the artistry and psychology of gaming


Gamer Glossary: Assassin Flags

Gamer Glossary: Assassin Flags

Language is a funny thing. Even with millions of words and phrases, the English language is still inadequate when it comes to communicating everything we experience. Hence, we are constantly inventing new words and phrases. Different social groups have their own specialized lexicons, gamers included. However, there are still concepts that don’t have a widely agreed-upon name. I’d like to share my personal term for one of them: Assassin Flags.

Assassin Flags refer to any optional set of identical or similar items that are most often spread throughout the entire game world, though sometimes they only appear in a single level. They are never directly related to the main quest: when Link is told that he must collect the three Spiritual Stones or awaken five Sages, he is dealing with Plot Coupons. Even if you only need to collect a fraction of the items to continue through the game with the rest being optional, like Stars in Super Mario 64, they are still Plot Coupons. (However, a game may force you to collect one or two Assassin Flags during the course of the game, usually because they are in your way. Twilight Princess requires you to collect one of the Poe’s Souls immediately after you are introduced to them, and four more Souls are unavoidably obtained in one of the dungeons, but then you can promptly forget about the remaining 55.) Also, if the entire game is based around a collection quest (or at least it’s a major game mechanic), such as Pokémon or LittleBigPlanet, those aren’t Assassin Flags. The truest of Assassin Flags don’t actually do anything once you find them. Sometimes collecting them will contribute a negligible amount to some sort of total score, but they won’t be the only way to increase any given statistic, like Samus’s missile upgrades. You can’t throw your Gold Skulltula Tokens at enemies for damage.

Assassin Flags are generally a method of ensuring that there is a difference between beating the game and attaining 100% Completion. Nowadays, they are generally a means to unlocking an Achievement/Trophy. In fact, developers can’t seem to resist throwing in a set of Assassin Flags for that very purpose. Collecting all of them sometimes gives you some kind of large reward, like the best ending or the most powerful weapon, but there is no prize for anything less than a complete set. The most common reward for collecting them all is bragging rights.

The namesakes of the Assassin Flags are (unsurprisingly) the flags from Assassin’s Creed, which are a particularly egregious example. There is absolutely no in-game justification for why Altaïr should be collecting flags. There is a paragraph in the game manual about how in the 12th century flags were seen as signs of ownership, and that the Assassins (who believed that land should belong to no one) would want to remove them. Also, there are 420 of the flippin’ things, so good luck finding them all without looking up a guide on the internet.


This is actually from one of the races, but you get the picture.

Here are more examples, divided into three categories:

1. There is a cutscene, discussion or text in the game that explains the Assassin Flags.

Assassin’s Creed II tasks you with collecting 100 Feathers for your youngest brother. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood has 101 Flags and 10 Feathers.



The aforementioned Gold Skulltulas from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the Poe Souls from Twilight Princess both have a cursed individual ask you to collect all of them.


Grand Theft Auto IV lets you begin any Assassin Flag quest whenever you want, but there is a page on the in-game internet that justifies every single one (in addition to several being initiated by conversations with NPCs). These range from launching off ramps and shooting pigeons (which explode hilariously in a cloud of blood and feathers) to stealing cars and meeting people. The previous GTA games are also heavy with Assassin Flags with varying degrees of explanation. Pictured is a Seagull from the Lost and the Damned expansion.

Donkey Kong Country 2 has one DK coin in every level. In Donkey Kong Country 3, you collect them by defeating an enemy whose shield was always pointed at you. Cranky Kong tells you to get them all. Donkey Kong Country Returns has between 5 and 9 puzzle pieces hidden in every regular stage. Again, Cranky tasks you with finding them.

In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the Riddler has contacts you and tells you to complete the 240 challenges he has strewn about Arkham, which range from finding invisible question marks which need to be aligned correctly by standing in the exact right spot, discovering references to Batman’s mythology, finding Chronicles of Arkham and Patient Tapes, and destroying chattering Joker Teeth. These all qualify as Assassin Flags, but picking up Riddler Trophies are the most conventional type.

Resident Evil 5 has a document lying around which tells you to shoot 30 BSAA Emblems.



Each inFamous game includes over 300 Blast Shards, which other characters often mention. Collecting a number of them increases the amount of electrical charge you can store, but after maxing out your gauge, there will still be a few dozen Shards to collect.

The Katamari games let you seek out your cousins.



Alan Wake has several sets of Assassin Flags, but the only one in this category is the set of 106 manuscript pages (15 of which can only be collected on the hardest difficulty)


2. There are no scenes or text explaining the Flags, but they make sense in the context of the game.

Assassin’s Creed also has 60 Templar Knights to kill.



BioShock features 122 Audio Diaries that help explain the backstory.



The newer Call of Duty games have enemy intel to collect.



