Thursday, September 29, 2011

Videogames ruined my life

I read a really great article yesterday called "Who Killed Videogames?" by Tim Rogers (via Boing Boing). It's basically a look at the mathematics of "social gaming," from inception to entrapment, from an insider's perspective, and how the dumbest possible imaginable games - games that, to actual gamers, probably don't even seem like games - are able to make thousands of dollars without giving people any actual satisfaction.

I've done a lot of hard thinking about videogames in my time. I'm really not even that a big of a gamer: most of my good friends are several times more "hardcore" than I am (a friend of mine is currently building a new box he intends to christen "SHODAN"). But, at one point or another in my life - and I guess, really, this was only about three or four years ago - I started thinking that videogames were sapping any zest for life I had, and prohibiting me from accomplishing anything truly interesting.

It was then I decided I would write a memoir called, "Videogames ruined my life."

That never happened; and not, not-ironically, because of videogames. It just wasn't a very interesting premise. Why? Because videogames didn't ruin my life. They enriched it. Practically every story I write goes back, in some way, to videogames; my science fiction and fantasy aesthetic is more informed by "Warcraft" and "Fallout" than Tolkien or Heinlein. Granted, there are times when I have to ensure that I do not become absorbed by a game: videogame addiction is pretty easy. But being addicted to a cool game - like, say, "Deus Ex: Human Revolution" - isn't the same as being addicted to "Tap Petshop" (and not just because the basic physical mechanic of its gameplay is described in its title - although that, too, is Massive Lame).

Being a "real gamer" - even if I'm not the truest of the true - makes it really hard to understand social gaming. I think it was about two years ago - or maybe it was only one - that there was an enormous flurry of activity on Facebook, where I was constantly being invited to take part in castle sieges, mafia wars, farming operations, &c. I didn't do one of them: the only game I ever played on Facebook was a "Risk" analogue. What could I possibly get out of any of these "social" games, when the "real thing" was sitting on my desktop?

Obviously, though, certain suits have managed to cook up a way to convince people that paying for a monkey - or a cat condo, or whatever - is a good idea. Or, in the more disgusting example Rogers gives of "The Sims Social," a bookshelf (that is more expensive digitally than in reality). The mathematics and strategizing that goes into it - even only the little bit that Rogers describes in his short article - is mind-boggling and powerful: I totally agree that I would want to make money that way (viz. easily). But, as a gamer, it's terrible.

As a contrast to these kinds of games - i.e. the ones that make you either 1) wait, 2) promote the game to your friends, or 3) pay actual currency in order to advance in the gameworld (in a meaningless way, albeit) - "real" games, in my opinion, are self-contained. You should only really have to pay for them once. I've never even liked expansion packs; why don't they make a new game? And the World of Warcraft model (now being taken up by The Old Republic, if I'm not mistaken) is also pretty heinous. Having to pay repeatedly for something creates the sense that you ought to be doing it; WoW players are chronically addicted not because it's necessarily a good game (it could be; I've never played it; I'm just saying not necessarily), but because they are paying for it, right now. A "real" game, by contrast, you pay for once. It then becomes a sunk cost: whether or not you play it does not matter, because you'll never pay for it again.

This is important because these games then contain within themselves all the elements you need for fun. You don't need to acquire addenda and devices to further enjoy the game: it contains the experiences of your amusement. When I play Mount & Blade with my friend, even though we get more gold to spend on equipment the more kills we score (and, thus, my friend rapidly outperforms me), we both have entirely the same potential to score kills and get gold. There's no online store to buy in-game "premium coinage." It's all about you - You, Kicking Ass.

"Real" games are also about a gajillion times more social than "social games." Think about Minecraft: I paid twenty bucks for it, and anytime I want, I can join my buddy's server, see all the cool shit everyone's been building, and build my own cool shit for people to look at. This is a much more "truthful" social interaction than, say, Sims Social, because my actual creativity is going into the production, and the only constraint to advancement is the time/creativity I want to input. Granted, one of my friends pays the server costs; but the game itself will never require us to spend more in order to get more. Mojang updates the game, and we get the updates.I can't simply buy a Bendenberg.

Yeah. That's the Bendenberg. (It used to be on fire, but apparently the addition of snowy biomes killed that...)

Anyway, Roger's is a great article. If you play any kind of games, I'd suggest reading it.



  1. Yeah, those games are obnoxious. I played one for a while (Vampire Wars,) but got fed up with the hoops you had to jump through. I think it's much more fun to sit on the couch next to my husband, with a controller in each of our hands, and play something together. In fact, hubby's been stocking up on four-player co-op games to play as a family when the boys get big enough. The inventors of those games sure are genius though. I'd like a cut!