FOMO, and the realities of playing games on a tight budget

alan wake 2 spoilers fomo review

If you can’t play a game when the hype train’s steaming ahead, what’s worse – the FOMO or the spoilers on social media? Vikki Blake has a few thoughts.

Yes, it’s that time again. It’s blockbusterpalooza, that sweet spot of the year that publishers reckon is close enough to the holidays for their new releases to take pride of place on gift idea lists, but far enough away to ensure there’s enough time for that all-important hype train to get pumping.

For most gamers, it’s a time of great excitement. What a delight it is to be so spoilt for choice, especially if you share my penchant for games with ghosts and/or guns, both of which are in plentiful supply around this time of year.

But for those struggling with the cost of living crisis, have been at the wrong end of the devastating round of redundancies lately, work for the gig economy on zero-hour contracts, or just happen to have 2.4 game-loving kids who only seem to want to play the latest shooter when their brother or sister wants to play it, this time of year can be a nightmare. Beyond the omnipresent temptation of coveting something you know you can’t afford, the FOMO – fear of missing out – hits hard, and the spoilers hit even harder.

I didn’t grow up with much money – and had even less in my early adult life (turns out babies are expensive) – but at least I didn’t have to worry about this stuff. Social media didn’t exist, games were still in their infancy, and the big games – the Elden Rings and the Assassin’s Creeds and the Zelda: Breath of the Wilds of the world – were few and far between. I grew up in the generation that had to submit a question to GamesMaster magazine (RIP) – or the man himself via the wickedly funny Channel 4 show of the same name (RIP again) – and wait a week or two for a solution if you found yourself stumped by a particularly tough boss or perplexed by a tricky puzzle. (Although at least being stuck on a game and unable to get help for it did have the unintended – and not necessarily undesirable – side effect of artificially elongating your playtime… which was just as well, given we only got one or two games a year, anyway.)

As we steam towards the end of 2023, however, things are starkly different. There are hundreds of games across a plethora of different platforms and clients, some of which are only available via sub-service you can’t afford, or a console you can’t afford, or they’re console-agnostic and sport a £70 price tag you can’t afford… and that’s without adding on the premium CoSmEtIc OnLy battle pass or seasonal expansions we’re tempted by, too.

But even if you try and be sensible – save up or part-exchange or simply wait until the price comes down (which, Nintendo games aside, they almost always do) – that won’t stop you from feeling excluded while the hype-train is still raging and your friends and favourite websites can’t stop talking about the very thing you know you can’t afford. And then what do you do? Do you have to avoid your favourite sites or content creators because every other story holds a potential spoiler, or do you accept that, because you don’t have the financial bandwidth to buy a £70 game every other week, FOMO is just part of the deal?

Putting your purchase off wouldn’t be so hard if people could keep their yaps shut, but the problem with deferment is that by the time you finally do get around to playing last year’s Very Big And Important Game, the internet could be rife with spoilers. Your social feeds – no doubt stuffed with friends and family who also love gaming, unable to hold back their thoughts and feelings about whatever new game is dominating the discourse – are literary landmines with the capacity to blow up at any moment with a spoilery twist or even a cute screenshot you weren’t expecting.

For Musk-scented socials, you don’t even have to be following a gobby fan – you’ll get spoilers served to you regardless of whether or not you even follow them! It’s like you’re punished for not having the money – or even the time – to be able to play something the second it releases.

This is why the cost of modern games really frustrates me. I’ve seen all the counter opinions, of course – game prices have dropped in real terms over the years; today’s blockbuster requires multiple and complex expertise, which, in turn, costs millions of dollars; as the technical capabilities of modern gaming expand, so too does the cost of software – but I think I’d be more sympathetic to those perspectives if shareholders didn’t see their dividends explode year after year and CEOs weren’t taking home millions of dollars every year in “bonuses”…

Vikki Blake has a column every week here at whynow Gaming. You can read her previous dispatch here.

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