Were I Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone, but instead of books I was left with the worlds’ complete canon of video games, I would die long before I finished finding good games to play. Throw a few thousand other people in the mix with whom I could play games like Team Fortress 2, World of Warcraft or Starcraft 2— preferably folks of equally scaling skill levels — and I may not even notice the mind bending apocalypse except during brief and infrequent “bio breaks.”
It seems the world doesn’t actually need any more video games. That’s not to say that I am asking for that, or cheering the grim end of humanity, but that there is so rich and diverse a wealth of material out there that from a purely rational perspective it’s hard to imagine why I’d ever pay for a new game again.
This occurred to me the other night as GWJ’s stalwart and hyper-talented crew steamrolled our likable and benign opponents from Telltale games in a friendly game of Team Fortress 2, a game I haven't fired up for the better part of a year. During a break in the action I asked, “why the hell did I stop playing this game, anyway?” And, though I will likely let TF2 drift back into its undeserved slumber on my hard drive in favor of titles more shiny and perky, the sentiment is valid.
In reality, I should never need to buy another new game again.
If I instituted a rigid moratorium on all game purchases for a year, I would still have more than enough to keep me busy from my Steam games list alone. Metro 2033, Just Cause 2, Dawn of War, BioShock 2, Borderlands and Titan Quest are among the cavalcade of games waiting to get that attention and love, which I so faithlessly promised through forked tongue would come once I had a little more time to devote. Add online time sinks like WoW and TF2 in the mix, and I can barely imagine how I’d have time in a whole year to give proper attention to just a percentage of the games on just one of the platforms I own.
And yet, I scheme ways to secret away time and money for a whole new year’s worth of entirely new products. Alan Wake, Starcraft 2, Crackdown 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Civiliazation 5 are headliners on a not short list of games which I fully intend to own and caress in disturbing ways. The very idea of not buying another game this year, while logically sound, offends me as deeply as the idea of listening to Chaucer in its original Middle English as recited by Gilbert Gottfried.
So why? Why buy new games when there is no end to gameplaying ready to be accomplished on the cheap.
The answer, I think, reveals as much about why some of us play video games as it does anything meaningful about our consumerist irresponsibility. I buy new video games for the same reason that I put up with watching commercials during sporting events.
Allow me to explain.
Were such a thing possible, my pacifist wife would own numerous high-powered rifles so that she could track, shoot and kill commercials in the wild. I would have pictures of her perched high in some tree, face painted in forest camouflage and murder in her eyes as she stared down the sights at some hapless Verizon ad grazing in a pasture or a mother Bud Light commercial tending its cubs under the shade of a tree. She would have an entire wing of our house dedicated to mounting the carcasses of her slaughters, the Can You Hear Me Now guy's dead stare forever peering out from over a burning fireplace. So whenever I sit down to watch Local Professional Sport Team on the television, her first question is why I don't pause the DVR so I can let the time build up and skip through commercials.
And the reason I don’t is because then I’m not part of an event. I am merely finding out what has already happened. This is unacceptable. Also a little delusional, but let's not focus on that part.
I take pleasure not only in experiencing some media event, but taking part in the sense of cultural relevance that goes along with it. Even if I am completely disconnected from any actual community, just knowing that I am devouring Alan Wake at the same time as everyone else has tremendous value to me. Even if I am only watching the discussion from the sideline, the cognitive connection I can make with and against people holds unmeasurable value.
I think I am not alone. I think there are a lot of people out there who game not just because of the games, but because there is a sense of participation, of being involved in an event, that adds to the experience. It’s why people will wait in line outside of a strip mall Gamestop for Madden year after year. It’s why people will buy games before a single review has hit the street. It’s why despite having games enough at last for a lifetime, we can never get enough.
I simultaneously feel jealous and sorry of those don’t need to be part of the New Games Release Mania. Clearly they have a will power that I don’t understand or even want, but I am glad not to be counted among them.