Thursday, December 22, 2016

Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World - 20 hours

I didn't quite finish "Cthulhu's Angels" mode. I got pretty close, but those long dungeons are a real pain. I'm tempted to go back and finish the whole thing, but for some reason, my Windows 10 laptop doesn't want to run the game, and I had to go back to my Windows 7 desktop to get the last few hours. So, you know, it would involve a slightly larger amount of work . . .

Anyway, in terms of ratio of enjoyment-to-cost, these two games may be the best single dollar I've ever spent.  What else can a dollar get you? A candy bar? A single rare Magic: the Gathering card, provided it's not too rare?  Only video games offer this kind of value at such a low price point. Sometimes I feel guilty about it. The utility I get from these discount games is a lot more than the price I pay for them and yet I still insist on hunting for the best bargains.

On the other hand, this utility only manifests itself when I actually get around to playing them. And while one dollar is a complete steal for twenty-plus hours of light-hearted, well-constructed rpg gameplay, it is probably too much to pay for a couple of digital files that do nothing but take up space on my hard drive. And let's not even get into the opportunity cost of playing these games.  I'd have probably had more fun playing another twenty hours of Fallout 4 or Civilization V, regardless of the relatively smaller dollars-per-hour ratio.

It's a tension I've become more and more aware of as I work my way through the blog. Games have gotten ridiculously cheap, but more often than not, I've been paying for the idea of the game, its potential. Until it's been played, the game doesn't really exist to me. I've handed over money for something in limbo, the inchoate idealistic halo around a game, and it is only in playing it that it becomes reified.

So what does it even mean to "buy" a game that I won't play for years, and then only under the onus of an ill-conceived gaming blog? I think it breaks down into two different strains of thought.

First of all, the shopping experience in-and-of-itself has value (hyphenated because I mean it like a German philosopher would mean it). That is to say, that parting with money is, in addition to all of its economic implications, a sensual act. It's something I've discussed before, but in the context of comparative shopping and hoarding. However, I think there's another element to it. I think the fact that the money has been spent also has an intrinsic value.

Basically, it boils down to this - money is work. You peel away bits of your life and sell them and get cash in exchange. And a lot of this money is earmarked towards things you need - pay the rent, buy groceries, gas and insurance for the car, quarters for the laundromat, etc. And often times, it can feel as if your life is a mere cycle of money. Thus spending money on frivolous things (and there can be nothing more frivolous than a digital copy of a game that you won't play until years later, if at all) bears a symbolic weight. It is allowing money to escape from the cycle. And since money is work and work is a fraction of your life, in a way it is allowing you to escape the cycle, at least a little bit.

And that's a value that you can't get from free activities, not even the really spiritually uplifting ones. Hiking through a park at sunset and shedding a single tear at nature's incomparable beauty may not be part of capitalism's plan for your life, but it is nonetheless economically responsible. Recreational consumption, as thoroughly un-subversive as it may be, allows you assert some authorship over your economic life. This bit of money, I earned for myself.

Or maybe I'm just saying that because my living expenses have increased dramatically over the last few months and I'm feeling kind of stressed about it.

The other possible value that might come from buying games that you're never realistically going to play is that the purchase may be construed as a kind of wager. On the obvious level, you're betting whether a game will be good or bad, but you're also betting on whether you'll play the game at all. And the best part about making that sort of bet is that you don't definitively lose until you actually play the game itself.

And I've definitely lost a couple of times. I absolutely should not have bought Age of Wonders and Antechamber was interesting, but tortured me intermittently. However, I think one of the great things about doing the blog is discovering that most of my bets turned out to be pretty good ones.

Which brings me back (finally!) to Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World. They were both games that I am content to play through once and then never touch again, so they weren't, technically speaking, as wise a purchase as, say, The Elder Scrolls Anthology, but then, that Anthology wasn't really much of a wager. I knew beforehand that three of its five games were ones I wanted to play soon and play often. And because they only cost me a dollar, they weren't as satisfying a wager as something like Starbound. However, it was a real pleasure to discover, at last, that the dollar I spent three and a half years ago was, in fact, a dollar well spent.

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