Photo: Richard Baker (Getty Images)
I remember being disturbed by the talking mannequin while watching the 2009 rom-com Confessions of a Shopaholic who convinces Isla Fisher that a $120 Henri Bendel scarf is all she needs to conquer a job interview. It was disturbing because I, aching for anything loose and glamorous in the West 34th Street Macy’s window, as glossy magazines instructed me to, would have also ignored her shallow eyes and bought the scarf (if I wasn’t 11 years old). “The point about this scarf is that it would become part of a definition of you, of your psyche” the plastic woman says to Fisher, shining. “Do you see what I mean?”
Video games aren’t sold like department store scarves, but like all products, artistic or otherwise, they are indeed things to sell. I can imagine an animated Master Chief standee heaving a bulky $200 Collector’s Edition at me in my daydream biopic—Confessions of a Recovering Impulse Buyer—or some $70 Harry Potter nonsense, pulling me close for a peek into the box: “The point about this game is that it would become a part of a definition of you.” But though glossy covers still call to me, I’m more pained by the fact that the world’s garbage piles are turning to hills and then scabbing over the ocean, and that recent inflation makes excessive purchasing personally unsustainable, too. So I’ve learned to move on from unnecessary purchases, and this Black Friday (and Cyber Monday), I think you should, too.
I know that waiting for a discount can be a practical thing, though, especially for an expensive hobby like gaming. A 2014 survey from market research group NPD noted that “half of PC gamers who play [PC games] are expecting there to always be a sale right around the corner,” and so they wait to pounce. That’s still true and observable, with sites like IsThereAnyDeal.com tracking digital game sales in real time and even the more general r/BlackFriday loaded with links to Microsoft and Steam. And since digital sales are up, I understand that gamers might want to use blowout sale days as ways of grabbing onto our narrowing chances at physical ownership.
But my frustration with Black Friday isn’t its presentation of opportunity—I like saving money, you know—but the type of opportunity it force feeds us. “Buy this game and you will really be a gamer,” sales copy garbed in bright, primary colors seems to scream, “you can become the person you see yourself as!” Be yourself, who you want yourself to be, but hand over the cash first.
In reality, it’s impossible to be a gamer—letting yourself breathe, get to know a game, and play—if you’re buying games as often as the industry wants you to. And while games seem to parachute down over us throughout the year, appearing en masse and out of nowhere, they’re also getting longer despite the very obvious detriment that combination makes to quality and to workers.
More is not more. But some gamers are willing to give into expensive trailers’ silky manipulation anyway; some self-report buying anywhere from 10 to over 100 games per year. “I buy waaay too many, but usually look for them at a great deal,” one Reddit user said in a thread about yearly game purchases. And how many do they finish? “Not sure how many I actually play though,” the same user continues.
“So far as we know, men don’t shop,” begins Vogue’s 1924 “Philosophy of Shopping,” incorrectly. “They buy things; but there is no glory about it, no thrill.” 100 years later, gamers are living contradictions. Buying a new Call of Duty, a franchise seconds away from puddling into an amorphous blob of military propaganda with slightly variant graphics, is all about glory, the chance to dunk on idiots online and show them who you are.
But unlike its appraisal of the made-up 1924 male shopper, Vogue says that the average woman takes shopping “by the ear, casually, irresponsibly, rapturously, continuously.” But, interestingly, even the most ardent female shopper is “invariably badly dressed.”
“They have plenty of clothes, just as a dictionary has plenty of words,” the article continues. “But words don’t make literature.”
So let’s tear the seams between genders and time and acknowledge that unbridled shopping is far from a woman’s bloodsport—it’s a bad habit we’ve all internalized since the first roaring ‘20s. It keeps us uncomfortable under clutter and disconnected from the things we supposedly care about, the things we bought. But how can you be a “gamer” if you consume but never savor, missing out on the pleasure of an art form you love?
No matter what it is, clothing or a console, I don’t want to stick something that took manpower, time, and pieces of the Earth somewhere I’ll eventually forget about. I don’t want these things, supposedly these external pieces of me, left on a shelf or in a Steam graveyard to collect real or digital dust. I want to respect these things and myself, my time, and my money by actually using them. I don’t want to get smothered by more stuff, the way our poor blue planet soon will be. I pulled back from my childhood impulse to buy by remembering that and replacing an urge with care.
This year, when passed a batch of tantalizing, colorful gaming deals, choose the overlooked comfort in playing what you already have instead.