I have a problem. I am part of the problem; and so are you.
I am a miser. It is well documented that I do not like to watch numbers decrease; it sparks an uncomfortable dissonance in my progressive world view. I dread the presence of naught where once there was quantity, and so that makes me the kind of person who will put off paying for the heating bill in the middle of a Minnesota cold snap, just so I can artificially inflate my bank account with an impending paycheck before acquiescing to necessary impulses such as not dying of exposure. This stubborn numerical protectionism extends through to almost every corner of my life, save one.
When it comes to video games, I will buy virtually anything.
It was reinforced yet again this week when I realized I was entirely willing to spend $40 on a pack of 18 AC/DC songs for Rock Band. Like a hammer to the head, the impact of the realization was stunning enough to qualify in some states as felony assault.
This is not exactly new information for people who know me. I have certainly come through the front door brandishing questionable purchases, impossibly basking in my own glory the way a housecat will after depositing the desiccated corpse of a field mouse in front of your dinner. I mean, you’re talking to a guy who walked in the store and paid money for Vanguard, oblivious to the racking death screams of fifty one-dollar bills that had been needlessly sacrificed to a sick and disoriented god.
I am helpless even in the face of this realization. I _will_ spend $40 on the Rock Band AC/DC track pack, and I will do so with no remorse. It’s virtually already happened. It is as certain as the sunrise, as immutable as diamond, inescapable as the blinking out of stars and the slouching dark that will envelop all of creation. I am in the thrall of gaming, beguiled by its slutty trappings. I am weak of mind and mettle.
But, as I said, I am not a compulsive spender. I can’t even find solace in suggesting that I am the victim of one of those unscientific, pseudo-addictions that have replaced the space once reserved for personal responsibility in the lexicon. I will simultaneously agonize for weeks before pulling the trigger on buying a new CD or DVD, while thoughtlessly ejecting forty dollars for a game that I have no intention of playing for at least a fortnight. I haven’t purchased a new shirt or pair of pants in more than a year, simply because I can not bring myself to spend money on woven fabrics. I recently bought a pair of sunglasses at one of those knock-off kiosks in the mall for $10 bucks and had the temerity to feel proud of myself for spending the money.
But, for this industry I am a whore lying on the motel bed wearing nothing but a come-hither look and too much mascara while blowing kisses over an obscenely swollen wallet bursting with greenbacks. I’ll just let that image sink in with you for a moment. Don’t forget the beard when picturing it.
It’s not like taking candy from a baby. It’s easier than that. It’s taking candy from a baby that is trying to give you candy. Even if your game is actually titled Games Elysium Hates – The Platformer Version, I’ll still eye it lustily, considering if perhaps I haven’t given the genre — Games I Really Hate — a fair shake yet.
Which makes this a hard season for me, for obvious reasons. Just this past weekend I bought a Nintendo Wii, ostensibly for my son’s birthday. His haul for the day, including the system, a second Wiimote and, count them, five game was, shall we say, disproportionate to the needs of a five year old. That’s to say nothing of the new games that have wandered into the house over the past month: Rock Band 2, Colonization, Peggle Nights, Warhammer, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky, Viva Piñata, LEGO Batman and Crysis Warhead.
I beg of you, don’t do the math. Particularly if we happen to have a joint bank account and you’ve chosen to read this.
And, to you, my dear readers. You consumers of thought and word, which I scribe every seven days. You casual consumers of clever phrasing and self indulgent analysis, who have been my enablers and excuse for half a decade. It’s all your fault!
As I wipe off the arterial spray from the final death blow I have delivered to personal responsibility — a mercy killing to be sure — consider this. The worst thing that could happen to a guy like me is being able to create professional justifications for being a habitual gamer. Having an audience that, even by inaction and implicit approval, encourages me to pen thoughts on video gaming is a liability for my fragile will that is clearly too great. Obviously this passing of the buck is much easier than trying to show restraint at the point of purchase, a mandate that makes Hercules cleaning the stables seem as taxing as changing the litter box.
The nice thing about taking the low road is that it’s mostly downhill.
But, there’s more at play here, and it’s the part of this self realization that I can take comfort in. I love video games. Sometimes I feel like the last of that dying breed, an unabashed fan of the industry, of its excesses, of its creatively compromised, morally bankrupt, lowest-common-denominator indulgences. Unlike less pleasant and more physically debilitating addictions, I still get the high when I install that new game and fire it up for the first time. I’ve been playing fake songs on plastic instruments for two years now, and I still bounce around like a professional fool when the lights are out and everyone else has gone to bed. I’ve been running fetch quests for digital avatars in artificial worlds for half a decade, and that ding of a new level is still fundamentally Pavlovian. I’ve dispatched ten million bad guys from their multitude of nefarious, world-ending deeds, and I still am close to that thrill of the hunt.
And, that is the security blanket that I will clutch close to my breast and cover my eyes with to avoid seeing the truth. As I said at the very beginning, I not only have a problem. I am part of the problem. Because, in the cold light of day, as a careless consumer, I am ultimately the reason your video games suck. Without discriminating at the point of sale, demanding quality from publishers and respectful treatment from retailers, I am as much an enabler of those excesses. While the insistence on blaming weak willed buyers for the supposed de-evolution of video game quality is as questionably tenuous as my blaming readers for poor self control, there is some sense of culpability. And, I know I should feel bad, should be more responsible about my buying choices.
But what I really end up asking is: who wants my money next?