Gaming Gluttony: Confessions of a Digital Shopaholic

7 Dec 2011  by   Paul Younger
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Well, that’s a first! I don’t think I’ve ever before read an article which is a vicious personal attack aimed at me.
I refer, of course, to Peter’s piece on not grabbing a slew of games in Steam sales. It might not have looked like a personal attack, but Peter knows my digital hoarding well. I know who it was aimed at. I also know that he is – at least in part – wrong.
That said, Pete made some salient points. It’s certainly true that, if you buy a lot of cheap games in a sale, you’re not going to finish most of them. It’s equally true that if you buy a big pack of 17 Tom Clancy games, you’re probably not even going to touch some of them. And, yes, it’s definitely true that it’s easy to build up a towering collection of games, simply because they don’t have a physical presence barring their footprint on your Steam list and/or hard drive. (Which, incidentally, is why – physically – I always pay with cash. I like to feel that I’ve spent something, to prevent over-indulging.)

The problem, I think, is a matter of perspective. There are at least two on which Peter and I differ, and the first is this:
“And if you ever re-bought a title just so you didn’t have to bother looking for the CD or DVD, then you may well be beyond help.”
I’ve done this loads of times… although, admittedly, almost always for a reason beyond abject laziness. On some occasions, it’s to save space – I have a large collection of physical games and they’re not all with me at any given time, so re-buying something on Steam for £3 means I have access to it wherever I am. On rare occasions, it’s because I really like a game and I’m always happy to pay for it again (see Psychonauts, which I’ve bought for myself around four times).

One some occasions, it is laziness – but not because I can’t be arsed looking for the DVD. It’s because I can’t be arsed looking for the DVD, noticing small scratches on it, sighing, managing to install it anyway despite a few issues, loading up the game, being told that I need to download the latest patch, waiting for it to download the patch at 50k/s from some horrible official server, exiting, installing the patch (which patches every file and takes the best part of 10 minutes), going back into the game, discovering that the patch I downloaded was actually only the first in a series of 12, quitting the game, trying to find a better patch mirror online, downloading the first three manually, then going to bed because it’s 3am and I’ve been dicking about with one game for four hours.
Is it worth £3 for me to be able to just download the game at high speeds and have it patched and ready to play the instant it’s done? Yes. Yes it is. (And yes, the above was a true story, and no, I’m not going to tell you which game.)
The other point isn’t related to Steam per se, but it relates to digital distribution: the Getting It To Work factor. GOG.com, until recently, specialised in old games which generally wouldn’t work on a modern computer without a lot of faffing about. I’ve got years of experience with just that sort of faffing, but even so I’d consider having a version of an older game that will immediately work on a Windows 7 computer to be worth a few quid even if I have the original CDs in my cupboard, and that’s exactly what GOG gives me.

The second perspective on which Peter and I differ is this: Peter presumably goes into any game he plays with a view to finishing it, because he’s some sort of neurotic obsessive-compulsive who feels the need to either self-flagellate or cleanse himself with a vicious wire wool scrubbing if he doesn’t complete a game. Conversely, while I do have an urge to finish games that I’ve spent some time with, it’s not essential to me.
I have a deep interest in games – and gaming – on the whole. It’s why I (try) to write about games for a living. As such I want to experience everything that gaming has to offer, and Steam sales grant me the perfect chance to do exactly that. And, quite frankly, the more I know about gaming in general, the more I have to draw upon when writing articles or reviews.
Normally, I wouldn’t touch the racing genre outside of arcade titles like Mario Kart or Blur. But if DiRT 2 is on sale for £3? Sign me up. Even if I only play for a few hours I’d say I’ve gotten my money’s worth, and I’ve got yet another point of reference in this gargantuan industry. My Steam catalogue is gargantuan for this very reason – I buy a lot of games for not much money at all, simply to get a few hours out of them, so I can see what they’re all about.

The other point, of course, comes with the games with which do want to spend a lot of time – even if not right at this moment. Fallout: New Vegas is the poster-boy for this, and ironically enough I would probably have skipped that until it dropped even further in price were it not for Peter’s constant urging that it’s fantastic (and he’s right).
I picked up New Vegas in the Steam Christmas sale last year for £15 and didn’t play it until six months later, when I tore through it in the space of a week. I also picked up all of the DLC in a sale, and thus far, I’ve hardly touched it – but I will. I’m not in any hurry to do so and it might be another year or two before I do, but I like knowing that I have the DLC there, and that whenever I feel the urge to play it I can do so, and I won’t have to pay a higher price for it.
That’s where Peter and I differ. In truth, my opinion is reasonably similar to Peter’s – if you’re never going to play something then there’s no point in picking it up – but by the same token I have no problem urging you to buy random games for a song if you’re curious about them, if you can afford to, and if two or three hours of play is worth a few quid to you. I know it is to me, if only for the sake of broadening my gaming horizons. Flight sim? Sure. Racing game? Okay. Obscure German wargame? Sign me up. Surreal Norwegian point-and-click adventure in which you play a toilet who communicates in a high-pitched drone that’ll make your dog cry? I’m up for that.
I mean, hell, I even bought this in a sale. And – much as I loathed every minute I could stand – I honestly don’t regret it for one moment. It’s another point of reference in our weird and wonderful gaming landscape, and it’s another side of gaming that I’m glad I’ve seen.

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