The Jaded Gamer

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What makes us want to keep buying games? Part 3, The Grass Is Always Greener & Fear Of Missing Out

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
Lincolnshire
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"She said the same thing about waffles."
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Another in my series of "Alec going cold turkey" posts, where I rationalise my rejection of new game buying as a sensible and necessary thing. Either that, or you can just accept that I am still trying to promote informed and rational purchasing decisions. Either way, read on...

As a child I recall always thinking that everyone was having a better time than me. Perhaps you feel the same way as an adult - that everyone else is having a whale of a time while you agonise over every little moment you spend not doing "normal" things like the dishes or alphabetising your underwear.

Of course, the concept of "normal" is as much a myth as that one about Zeus turning into a bull and impregnating a woman in a field (which is probably the worst denial of infidelity I have ever heard). Experience has taught me that everybody on the planet feels this way. Take your morning commute - I imagine everybody in the world looks at their fellow commuters and thinks about what mindless sheep they appear to be, never realising they appear exactly the same way to others...

Anyway, that's by the by. "The grass is always greener" is an expression of the idea that if we can just get "over there" we will have reached some kind of nirvana where all is wonderful and we will, finally, be content.

Of course, we never will. Shortly after arriving in the greener pastures over the bridge where the troll lived (I think...) we are likely to start looking at the next field.
And the next.
And the next.

So it is with gaming. The predilection of the gamer to seek greener gaming pastures is well established in the endless refinements of theme and mechanics (or more accurately, "mechanisms") that represent the half steps forward the majority of designers seem to take.

If I may be so bold as to describe the process in such basic terms as these (and why would I stop now?) it is easy to see the feedback loop inherent in this thought process.

10 Enjoy game
20 Explore Game
30 See personally defined areas for improvement
40 Hear of new similar game coming out that may fix the problems you see
50 Buy New Game
60 GOTO 10

Now, you may be right in your assessment of the game's shortcomings - especially if you remember that preference is different from facts - but it is equally likely that any game solving those problems will throw up issues of its own.

In combination with the other reasons for picking up a new game in my earlier posts on the subject, this wanderlust is devastatingly powerful in causing a continual purchase, reject, purchase cycle - with the desire to avoid embarrassment leading us to rationalise the cycle in many ways.

The real reasons are probably less rational. If you like reading rulebooks, why buy the game? If you enjoy playing games, why is it always necessary to buy the game? If you like a game you own, why buy one that is pretty similar?

Oh, I know - we're afraid of missing out.

Think about it - "I love this game, but what if that other one is even better? I'll be missing out if I don't try it". Oh good, suddenly I'm an idiot for NOT being irrational. "The Grass is always greener" always seems to trump "A bird in the hand".

But, really, what is so awful about playing a game that is "almost perfect" forever? When you make the decision to buy the next game in the chain is the difference in enjoyment really going to be defined by anything more than mere novelty? Can the novelty of new game components in a similar design (I'm looking at you worker placement games!) trump the novelty of a further game of the old version?

Have games become so predictable and scripted that in order to achieve variety we have to buy a whole new one? Goodness knows, I hope not.

Perhaps it is more unusual than I think for people to sit down at a table with a group of people who already know the rules to a game and play. I can highly recommend it. I am always fighting for more appreciation of the fact that learning the rules to a game is not the same thing as learning to play a game. When someone rejects a game of any kind after just a couple of plays it is a (admittedly) minor tragedy - all that work creating a game that could be played many times, wasted, in favour of an endless hunt for impossible perfection.

I guess there must be people who have sat down for a game of Tichu, or Go and given up on the system as "dependent on the cards you get dealt - like the game is playing me" in the former case, or "too dry and complicated" in the latter. Taking two of the finest games ever designed and playing them a couple of times before moving on is a more than minor tragedy. The opportunity cost of not exploring them in full is, for me, far higher than the nebulous opportunity cost of maybe missing out on a slightly better refinement of the system, one that is better suited while not necessarily a better design.. though I would challenge anyone to come up with a better refinement of design than Go, though I do admit it is not to everyone's tastes.

In conclusion, then, I remind the reader to think every purchase through. It is not always wrong to buy games - that's definitely not my position - but it is wrong to buy games (or anything) without a decent reason. If your reason is really a search for impossible perfection, born out of a fear of missing out on it if it is there (and you will know if this is the case) wait a day or so before buying. Play a favourite game again - you may change your mind.
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