The skies are black and an ominous shadow lingers over the once peaceful land of wherever the hell your hero lives. The Dark Lord has come (or is coming) and you must stop him. For whatever reason, you are the only one in your world who can hope to put an end to tyranny, keep babies from being eaten, and restore the sky to its natural hue. The people of this world can help you in this task - but first, could you possibly deliver this note to the next-door neighbor?
Time and time again, the most important quest imaginable is interrupted by a fairly pedantic task. Gather something for some nobody, return the items, earn a cookie (or other suitable reward). For many gamers, this is the very bane of video game trope-dom and a nonsensical element of the hero's quest. Not so. Fetch quests are the truest form of gaming realism.
Even in the worst of times - even when the latest Destroyer of Worlds is burning villages and summoning the dead from their graves - the commoners continue to live their lives as normally as possible. It's how we cope. Whether the big hero vanquishes the demon king of the week or fails and is hung by his entrails outside the castle gates, the baker still needs to get those cakes to the party on time and the little boy still has to find his kitten. Life goes on, and for many, the impact of a player's small acts resonate greater than any of his more heroic deeds. Plus, games teach kids to do nice things for people - even people who annoy them.
Bilingual Heroes Get More Work
As gamers, we tend to have myopic views of our heroes, only seeing them as banishers of great evils. That's not the only facet to these characters. Take Bethesda's recent fantasy epic Skyrim. You may see a hero who is Dragonborn merely as the key to solving the mystery of the return of dragons. Sure, that's important and all, but take the point of view of the average Skyrim citizen. A man who speaks the common tongue and the language of dragons sure sounds like a linguist to me. No wonder so many people are interested in enlisting this hero to deliver messages across the country. It's not as if the lands of Tamriel have a postal service. You need a message delivered; it's going to be by the one person who won't be deterred by rain, sleet, snow or dragons.
Besides, nothing causes a recession faster than dragons. When dragons are laying siege from Pinefrost Tower to Riften, trade routes close down, crops are incinerated, cattle are eaten (or violated) - the economy stalls. The unemployment rate in Skyrim must have soared the moment the dragons returned. There's a simple, unspoken message to any hero complaining about playing messenger boy in the lands of Tamriel: Be thankful you're getting work.
That Letter Won't Mail Itself, Link
Link loves to fetch things for other people. That's probably why he's the most beloved hero in all of gaming. It's not the green tunic, the sword, of the horse - it's got to be his willingness to do nice things for people too lazy to do anything for themselves.
And hey, sometimes you have to slowly trade up from one item to the next rather than cutting to the chase and getting what you need right off the bat. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening may have the most complex set of fetch quests in gaming history. Starting with a Yoshi Doll, Link must trade his way up to a magnifying glass so he can read a book (Link is too self-conscious to wear glasses). Here's the full trade process:
Yoshi doll --> ribbon --> dog food --> bananas --> stick --> honeycomb --> pineapple --> hibiscus --> a letter (you get to deliver it!!) --> broom --> fishhook --> necklace --> scales --> magnifying glass --> knowledge