As anybody who has ever seen my hands for 30+ seconds knows, I own a smartphone. I use it for pretty much everything, texting, wasting time, mobile emails, checking my online social life, music, and the occasional phone call...but one of the things I do most is play the games. Sports games, racing games, board games, games where you use some manner of weapon to make a lot of people dead for some reason or other, as many games as I can download from the Android Market (I know they changed the name, but Play Store sounds like an adult device shop…I can’t go for that).
Most of these games don’t cost anything to play. (Hmm, the first hit is free…have I heard that before?) That is, until you actually start playing. At some point you may find out that in order to stay competitive with other players, gain gameplay-vital upgrades like better guns, a faster engine or more colors with which to draw something, or even advance the game past a predetermined dead-end level, you’ll have to shell out some real-life coins for your fantasy world.
Sometimes they just ask for a buck or two to buy the “full/platinum/elite/” version of the game, a gambit as old as America Online. They even call them “ad-free versions” sometimes, which is weird because they always try to get you to link your social networking account so they can automatically tell all your friends about the game so they can maybe try it too. (That’s the kind of non-advertisement I wish I could get for my book.)
Lately, though, I’ve noticed things getting a lot more expensive. See, now you can trade in your dollars and sense for virtual coins, which can then be used to purchase virtually useful items. These can go for what amounts to hundreds of dollars and give the player who can afford them a distinct competitive advantage or, as mentioned before, simply give them access to all the features that they advertised that you could get in free version but forgot to mention you had to pay dearly for.
The way the whole thing works got me to thinking a little. It might not seem outwardly honest at first, but really it’s a just a microcosm of the way our society works. Think about the standardized American dream for an average person…one day owning your own large, paid-off home, a great job, a highly attractive spouse, and 1.5 children (it’s the average here, and I’m not sure how .5 kids would work, but it sounds like something went horribly wrong when one kid was trying to jump over that white picket fence) all just as ideal as can be.
Of course, if you’re anything like me you know that is not representative of anything attainable through normal gameplay for the majority of people. All these things are actually much more expensive than are let on by the people who provide them, from the large, paid-off home (ask anyone who is still making mortgage payments with Social Security checks) to the highly attractive spouse (all that beauty likely came in many small, high-priced bottles), the 1.5 children (who statistics show will cost upwards of one million dollars to raise to age 18 as the law requires…seriously, Google it), and the great job, which you probably cannot get with the free trial version of education (aka the 12 years you spent learning shit that will likely get you little more than a paper hat job).
To draw the parallel in heavier ink, even the things that you have to buy are seemingly worth less and less in-game. In order to get married, you need not just a ring, but the right ring (that means expensive, in case you didn’t know…I heard a story from a friend just this week of a 10 year relationship that ended with a returned jewelry store purchase because the rock didn’t cost enough months’ salary and the decade of the guy’s life apparently wasn’t worth much either).
Those 1.5 kids you have don’t just need to be fed, sheltered, sent to school and kept alive like in the old days, they also need various electronic devices and designer clothes to break and ruin like they need oxygen from the time they can take their first steps (brought to you by Nike). Since the free schools suck, you’ll also likely have to pay for their education in some way, be it through a private school or with the help of a tutoring program, which I swore is what they were supposed to be doing for those 8 hours. (Really, public schools are just to keep kids out of trouble during the day and give them all the necessary skills to work an unskilled job.)
Even a bachelor’s degree, which is billed as a $100,000 investment, has 50% of graduates either watching daytime TV with my college dropout ass today or wearing the super’s visor at a fast food restaurant wondering when their advanced career training will advance their career. Usually to progress further, they must purchase additional pieces of parchment paper and hope that they still want to play the game they chose…but if not, they can always start over with a new game and buy all the necessary items for that. (Man, is that a sweet racket…the only guarantee to the consumer is of expense. Gotta open me a college one day.)
Can most people afford all this, to play the game to its full potential and gain all that is advertised within it? No. But the people who sell them will tell you that you can. They’ll never stop telling you that you can, it’s this belief that keeps them profitable…and what’s more, people are mostly happy to oblige them. So what if the item I want is out of my budget…I want it! Many of us are willing to spend more than our means allow to buy a bunch of mostly inconsequential shit using real life currency, like our money, and something even less replaceable, our time.
That’s what leads to situations like buying a car you can barely afford to buy, let alone maintain, working 10 years in a career you found out too late you don’t really like just to pay off the debt you incurred finding out, getting so caught up in providing for children you forget to provide them a parent, and yes…spending the cost of a week’s worth of groceries buying the ultimate tractor to grow crops on your virtual farm. At a point, it becomes less about whether you really wanted or needed the thing than simply having it for the purposes of advancing the game towards its advertised conclusion.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just bitter and broke, but it seems like we’re sold on a certain thing all our lives knowing that there’s no way most people can get it without giving up more than what many people would call reasonable. We live in the land of the free trial. Life here doesn’t have all the features promoted in the ad, but you can certainly upgrade to the full version…it’ll cost ya, though (and there’s no such thing as an ad-free life here, sorry…soon they’ll be putting ads in conversation: “Hi!”, brought to you by Dentyne Ice…”Where’s the bathroom?” sponsored by Charmin…”Fuck you!” in partnership with Trojan).
It’s not to say that I don’t want nice things…shit, I like money as much as the next man, it’s just that I know both its value and my own, and the equation has to be balanced sometimes. Just like in the smartphone games when an item would be nice to have but my cash is nicer, I just feel as though we should take a step back and evaluate whether some of the things we strive so hard for are worth what they cost if you have to consider what they cost. In my opinion, people make a lot of bad investments of their finances, energies, and existence, sacrificing the indisposable for the inherently disposable…but then again, my opinion is worth 10 bucks (plus shipping) tops right now, so who knows…