The Uncharted series has you pick up bits of treasure.




Each stage of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island has 20 hidden red coins and 5 flowers to collect.



Half-Life 2: Episode Two features 333 antlion grubs to squish.



Portal lets you detach 33 security cameras from the walls.




Gears of War has 30 COG tags to find. Gears 2 has 20 “Campaign Collectibles” and Gears 3 has 42 Collectibles and 15 COG tags.



Similarly, Metal Gear Solid 2 has dog tags to collect, varying between 63 and 80 depending on the difficulty setting.




The streets of Mafia II hide 159 wanted posters, displaying members of the development team. There are also 50 Playboy magazines to find.



3. There is absolutely no reason for the Flags to exist, but they are silly enough that no one cares.

Every level of Perfect Dark has a hidden wedge of cheese, but these barely count as there is no way to “collect” them.




Metal Gear Solid 3 has 64 cartoonish Kerotan frog figurines to shoot, one for nearly every unique zone (including tiny zones, each zone during a chase scene, and any zone you visit at a different point in time).



Alan Wake has Assassin Flag overload. Aside from the manuscript pages, the other Assassin Flags fit somewhere between this category and the previous one. Other sets include 100 coffee thermoses to collect, 11 radios to listen to, 14 TVs to watch, 25 signs about local culture to read, 30 hidden chests to open, and 12 can pyramids to knock down. The DLC chapters add 10 alarm clocks to find, 6 cardboard standees to look at, and 10 fictional video games to collect.


  1. Oh good lord the flags in Assassin’s Creed. I could not abide them. I think collectables are one of the traditional gaming tropes that I could really do with out. I like achievments as much as the next guy but not just for the sake of it. However, on the other end of the spectrum, the radio diaries in Bioshock were incredible and the sort of collectible that makes sense, one that develops the story and thickens the plot; they have a point, a purpose and feel substantial.

    I am especially bitter about the feathers in assassin’s creed. I followed a guide to get all of them but after about 2 hours searching, I had 99/100 flags. I nearly killed someone. And I didn’t try again.

    • “I nearly killed someone.” You should have. That’s the point of the Assassin’s Creed games, after all. =P

      Anyway, I agree that they don’t always add anything beneficial to a game. I rented Mafia II and was planning on getting all of the Trophies (I think Achievements/Trophies in general are a great way to experience much of what a game has to offer), but gave up when I found out how much of a pain in the ass the Wanted posters are.

      However, sometimes they add a lot, like the Audio Diaries in BioShock (as you mentioned) or the Manuscript pages in Alan Wake. And sometimes they’re silly enough that I don’t care, like the Kerotan frogs. (Of course, it helps that there were only 64 of them instead of a few hundred.)

  2. I love the idea of having a lexicon for this, but I’d suggest something a bit less game specific. Perhaps something like curios or trading cards or (dare I say it?) pogs. They have no intrinsic value (most of the time), but people can’t seem to stop collecting them. I’m fairly indifferent to them, unless they put one in an obnoxious place. Another one I’d add to the list is the cards in Final Fantasy 9, since, unlike 8, you can’t do anything useful with them.

    • I can understand the concern for having such a game-specific term, but it would be far from the first time that a broad concept was defined by a specific example. In cinema, a dolly zoom is more often called a “Vertigo shot” or a “Jaws shot,” and the synchronization of animation and music is known as “Mickey Mousing.” Even in gaming, an entire subgenre of gaming (roguelikes) is named after a single game (Rogue). Also, I’m a TV Tropes junkie, and they do that a lot. The fact of the matter is that my friends and I have called them Assassin Flags for a few years now, and it has stuck because it’s easy to remember and catchy. I’m not saying that everyone needs to use that term, but now you know what I’m talking about if when I habitually use the term “Assassin Flag.”

      As for the cards in FF9, they could work. The list I have provided is far from all-inclusive.

      P.S. Pogs are awesome.

  3. Perfect article! I’ll be sure to use Assassin Flag from now on. An example I can think of are potions in Alice: Madness Returns.

    Plus, let me question your assessment of “millions” of words and phrases in English. Oxford Concise dictionary, the most complete dictionary, estimates that there are a quarter of million words in English, German has 200000 words in English.

    You would understand how vast a number that is when you realize the great majority of people know and use around 500 words their whole life.

    • The Concise Oxford dictionary is not the most complete dictionary – that’s why it’s called “concise.” The regular Oxford English Dictionary has about 600,000 words, and I doubt that it includes all terms that are specific to any given hobby or profession, like “respawn” (gaming), “paradiddlediddle” (drumming), or “DNS server” (computers). When you add phrases to the mix, like “rate of fire” or “black and white”, it isn’t a terrible stretch of the imagination to assume that there are at least 2,000,000 words or phrases in the English language, thus qualifying for “millions.”

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