Being involved with video games is really expensive, isn't it? It's a funny thing, really. Hilarious. Then it stops being funny. Here's a funny question: which kinds of people would you expect have trouble getting involved with games? Why does it matter who can afford to play and who can't? Can anybody guess where this is going?
Maybe some of you can't. "Can't" as in: "Why does it matter what the price tag is? Making a game 60 dollars isn't some deep moral travesty. It's business. You're overreacting again. If some people can't afford to buy a certain game, the moon isn't gonna come crashing down on us. (Heh heh, see what I did there?) Cut it out, idiot. You don't know what your dealing with."
Now hold on. Let me talk about books.
Less than an hour ago* I was at Barnes and Noble when I saw it. A gargantuan square table filled with legendary books. They were all combined into collections. The Iliad and The Odyssey, Anna Karenina, three novels from the Bronte Sisters, five from Charles Dickens, seven Jane Austen books, the complete works of Shakespeare and Jules Verne and the best of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and enough of everything else to make an avid reader stop and nearly faint. When I told my father, he was awestruck. He joked that they must have been stolen. And the price tag on every one of these was 20$. I trotted out happily with a new copy of 1001 Arabian Nights. It was super cool.
A selection from the vault. I'm gonna own them all eventually, trust me.
But really, the big shocker here was the price tag. Why would anyone sell something like this for only 20 dollars? Do you know what people would pay to own a classic? Well, as you could probably guess, they were sold that way in order to be accessible to a wide audience. Barnes and Noble may still be a corporate entity, but even they can understand the kind of responsibility that comes with controlling the flow of that much information, the necessity to keep that information, to keep these seminal texts open to all. There was a sense of respect for the works on display that rarely comes up in the game world. This is where I start drawing parallels.
I wasn't a very lucky kid. I was the one who came over friends' houses and played their video games and I'm sorry I can't stop but we don't have anything like this at home. I used to stare in envy at their game collections, not because of any of the games they had in them (There were always a few in there that you couldn't pay me to keep, even now,) but just because of the sheer number of games you saw gathering dust on some kid's shelf. Around the time I had the most friends during my childhood, I had only accumulated three games for the N64 in six years while my friends had too many to count and soared routinely into the double digits.
"Well, if you chumps wanna play my game so much, why don't you just BUY it?"
And that's not even pre-3D console, Super Nintendo and back. We're talking about boxes (note the pluralizing "s") full of cartridges from the '80s to mid-'90s, something I could never even dream of since my parents hadn't exactly been here for generations and generations. And don't even get me started on new consoles and games! I've held on to my N64 since I was six years old and it is still my primary source of video game entertainment, even now. EVEN NOW. And well past the point when even my closest friends were boasting shiny new tech and the latest titles. EVEN NOW. PC games were just the same old story, maybe even a little worse.
Did you manage to have a lot of games when you growing up? Do you know how lucky you are? Do you know how many people weren't as lucky as you are? Some of us had to scrape by on demos. (That's a shout out to a cool guy.) There are a million ways you could have ended up on the outside.
How much money do you make compared to people from different backgrounds than your own? Are you even middle class? Can you afford to shell over 230 bucks for a current-generation console and 180 more for your first three games? Not everyone is willing to do this, but you know who definitely is? The cult of ultra-loyal consumers bred by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo that go gaga over the kinds of games that are on store shelves today.
The brotherhood, pictured at their secret meeting ground.
And if you don't have that kind of money, or the security to spend it on expensive games, does your demographic have anything to do with that? Because if it does, that means you are not going to be able to represent your demographic as a consumer.
And you know what happens after that? Nothing. Nothing. Fucking. Happens.
We have stared into the status quo and it is not pretty. We're told to vote with our wallets if we want change to take place, but the high cost of video games means that only an elite group of people are going to have any voice at all. You know who this group is, right? You know which groups are bound to get left out of this, don't you? Do I have to say it?
It's the same ones that always do, and you know who you are.
Money is the great gatekeeper, and the one who has access to the games is the one who decides their future. I can't pretend to know how to solve this problem, but at least now we know it's there. So now what?
*Last night as of the time of actually posting.