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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 supposed to be drunk, food is supposed to be eaten, lanterns are supposed to be lit, ointments are supposed to be rubbed, and so on. However, for the purposes of the game, all of these are generally done by simply selecting them in the item menu (or, if this merely results in a sub-menu opening up, selecting "Use").

The interesting bit is when this also applies to other items. You may be instructed by an NPC to use a sword, or a crystal, or a medal, but damned if they're going to tell you how to use it, because the player doesn't need to know, all they need to do is select it in the Items menu.

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 MacGuffins 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"...

Examples of Use Item include:
  • MMORPGs in general usually have items like this, such as crystals, medals and scrolls that can be used for various purposes including improving gear or providing you with attribute bonuses. Right click the item to use. The usual handwave is that the items contain a piece of single-use magic that is released by "using" the item.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Averted in Nethack which 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 [1].
    • 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.
  • Also averted in MOTHER 1 (Mother), 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 X2 (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.
    • The computer version requires a med-bot to use canisters, implying surgery. What that means for the console versions, well...
  • Many Dungeons and 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.
    • Enchanted items work just like this in The Elder Scrolls.
  • 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.
  • Averted somewhat 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.
  • Pokémon 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 Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy 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 I 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 Final Fantasy 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.
      • I've got a bottle of potion! I've got a bottle of potion, and guess what's inside it!
  • 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. Theoretically, 'using' them would mean eating them. ...Unless it means 'squish it up and spread it on your wounds'. Fanfic writers differ on which use is correct, and some use both depending on the situation.
    • However if one has played Tales of Vesperia there's 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 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.
  • Fear Effect.
  • 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.
  • Averted in Angband, where the keyboard controls include separate commands for every major item type.


  1. 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
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