Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mother 3 and Consumerism

One of the keys of Mother 3 in the early going is "the happy box."  It's a glowing box that Fassad, the shady dealer in league with the Pigmasks, convinces everyone in the town that they need in order to be happy.  In short order, the town is full of happy boxes, and people sit and stare at them for hours.  They run home from work to see what's on the happy box.  They want bigger happy boxes.  I think you can see the analog here, but the crux is that after the happy boxes arrive, everyone wants to buy more and more things so that they'll be happy.

It's really quite a bold statement for a video game to make, and it made me think of how perfectly tuned video games are to consumerism.  It seems that as soon as a new game comes out, the question becomes, "What's next?"  Even games that are two or three years old are considered outdated and relegated to used game racks.  People who don't keep up with the newest games are considered weird.  If you have a video game system that came out eight years ago, you're behind the times and need the new gaming system that just came out.  "Have a regular TV?  You need a high-def TV!  Here are some games that look great in high-def!  Buy a high-def console!  Have a high-def TV already?  3-D games are going to come out!  You'll need a 3-D TV for that, and a powerful console to boot!"

The odd thing is that we're not really happy when we walk down that road.  The new only satisfies us for a bit, and then it's not new anymore.  This is demonstrated by the boom in retrogaming, from "Rebirth" games to Virtual Console games to emulators.  If it was in our nature to always want the new, then why would we always go back to the old?

Video games also really tap into that consumer culture in another area.  The joy of a game is in the accomplishment.  When we finish a game, we've accomplished a task, which stimulates happy parts in our brain.  If we're replaying a game, we've already accomplished the tasks at hand, which means that that little happy part in our brain isn't getting stimulated by what we've done, which means that the second time around feels empty somehow.  It's like watching someone else's vacation slides of a place we've been:  Yes, this is all very interesting, and I remember that spot, but it's not as exciting as when we saw it the first time around.

In the end, what we want as human beings is not a constant stream of new and exciting things, but rather the joy and comfort of what we like.  That's one of the lessons of Mother 3, and a lesson we could do well to learn.

(As a sidenote, it's a testament to Mother 3 that it makes you think about these things.  Play this game.)

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