper is essentially running a monopoly (outside Crazy Tracy), he can rig the market a bit, but Koholint is ripe with an abundance of ways for an enterprising young man to rake in some green (and blue and purple). With a nearly endless supply of grass to cut and monsters to kill, as well as an alarming number of treasure chests hidden about (is this some kind of pirate island?), the inevitable inflation as more and more rupees enter the economy is bound to cause Koholint’s stock market to crash, but hey — the Wind Fish will definitely probably be awake by then.

Link's Awakening fishing
Better learn to do this.

Conclusion

Nice but slow, profitable but suspicious, or quick but shallow — the residents of Koholint Island don’t have long to decide on an economic system to bring them into whatever century these game take place in. If they’d like to keep their isolated status, just keep trading beehives for pineapples; but if these lazy islanders want to wake up and take their place beside the powers on the world’s stage, it’s time to invest heavily in rupees, my friend. Just forget about whatever Syrup is cooking up; I get the feeling that one of these days she’s going to cash in with an offer that Link can’t refuse.

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