Ancient Greece, that's where!
We all know that feeling... even if we're about to fall asleep at the keyboard, the instance someone mentions boss loot we're wide awake and waiting to see who gets that shiny epic. But have you ever wondered why we feel that way? Have you ever wondered where game developers got the idea for this situation in the first place?
For those with a literary bent, the ancient classics may be a clue. Rodger Travis has written up a great article called "Achilles' Phat Lewtz", showing the link between the ancient Greek Epics, and the rare imaginary items of today.
What I was feeling - the mixture of pride, relief and anticipation tied to the lengthy pursuit of an imaginary object - is something that players of MMOG's (and, truth to tell, several other kinds of videogames) know very well. But it isn't something that came into existence with the current crop of MMORPG's and their highly developed grinding and loot mechanics, nor even with paper-and-dice RPG's and the Vorpal Swords that lurked in the pages of the Dungeon Master's Guide. The feeling is probably as old as storytelling itself, but its first obvious appearance in Western Civilization is in Homer's Iliad.
If you have any appreciation for the story of the Illiad, or literature in general, it would be a great idea to read this article. You'll never look at Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros the same way ever again.
For the full article of "Achilles' Phat Lewtz", please check here.