I have a limited amount of time on this planet. I also have a limited amount of money to spend. Therefore, like any Homo Economicus, I have a rational desire to get the most value for money for my time-wasting distractions.
So, after months of memes, I bought Untitled Goose Game on the Nintendo Switch to play over the Xmas break. I baulked at the price - £18 - but figured since everyone else on Twitter enjoyed it, I would as well.
I settled down to play it one afternoon, picked it up the next morning, and was staggered to discover I'd completed it! I am not good at video games. I didn't look up any walkthroughs. The game is short, and pretty crappy value for money.
Goose is fun while it lasts. It's not-quite innovative, the puzzles mostly consist of move Thing A to Place B. It's charming and silly. I did enjoy it while I was playing. I suppose the best thing I can say about it is that the whole thing is too short to be repetitive.
(If you think you've read this blog post before, you're right. 5 years ago, after seeing the Internet fawn over a cutesy puzzle game, I wrote "Is Monument Valley Overpriced? Yes." I don't learn my lesson, do I?)
So, does the Goose experience represent value for money?
£18 for 5 hours' of entertainment is about the same price-per-minute as a couple of cinema tickets to see the latest Star Wars movie. It's cheaper than going out for cocktails, or a fancy meal.
But it's vastly more expensive than reading a book. The average book I read tends to have a value of about £0.50-per-hour.
OK, but videogames are a different experience to other forms of entertainment.
Goose's £3.60/hour pales into comparison to any of the thousands of free games available on mobile. Many of them are just as fun and innovative. And, did I mention, much cheaper.
My wife plays a lot of open-world games on the PlayStation 4. A second-hand copy of The Witcher, Spider-Man, or any other recent AAA game costs around £20 and offers literally hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Novelty as value
There's another aspect - how much do you value original experiences.
I see the $/hr argument, but the novelty of the game - how memorable and accessible it is, compared to so many other games - makes it worth the premium to me. Ludic value
— Laura James (@LaurieJ) December 23, 2019
I'd rather go to a new restaurant than eat in the same place twice. As my Untappd data shows, I've never met a new beer that I didn't want to try!
Goose is novel. I've never played as a mischievous bird before. So, reluctantly, I accept the Ludic Value argument.
Shared experience as value
The real gameplay was the memes we made along the way?
— ROU TimOS 3.3 🇪🇺 🏴 (@gothytim) December 22, 2019
And, I guess this is the real reason I see the new Star Wars movies on their opening day. I want to share the experiences with my friends. I don't want to have to dodge spoilers, I want to understand the cryptic memes,
So, this is the future. I can go and read "Moby Dick" for free, and maybe I'll be able to find some dusty social-network where people endlessly discuss Herman Melville. Or I can have a moment of zeitgeist which relies on a mass of people simultaneously experiencing novelty. That's (part of) the reason people buy new books, watch new films, and play new games - even when there's an infinite amount of better, cheaper entertainment.
It's football, isn't it?
I've never understood the sorts of sports fan who say "We won against Melchester!" - obviously they had nothing to do with it.
But they had a shared experience. One which evoked feelings of tribal loyalty, the drama of success and failure, and the soap-opera of personalities. The value isn't in the winning or losing - it's in the discussing with friends, reliving the good times, and feeling part of a community.
I guess I don't have that gene, so will go back to playing obscure, single-player games, with no community, for free.