We need to talk about a new video game I’ve been playing. A main reason we need to talk about it is so I can retroactively classify all the time I spent gaming yesterday instead of writing my column as “research.” But also, newspapers should be writing more about video games. Most newspapers have a sports section. But just as many people play video games as play sports, so people should see their hobbies represented. And while some of my hobbies like anagramming are NOT THAT POPULAR, when it comes to videogames it’s high time for more writing, like a POT PLANT AUTHOR.
There is, of course, a stereotype that video gamers are all feckless losers who live in their parents’ basement. But I’m a loser who has a moderate amount of feck, and my own basement. And there are plenty more video gaming losers out there with even more feck than I have. The video game industry has surpassed the movie industry to become one of the biggest entertainment markets in the world, so if you still think video games are silly, I say:
Of course they are!
But there’s nothing wrong with enjoying something silly. People still pay money to watch boxing, which is just two people punching each other in the face until one of them falls down and becomes unconscious. Most things we spend time on are silly, which is one of the great luxuries of freedom, the ability to enjoy silly things. Silly things can be a wonderful escape from a humdrum day. (Heck, given 2020, even a humdrum day might be a wonderful escape.)
In this case, the videogame I’ve been playing is named “Genshin Impact,” a recently-released game which has already become staggeringly popular. One key to its popularity is that it borrows heavily from another popular video game for the Nintendo Switch, named “Breath of the Wild.” Breath of the Wild was a very fun game, according to people who have played it, a category into which I do not fall because the most recent console I have was released in 2001, before some of the videogamers reading this were even born.
But the other key to Genshin Impact’s popularity is the reason I’ve played it: The whole game is free. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can download it without paying any money, and jump into a fantasy world of anime-style characters, catchy music, and fields of monsters and fruit. And you technically don’t have to pay to play it, because it is free.
You may be wondering, “What’s that little star next to the word free?” Well, asterisk you take with a “gacha” game. Genshin Impact is a “gacha” game, which is the term for video games that are free to start playing, but have randomized loot boxes in the game which you can purchase for real money, tiny grab bags that have a small chance of containing very powerful characters and items. The word “Gacha” is Japanese, pronounced as, “Gotcha! You spent $300 on a free game! Hahahaha!”
And indeed, these microtransaction loot boxes are the reason the game can be given away for free. It’s not technically necessary to buy loot boxes in order to play the game, because you can still explore the world and enjoy the game without them. You can play through this story entirely free as Boy With Stick, or Girl Who Flicks Tiny Stones. But if you want to get the good characters like God Of The Wind Who Literally Communes With Dragons, or Legendary Warrior Princess With Exploding Death Sword, then you have to buy little lottery tickets.
The first few tickets are free, but of course I already used all of those and still no Wind God. So the game developers would like me to buy some tickets now, in the hopes of getting a good character. Will I? Maybe. But if I do, I will limit myself to a few. With games like this, it’s essential not to get caught up in the gamble and spend more than you can afford on the loot box lottery.
Frankly, it would be less silly to be punched in the face until you fall down unconscious.