Gamefication of Life Skills

There’s nothing so annoying as buying that shiny +9000 sword the size of your entire character sprite and getting pwned by a slime because you forgot to spend for decent armor. This is pretty much what it feels like when I buy a figure or a book or a game out of budget.

People need something nice every once and awhile to shake us out of our drudgery. Now I don’t spend overmuch; a comic book is four dollars, and I rarely spend over forty for a figure. The bargain game bin is a lifesaver, especially for little-known JRPGs. There’s always a kid who picks up one at full price, doesn’t get any of the references and sells it back. Just a small treat every once in awhile helped me get through 50-60 hour work weeks when I was line cooking, and when I worked three different jobs running all over the city. But that small bit of luxury is often seen as an extravagance. Some politicians will try to shame people and take away their public aid because of it. 

Sometimes, though, that extravagance is seen as normal, which is why, I think, people spend for smartphones and shoes even when they’re on welfare. Things well out of your budget. They’re status symbols that protect you from being cast out as someone who doesn’t belong. Oh, you wear Brooks Brothers and use an Iphone, you must also live in a nice area and won’t mug me or give me a crackwhore STD. I see interviewees come to my office all the time in hoodies and jeans, not because they don’t know but because they don’t have any money to start with. Those expenditures aren’t treats or luxury items anymore, they’re necessities keeping back the a stigma of poverty. They’re making other people treat you as an equal. How much does a suit cost? An Iphone? Decent shoes? How much are those things worth in society?

I only recently got married, but my wife and I have been living together for years. Domestic budgeting isn’t new- we allocate money for everything, down to the quarters for laundry. And, tellingly, we don’t spend for fancy clothes to wear when we’re not at work. We don’t have extravagant watches or jewelry, even when arguably we could buy those things easily. We don’t buy the latest phone when it first comes out (although that S7 looks pretty sweet in gold. I need something to replace my S2. Still works! No cracks either. It’s like the 21st century Nokia…) Which has me very confused. I know we’re both introverts, and we don’t care about status symbols as much as extroverts do. But that alone doesn’t explain our tendency to be frugal. It doesn’t explain the spirit of saving that seems to grip everyone under the age of forty. 

Cool Stuff.

I was playing Final Fantasy X, the collected version with FFX-2 the other day. I remembered playing it in high school, and was nostalgic- also because the remastered version was based off the International editions of the game, and had a lot of cool stuff I never played with. Fans of JRPGs in general will recall the Final Fantasy games as rewarding to people who are anally aggressive about micro-managing every piece of your squad’s equipment, skills, and adaptations to every situation the game can throw at you. FFX is especially so, with various options that amount to lists and lists of figures, uninteresting item names and expenditures of points that apply across many different summons, character skills and weapon customization. Or the sphere grid that you have to plan ten steps ahead for or else you’d be stuck at a boss fight without a critical, life-saving skill because you spent for that cool armor earlier that makes the character change into a skimpy bikini. Sorry, more of a Persona thing.

Were you expecting bewbs, perhaps?

This is a lot clearer in First Person Shooters.

For example, in Resident Evil 4, the series took a sharp turn from a fixed-environment view to an over-the-shoulder perspective. What that meant was a drastic change in how the game makers had to distribute items and weaponry to help you survive the zombie outbreak/angry villagers.

From this…
…to this. He’s actually deploying a legion of cats in this scene.

Generally when you get to a scene in RE3, the game provides the tools you need in the form of weapon and healing placements for the eagle-eyed. They’re pretty obvious once you can spot the tell-tale glint. Not so in RE4- those useful tools are spread out in places you might not see at first glance, like leaned up against a corner, or hidden in a drawer. They’re also not universally available. If you go left you have a useful clock tower to hide in, but if you go right there’s a shotgun in the hut. So on and so forth. So RE4 also introduced an interesting element- a merchant to sell you things that might be useful in the upcoming scene. That meant budgeting like a motherfucker- restricting your expenditure of bullets, money, even herbs to heal yourself. Imagine running around with a sickle sticking out of your collarbone, because you don’t know when the next sprig of basil will pop up on a bookshelf somewhere.

Sound familiar? Yea. It’s fucking adulting.

Because we’re a generation that spent a lot of its time playing these games, we’ve developed critical skills in managing our own affairs. Balancing weekly food budgets? Not as hard as allocating sphere points for Ultima. Picking a durable shoe over a flashy one? Just like picking out useful materia for your Buster Sword. Going into the workplace without a little seed money for a grenade launcher house of your own? Not on your life. Our daily expenditures are better because our budgeting skills were gamified, taught to us better than our high school teachers could. Gamification is all about reasonably sized rewards for accomplishing tasks, given in a set interval that gradually steps up your skills. Sounds like a good way to learn, doesn’t it?

And yea, the whole Iraq War and the recession helped push us into better fiscal practices. But our generation had already been exposed to games that push critical fiscal skills. More importantly, Japanese games carry a value not found in the American bro-ciety: that working hard and managing your few luxuries so they last is not shameful. That loving and devoting attention to your belongings is commendable, not a sign of your sagging social stature and lack of commitment to slash-and-burn materialism. And that’s a good thing. Because the people who drive Maseratis and buy one-of-a-kind Wu Tang Clan albums are also the people who will charge thousands of dollars for a pill to save your life. But the people who play games just want to hang out with you, drink reasonably priced beer and eat Pocky. Which costs like 4$ a box, kind of a ripoff for what is essentially crackers and chocolate.

Rumored to be more traded than cigarettes in prison.

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