“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing,
after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”
– Lieutenant Commander S'chn T'gai Spock, Starfleet
There once was a young boy who was able to wander in wonder at his game store. He didn’t see the covers of the games he gazed at, so much as he saw boxed joy – joy that could be his if only he had the resources to purchase them. If only he had more money. If only he could have both a Super Nintendo and a Genesis. Or, as long his daydreaming levels were set to ‘Scrooge McDuck Moneypiles’, why not a NeoGeo? He said to himself, “If only I could buy these games! If only I could afford them! If I had the money, then Sonic and Mario would all be mine!” And the boy imagined how happy this would make him.
Time passed. The boy became a man who got a job, then a better job, then a mortgage, then a marriage, then an investment home, then finally children of his own. The man grew into contented middle age, as people sometimes do. The man made a comfortable enough living that he doubted whether he would notice a difference in his bank account at the end of the month if he spent another sixty dollars on a game for his high-end computer or ninety cents on a game for his phone.
The man had as large a TV as he could wish for and speakers that surrounded him in a cocoon of sound. He watched as the digital world grew, expanding to the point where all those games of his youth were now available with a simple click of his hand. He could buy Mario or Sonic or even lonely and largely forgotten Bonk anytime he wanted. When he first discovered that his old childhood crushes were available for such a small amount, he had bought many of them. They, and many of their newer contemporaries, were all his; games of every genre and for every mood. Hard games. Easy games. Classic games. New games. Sequels to games he hadn’t thought of in years. Reboots of games forgotten by almost all. And yet for the most part, they remain on his system, unopened. They sit there still, waiting for him, untouched.
Because pleasure doesn’t work the way the boy thought it did. The boy had thought that if one video game gave him excitement, then ten video games would make him ten times as excited. He thought this because the boy was young and did not know any better.
But the man does know better. The man has read books on happiness, so he knows it does not work that way. The books have told the man that material goods will give him a brief short lived bit of joy but that the joy will quickly fade. The books have told the man that his brain has a rough general resting point of happiness, and that soon after he buys an object, that object (which he once viewed as so precious) will fade into the background of his life. The books have told him that wanting is almost always more exciting than getting, and the man has seen that to be true in his own life.
The man has not been able to be excited at wanting a game or a system for quite a while. Not truly excited, anyways. He has far more games than he has time to play, and if a new one comes out, buying it is that simple click away. The primal part of the man’s brain — the part that still thinks the man is a hunter — that part does not have to wonder if there is a gazelle at the watering hole. There is always a gazelle at the watering hole. A gazelle that he can always catch. The man still likes to eat gazelle, but there is no thrill in catching one, because these gazelle don't run.
Then one day the man heard about a not-game. It was a piece of hardware called the Rift. The man watched videos on YouTube of people playing games with the Rift, and those people seemed to be having more fun than he had experienced with any game in quite some time. The man read articles saying how it was amazing. Astounding. Incredible. How people really had to experience it for themselves to understand what it was like.
For the first time in a long time, the man began to believe the hype. The man decided he would buy a Rift.
But he couldn’t, for it was not in stores. It was not online. It was a prototype, a beta, primarily meant for developers. And the company that made it did not have any in stock. So the man ordered it and was put on a list. And he waited. And waited.
As he waited, the man looked on Reddit. He looked on YouTube. He looked on US Gamer and PA Report. But no matter where he looked, the man could find no information on how long it would be before the Rift would be his. Instead, he saw other people talking about their Rifts and how they enjoyed them — how they loved owning something that he did not have and could not get. Everything he read made him want it more. And more.
The man checked his order again and again, until one day - at last - the order status changed.
It said, “Shipped.”
The man would be receiving his toy this week! He pictured himself opening the box. He pictured himself unpacking it. He pictured himself setting it up. And he pictured himself finally, after being unable to do so for a seemingly long time, playing with his new toy. And the thought of that made him happy.
Will the actual playing of the toy provide him with the same amount of joy? The man does not know. But, at the very least, the man got to experience what it was like to be a boy once more. And that, even by itself, has made the man happy. For a little while, anyway.