Just about every game world faces a great crisis requiring the intervention of a stalwart hero to put evil in its place. These warriors of justice wield swords or guns or gadgets or magic primed to do two things: Fight a great evil threatening the world and destroy furniture. Few crates, chairs, or tables are safe from the righteous might of a hero.
Why are our video game saviors so destructive? They come into a town in need of help and proceed to punch chairs and kick crates. It's one thing if Gordon Freeman is throwing around his own boxes, but those chairs and crates belong to someone. More importantly, why do so many people hide money in their furniture?
You Broke It, You Bought It, Batman
In LEGO Batman, the block-busting Dark Knight is hunting down his Rogue's Gallery throughout Gotham. The city he's sworn to protect by wearing a bat costume might be safer if Bruce Wayne stuck to the board room. After all, Batman breaks just about every item he comes across throughout Gotham. Potentially, Batman causes more destruction than any of the psychotic villains he's hunting for "justice." When Commish Gordon shows up, he's going to assume it was Two-Face or the Joker who caused so much damage (and swiped all the valuable money hiding inside). By his actions, Batman is framing mentally disabled people for wanton acts of vandalism and theft that he, in fact, is committing.
But then, maybe that's Batman's game all along. Billionaire Bruce Wayne chose to dress up in a silly suit to save Gotham. He must have invested millions (perhaps even billions) of dollars in his personal crusade against crime. Yet, Gotham remains a craphole. What if that Caped Crusader money instead was invested in Gotham's infrastructure? How many inner-city kids could Wayne send to college for the price of one Batmobile? Wouldn't investing in putting more cops on the street - and with useful Bat-Gear - stem crime faster than one man patrolling from the rooftops? How much quicker would the issue of Gotham's psychotic escapees be solved if Bruce Wayne built a more secure asylum for the city?
Clearly, Bruce Wayne has an unhealthy obsession with being Batman. And the only way to make it acceptable to dress like a bat and assault others is if Gotham's economy never recovers. After all, you can't fight the Joker if the Joker is dead or properly incarcerated. These crooks have to be bad - really bad. So if Batman has to up the destruction a bit to impress upon the civies that they need a costumed protector, so be it.
It's Dungeons & Dragons, Not Goldman Sachs
Crate and barrel smashing for money and goods is most common in dungeon crawlers. It makes some sense that a bunch of over-powered heroes stuck in a poorly ventilated dungeon might get a little unhinged (and therefore overly violent). So smashing random objects isn't that absurd to begin with. But why do so many people store valuables in wooden crates (or chairs, of all things)? That answer is simple: They don't have Federally insured banks anywhere near Baldur's Gate.
Any reasonable monster would keep his money stored in his own private vault. But not every monster has that kind of cash on hand to make such improvements to their dungeons. A betting beast might think an inconspicuous barrel is as good a hiding place as any.
Besides, crates rarely hold great stuff. It's usually just a few coins, which pales compared to what the main occupant of a crypt or dungeon has in their room. It's petty cash. Disposable income. Maybe that's what the sorcerer uses to pay off his goblin minions. Or maybe, when the pizza guy comes, it's safer to just crack open a crate for a few coin than to show off the big shiny treasure chest where you stash all your good stuff.
The Barrel-Maker Made Me Do It
One game offers a true answer to why barrels, crates, and other inanimate objects receive so much punishment in games. You play a hero, of sorts, in inXile's 2004 RPG romp The Bard's Tale. You are a champion among barrel smashers. You're so good that the barrel maker offers to pay you for all the barrels you destroy. Why? Because he's a barrel maker and if people's barrels are smashed, then they have to buy more from him. It's simple barrel economics.
The next time you play a game where you're laying waste to barrels and crates, remember that you're making someone in that world very, very rich. It's not just nobility and the powerful who live luxuriously. The barrel maker sits on a gold throne all his own and you helped him with the down payments.