An Expensive Hobby

I don’t play very many of the latest and greatest video games. This, I’m a little sad to realise, puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage when it comes to conversations held by most people in my circle of online acquaintances.

It’s the year 2011 and I still don’t own an XBox 360 or a PS3. I have a Wii, but these days, I pretty much only use it to stream Netflix movies to my TV. I have an iPhone, but I mostly wind up playing casual puzzle games on it. I haven’t bought an iPad yet and am in no hurry to do so. I have a Nintendo DS still lying around, and the last time I played anything on it was… last year, when the latest Ace Attorney game came out? The computers I have at home are a 3-year-old iMac and a netbook that runs Ubuntu. The former was all bright and shiny and new when I first got it, [1] and still works like a charm for just about everything except for new games — even Telltale’s latest offerings show their fair share of graphical glitches, and weren’t they supposed to be comparatively low-tech and aimed towards the more casual crowd?

As you can imagine, this keeps me from playing the majority of games that are most frequently discussed in the gamer blogosphere at large. A shame, really, because many of them sound kind of cool. They just don’t really seem to me to justify what seems like such a high cost of upgrading my hardware. Sure, I’d love to take a gander at L.A. Noire, or Heavy Rain, or even more Bioware RPGs other than the first Mass Effect, but the reviews tell me the same story over and over again: they’re good, but not great, and usually, their treatment of gender, race, sexuality, and other oppressions tends to be problematic. And while I can in fact deal with that sort of thing in small doses — I’ll watch the occasional trashy Hollywood production and enjoy things about it in spite of the fail — it feels like a different matter when the cost for me to play an AAA game feels like so much more than that of playing a low-budget indie project whose heart is more in the right place. It’s kind of like if I had to pay ten times as much money to watch a summer blockbuster in the movie theatre, compared to a thoughtful artsy film. Why, pray tell, would I want to do that? If anything, I’d rather be spending ten times less.

So yeah, I’ve definitely chosen to limit what I can play these days. [2] In a way, this is how my gaming preferences have always been: my identity as a gamer solidified itself in the late 90s/early 00s when I started discovering point-and-click cartoon adventure games from the prior decade. Digging up older treasures was more important to me than checking out the latest and greatest. Later on, as I myself got into developing my own games and the indie scene grew in response to the rise of broadband internet, my gaming preferences tended towards that instead, giving me a balance of both old-school sensibilities and current relevance. Even then, though, I don’t make a point of playing everything I can, even when it’s free, because, well, there are other things to be doing and discovering. I’ve had some people insinuate to me that not playing as much as possible makes me a bad game designer. I can’t say I particularly like that insinuation very much.

There also the fact that there’s a certain classism in defining a “gamer” as someone who plays all the AAA titles on all the cutting edge consoles, which makes me think about just how consumerist the game industry tends to be. I mean, I know firsthand that those hardcore folks who spend obscene amounts of money on games are responsible for the livelihood of a whole lot of creative people, but on the other hand, I care about accessibility too, which is one reason why every game available on this site is downloadable for free. [3] There’s been some effort to find some kind of a middle ground between the two extremes, with indie publishing and alternative funding methods, which I have firsthand experience with as well, and am eager to see further develop in the future. Still, it feels to me like we’re still quite a ways off from any kind of real paradigm shift, and that’s frustrating.

  1. Actually, it was refurbished, but still…
  2. Examples of what I have played in recent days: Echo Bazaar, don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, TTG’s Back to the Future games, and a few little IF experiments I’ve seen floating around.
  3. Though as I keep saying over and over — and I hope it’s not making anyone too annoyed — donations and swag-buying are very much encouraged!
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2 Responses to An Expensive Hobby

  1. Lee says:

    I totally understand this sentiment. I really do.

  2. NordicNinja says:

    I too understand this, even though I’m not as far down the spectrum as you are, Dierdra. There are so many games that I pass up without even considering the purchase of because of monetary issues. Mostly I try to borrow them from friends or trade them.

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