Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Games and Our Consumer Culture

We used to buy only what we needed. We reused what we could, and fixed, rather than threw away, when we could. An item had worth if it was usable, not only if it was fashionable. When we bought something, it was to last for a lifetime.

We had less money. Things cost less money. Now we have more money and things cost more money. But the equation doesn't hold up. We don't treat our spending power the same way.

Now we treat our objects like they are transitional, dumped at the first sign of wear or when they are no longer fashionable. Sometimes we treat each other the same way.

We no longer entertain ourselves with what we have, we entertain ourselves with what we buy. After it's bought, we're done with it, and we look to buy the next thing. Our economy is built on this premise. We spend, on average, $1000 buying gifts each holiday season, for the sole act of giving items. Not for the items themselves, but for the giving.

We don't need this $1000 worth of stuff. Nor thousands more for birthdays and other holidays.

Gaming culture mirrors this consumer culture. Web sites about gaming are about the gaming industry: turnover, profit, sales. These games aren't created because they are quality pieces of craftsmanship. We don't look for the best games to acquire so that they'll last us a lifetime.

Most of the games we buy have had effort placed in the selling, not the playing. They don't need to be playable more than once, because they, like everything else, are bought to be played once, and then tossed away as the next item is bought. And so they rely on fancy graphics, slick packaging, promotions, iconic fads and characters, or appeals to activities, communities, the thrill of the meme.

You don't need to buy into this. You can stop buying into this culture, stop buying the latest games, stop buying new stuff, period.

You can stop acting like buying the game is the game itself. That playing games means spending your resources on the next game. Instead of buying the next game, take a look at the last ten or fifty years of gaming. Buy only the games that you can play for all of your life.

Is there a computer game that you will enjoy playing for the next forty years? A board or card game? Anything less than a lifetime of enjoyment from a game is a compromise. Sure, not every book you read, movie you see, or game you play has to be a classic. But do you have to buy them?

Don't worry about the economy. Worry about quality.
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