Don’t play with my bank account

Pressing Restart

As a connoisseur of video games, I like going through my collection like an art curator slowly perusing their gallery. Even if I’m not planning to play anything for the day, I will log on Steam and drag my eyes through the titles in my game library, thinking about the potentials within the games I’ve purchased. If I’m not talking to friends or family about games, I’m talking to myself. I’m rewinding memories of past games, hyping myself up for the ones I plan to buy and pondering ones I haven’t played.

I own 42 video games, 23 of which I have never even opened.

That’s more than half. Most I bought on sale for $10 or less, in line with a personal rule. I had promised myself a couple years ago, after spending $60 preordering Fallout 4, that I would never purchase a fully priced game again.

I love buying games. Every year, I look forward to the summer, winter and Cyber Monday deals. I revel in the feeling of snatching a popular game during a holiday sale, as finals and projects appear left and right. I even scour online game distributors for random sales outside of the usual holidays.

The whole process of deciding on a game is exciting to me as well: watching entertaining gameplay videos on YouTube, reading reviews online and looking up cool fan art. I even use new games as an excuse to change my computer background.

Video games range from $40 to $70 when they come out (if you don’t pirate them illegally, of course), so I have to mentally weigh getting them early against saving the price of half of a textbook. Of course, my instincts as a student are to run away from anything without the word “free” or “sale” in it, but the allure of the new Fallout game had had me ensnared. I wanted it as soon as humanly possible, and I was willing to fork over $60 for it. As an added bonus, preordering Fallout 4 would score me a free Fallout shirt. “Shirts are $15, so it’s like I paid $45 for the game, right? Sign me the fuck up!” I thought.

And while I did genuinely enjoy this installment of my beloved Fallout franchise (and the shirt), I struggled to fully love the game to the extent that paying the $60 was worth it. The main storyline, in which you play as half of a heterosexual couple trying to find their son, was boring as hell. I had to jump through a hundred mental hoops to relate to my character, despite the fact that Fallout 4 was supposed to be a post-apocalyptic role-playing game and not a human reproduction of Finding Nemo. I had to think back to the videos of gameplay and concept art that I spent hours poring over in order to remember why I bought it in the first place.

As the months went on, I found that I wasn’t solely praising the game for its real merits, but also because I felt obligated to rationalize spending 60 whole dollars on it. I was having fun, sure, but I had a lot of criticisms in my head that I would squash. It became more about looking for the good within the bad than being honest to myself.

Thus, I decided on this personal rule, which has allowed me to at least rationalize my costly hobby. If the games I buy aren’t full price, then at least my opinion on a game won’t hinge on my bank account.

The video games industry, in the end, is a business. And in business, the most important interaction is when customers pay for a service. At the end of the day, whether players are willing to pay or not is everything to the company, so it’s become a trend for video game companies to push for preordering by providing incentives, from free shirts to exclusive parts of the game.

But by preordering instead of waiting for sales or a larger body of reviews, players are misled on the negative aspects of a game until after they own it. Because they already paid for it and are given extra bonuses, they might not want to criticize or return it. No person’s game experience or opinion will be the same, of course, but I’d feel a lot better about disliking a game I paid $5 for versus one that I paid $60 for.

So while most of the games I own went on sale because they are a couple of years old and have mediocre graphics compared to the crazy HD graphics of new releases, that time has allowed for a fanbase to develop a more complete understanding of the game. I find relief in knowing exactly what I’m getting, on top of having fun on a budget. I can love a game for both its strengths and its flaws, but I don’t want to be played.

Mumu Lin writes the Monday column on living life through video games. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @spacelass.