Buying ain’t what it used to be

I’m sitting in the chair as Marcus, one of the students at Barber College of Lansing, finishes my cut. Gotta keep that lineup tight!

“Check twenty-three” he says, still chuckling to himself while still processing his mistake. Two weeks ago, we were discussing video games and he was going on about Ninja Gaiden Three  on the PS3, and its difficulty. I, being an expert on such topics, especially anything related to ninja — simulated or otherwise — assured him that whatever he was playing, it was not Ninja Gaiden “three.” He promised to take a picture of the jewel box as proof.

Today he confronts me with the cell phone photo. Sure enough, it is not a “3” on the jewelbox, but a “∑.” I don’t rub it in, but I am confident that his bashful smile and shaking head is his defense mechanism for his shaken pride as Kevin, the intern of the barber school approaches to evaluate the quality of services rendered.

“So have you played RAGE?”

I fail to hear him the first time as the conversation in the chairs across from me concerned the dominance of the SEC in NCAA football, another of my confessed passions.

“Have you played RAGE?” he repeats after I apologize for mishearing him. “You’re wearing a Quake shirt, so I thought you’d heard of it.”

I perform a double-take for two reasons.

First, I am indeed rockin’ my Quake IV tee back from the days when developers and distributors such as EB games offered more substantial pre-order bonuses for games such as t-shirts and recently, a Sonic hat for Sonic Colors instead of that so-called “exclusive” downloadable content (DLC) garbage which will be included in future Game of the Year (GOTY) editions a year down the road. In other words, it would require a complete nerd, a fellow hardcore gamer, to recognize the iconography of my shirt and the fact that the game developer Id is responsible for Doom, Quake, and RAGE. Secondly, I had patronized this barber school for five years without having exchanged a single word with Kevin, and now I discover that this dude plays more than Madden and Call of Duty!?

“Naw, I haven’t gotten a chance to play it,” I respond, dropping the formal diction that my vocation  requires, “I mean, I’ve been tracking it, but it’s brand-new and man, when  you gott’a wife-n-kids. . . I just can’t afford to run out and buy a $60 game anymore, especially when I know it’s going to drop in price in a few months. I mean, it’s a first person-shooter (FPS) and I have a personal rule against buying those kinds of games for consoles when I have a gaming rig (PC) in the first place. If it were a more complex game like this game I play called Shogun 2 (Total War: Shogun 2 actually) though, I’d buy it first-day just like I used to back in the day.”

“Yeah, I feel you man,” Kevin agrees. “I remember those days. Age of Empires and all that. Buy a game and beat it overnight. . . actually I did that with Gears of War 3 the other day, but that’s a rarity these days. Special Occasion.”

Kevin would confess in this exchange that he himself actually is not “hardcore” but he knows people who are, and at times may emulate their tendencies.

You know, 21st century hardcore gamers. The ones who stand in line, rain, sleet, or snow, for 12a.m. releases for the purpose of completing the campaign/main quest or mastering the multiplayer modes and maps before the rest of civilization awakens the following morning, maintaining their gamer supremacy via respawn camping,** premature game reviews, and general petty bragging. These are also the kind of gamers who yearn for the content equation of blood + gore + profanity + nudity= mature = GREATEST OF ALL TIME (GOAT).  This neo-hardcore as opposed to hardcore from the 80’s and 90’s who scoff at the idea of save points. But I digress. “Who is a Hardcore Gamer”is a column for another day.

Kevin and I, approaching thirty, agreed. Again, why buy a game for $60 when in a few months, one can buy two or sometimes THREE games for the same price? (Personally I am still disgruntled at $60 being the standard for non-Nintendo new releases!) Delayed gratification is one concept that experience in this gaming business has taught me to appreciate. By not bucking to hype, this year I have acquired Vanquish, Bayonetta, Dante’s Inferno: Divine Edition,  and Demon’s Souls for about $13 each used, S&H included. That’s $240 (before tax) worth of games if purchased brand-new before tax for $52. The $188 saved can be used to fill the gas tank a few times, a date night with the Mrs., or (most likely) more video games.

Delayed gratification does have its negative sides. There are often “sweet spots” with pricing. I once missed Bayonetta for $10 and had to wait another six months before I located another copy. A Nintendo game like Super Mario Galaxy 2 might sell with a $15 gift card at launch, and it might be two years until a similar deal could be found.  Snooze-n-Lose. Alternatively, the entertainment factor of games like Warhawk and Demon’s Souls are contingent upon online components that are more integral than supplemental. If one waits too long, one may miss out participating on the servers while they are both functional and populated. Good luck finding a viable Aliens vs Predator (2010) online community, for example, as compared to launch. Likewise, I have yet to find a lag-free match in Tekken 6 since I purchased it mid-2010.

Still, I find that the benefits of “delayed gratification” offset the negatives. Purchasing discount games weeks, months, or even years from the release date alleviates the impact potential disappointment. I might have been less offended at MadWorld, a game whose sole selling-point is the vulgarity I mentioned earlier, had I not paid (near) full-price for it (at least No More Heroes was in color). Between MadWorld and House of the Dead: Overkill, never again will I make a compulsory “hype” purchase.

These days, the most embarrassing aspect of a gamer of my age and responsibilities is that I don’t have time to play all of these games that I am (still) buying. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Steam Christmas sales are in our midst.

** Respawn camping is a strategy in FPS games where one stands near, often behind, a zone where upon death, a player is placed back into the game (respawn). Made particularly infamous (unsportsmanlike and generally a jerk move) in Goldeneye 007  where players did not even have to camp respawn zones, but could place mines in the known locations so that upon respawn, enemy players would instantly die, often before the player could move or even realize that they were ever alive! Spawn camping typically requires an obscenely grotesque understanding of the game as respawns are often randomized, though some players still manage decipher and predict respawn location patterns depending on developer coding. More recent trends include grenade spam in games such as Halo, where upon death on smaller maps, remaining players chuck grenades into known spawn zones hoping for quick, cheap kills (frags). Even casual gamers may be familiar with simply “camping,” which is a similar strategy, but not nearly as cheap and frustrating to other players as the former.

Maurice Pogue spends his time spoiling the fun by taking the joke too seriously.

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