Recently, my DVR went insane and started downloading every episode of South Park as it aired. Since there was a South Park marathon of some sort going on, it was basically just sitting there recording South Park for hours and hours, which caused some things I hadn't yet watched to be erased from my DVR's hard drive. When I finally wondered what the hell was recording during the late afternoon, the damage had been done, as it had been recording ALL NIGHT LONG and ALL DAY. Thankfully, I caught it before it deleted The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which I've really been looking forward to watching. But still, things were lost, and I was aggravated.
I assure you, neither myself nor my husband did or would ever set the thing to record any South Park episodes. We have never watched South Park. Oh sure, sometimes when there's nothing else on or we are waiting for something we want to watch to start, it might end up on the TV, but no … it's not the sort of show we would ever record. Not one episode, and certainly not many, many episodes. I have no idea what gave the DVR the idea we wanted a full hard drive of South Park. After I made it stop relentlessly recording South Park, I turned on the Playstation and went about my usual late afternoon TV activities of checking Netflix for new things to watch and playing Defiance.
When I was done playing my game, I switched back to the TV, and because the cable box had ended up on the Comedy Channel while I was sorting out what the hell was happening, I was greeted by South Park. I left it on while I did the dishes and washed my hair, because there wasn't anything on and it's funny in small doses. But this episode caught my attention. I actually sat down on the couch and rewound it to watch it from the beginning. It was titled “Freemium Isn't Free” and the subject at hand was the Skinner Box addiction-feeding nature of “free-to-play” or “freemium” mobile games.
“No, see If something's addictive because it's FUN, that's one thing, but this is just blatant Skinner Box manipulation.” –Satan
I've been playing one of these games for two years. It's called Game of War. I knew going in there wasn't much of a game there and that at some point, it would begin using every tactic possible to extract as much cash from me as it could. When I started, I only intended to play until it got boring (and these games do get boring at some point if you aren't paying to speed things up or otherwise make the game more fun), but then I made friends in the game. This made the game quite a bit less boring and more fun, and eventually, I did spend some cash. Not much. About as much as I'd have spent buying a game for the Playstation. Over the course of the two years I've been playing, it works out to about one coffee or fancy pastry a month. Not an unreasonable sum, and I don't regret spending the money. But, I knew eventually the game would really put the screws to me to get much more money out of my wallet.
That began to happen about a month ago. I finally got my stronghold upgraded to the highest level, and now, in order to train the highest level troops, I have to build all these other buildings to level 21, and get a whole lot of research to level 10, and then I have to research said troops, and then finally train them. Each of these things that need to be done now takes many weeks and in some cases many months to complete (and untold amounts of nonexistent wood, ore, food, stone, and silver) unless … I'm willing to toss some cash at it to speed it along. Meanwhile, there are people who have and continue to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on said game who do their very best to make my game as miserable as possible (and take my wood, ore, etc.). Also, in order to keep my stuff safe from these asses, I have to either buy shields (with in game currency that costs cash money) or set “rallies” every 8 or so hours. It's more than a bit tedious.
Now I have done the math. There is a general sum of money that would be required to make all these things happen in a timely manner in order for my empire to be powerful enough to actually be able to go to war and have any kind of fun with the game (which hasn't been fun at all for quite some time). It's enough money to buy all new furniture for my house. It's almost enough for a new roof. Its enough money to buy a used car. It's quite a lot of money. It's far more money than I would ever spend on a game or any other intangible thing (other than maybe a vacation of a lifetime).
I have also done the math for how long it would take me to do it all without spending any more cash on it (which isn't entirely possible really), and it could take another two years to build and research all the things, and then … I'd finally be building those awesome Tier Four troops. While I am busy trying to get all that done, they'll probably come out with all new Tier Five troops, and yet again I will not be powerful enough to compete against the asses making my gameplay annoying and requiring me to spend yet more time and/or more money trying to be strong enough to actually play the game. Meanwhile, the game will be pestering and nagging and pointing out how if I'd just buy some gold, everything would instantly be awesome. I too could be powerful and mighty and defeat my foes!
Yeah, well … I'm not doing it. I'm not going to spend the money, and I'm not going to spend two more years logging in every 8 or so hours “playing” this non-game Skinner Box in the hopes that at the end of that two years I might get to be powerful enough to actually PLAY the game part of the game. You know, the warring part. The thing I haven't been able to do for a full year now, because of all the other people who have gladly paid thousands of dollars to be the biggest “whales” in the kingdom. I can't even begin to compete against them. It's not possible to compete against a bottomless credit card.
So accidentally catching that episode of South Park was timely. I was already not happy playing Game of War, and I already knew it wasn't so much a game as it was a way to part people with their cash, but I couldn't quite find the words to sort it in my head. South Park hit all the points. All the things that have made me angry with Game of War all along. It's an excellent episode, and I not only highly recommend you watch it, but if you have teenagers in your life (and younger kids too, if South Park is a thing you'd let them watch), you should have them watch it too. I'm not at all a fan of South Park, but every so often they knock one out of the ballpark and point a critical finger at some aspect of our culture that really needs to be pointed at critically. This is one of those times.
And if you don't believe me? Well read this excellent commentary on both the show and the whole “freemium” game thing. But really, you should just watch the damn episode. I swear, it's worth it, especially if you or someone you know plays any of these so-called games. Even if you never give them a dime of real money, just playing them supports them, because without the free players, most of these games wouldn't last long. They need a constant flow of free people playing to make it fun for the spendy, spendy whales.
As for me and Game of War, I'll be ending my tenure in the kingdom of Xana will be coming to an end soon. I haven't decided how I will end it yet. Will I pass my accounts on to someone else? Do I just never log in again? Do I announce that I am leaving the game? Do I just go quietly away and leave people wondering? The only reason leaving is hard is because there are people involved. People I will miss chatting with regularly. That's another way these games suck you in and keep you clicking buttons, and I'm just going to have to figure out how best to say goodbye to the game and the people.
I'm done being a rat in a box.
I guess I should thank my crazy DVR for causing me all that grief by recording a bazillion episodes of South Park. If it hadn't done that, I might have been months working up the nerve to walk away from Game of War. Now I see even more clearly than a did before what a pointless waste of time and energy it is. I'll probably be extracting myself within a week or two. Maybe sooner. Game over.