The Future of (my) Video Games

Hoping for the best, planning for not the worst

I spend a lot of my time thinking about retiring in my 50s. I spend the rest of my time planning for the breakdown of society. The incompatible ideas constantly vying for my conscious attention will occasionally drown each other out and allow general concepts of family, work, and video games to briefly occupy my brain. These short moments of distraction are usually then reframed in my mind so as to view them through one of the primary thought patterns – where will I live in relation to my children after I stop working, or does a year’s worth of water for an infant equal a year’s worth of water for an adult?

Sometimes I think of my physical game collection through these lenses of retirement or environmental destruction. The enormous amount of plastic involved, which I recently learned can’t actually be recycled, and also began to appear in antarctic snow in measurable quantities, does not factor into my thoughts – I don’t believe individuals should feel responsible for systemic problems unless they’re actively profiting off of maintaining the systems or are my neighbor, that guy’s an asshole (too bad he isn’t hunting frequently enough to prevent him from buying bumper stickers about how badly he would rather be hunting). No, it’s what to do with the games that gives me pause.

I like to think I’m a rational doomsday anticipator, a casual prepper. My short term plans consist of adjustments that will be beneficial regardless of society’s survival. Solar power coupled with a separate battery that can store the energy regardless of the power grid’s functionality and a rainwater collection system would be useful in most potential scenarios, including status quo. Realistically, if there is some sort of Mad Max future, these beneficial modifications will simply draw people with guns to my home and will doom me and my family, but what can you do?

If climate change didn’t exist, the Department of Defense wouldn’t be planning for it

There are a variety of tools that predict what the earth or USA will look like in the future; one of the ones I like best is ProPublica’s. It is more robust than many others in that it shows usual things like anticipated extreme heat and new sea levels but also things like forest fire and farm crop yield projections. Complex tools like this one allow me to merge my two thought hobbies – where can I retire that will 1. Not be underwater, 2. Not kill me with ‘wet bulb’ days and forest fires, and 3. Not be in a rapidly declining local economy.

California looks a little iffy, considering it’s already on fire most of the time. The north east seems plausible, but will other people use these publicly available tools to start planning a move to somewhere safer and change the shape of the market? And if I move to Vermont, can I continue making Burlington Coat Factory jokes (I hear they’re more than great coats)?

Optimism is stupid

I am optimistic about the end of the world. It will hopefully be drawn out and incremental. Supply chains will break down, be restored, break down, and prices will continue to climb. Power will go out for frightening stretches and water will be sold out at stores for months, but I will have solar battery power and all the delicious roof water I can drink. People fleeing inhospitable environments will crowd into some cities and countries and we will adjust how capitalism always forces us to adjust – those on the bottom will die horrible, ignoble deaths, and we will all come out poorer besides our rich masters, who will likely be hunkered down on their private islands and complaining about how no one wants to work for bread any more. But I think we will not be shooting each other until long after I’m dead. I mean, shooting each other more than the current, constant rate.

A more realistic view of the future.

So how about those video games? What do they mean in either version of my future? In the gentler vision of the future that leads to early retirement, I continue to allow them to take a room in my home, struggle to keep the door locked and the kids out (they’ve already destroyed some DVDs I didn’t have locked up – Sharknado, noooo!!!), and plan to lug them across the country in the event I can convince my wife to retire on the west coast. Then I suppose we store them in another dedicated room until we die and my children fight Pat’s children for ownership, or just agree to throw it all away (Wand Of Gamelon, noooo!!!).

I want to retire early, and so can you!

The FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement was big news a few years ago and by now is just a cliche. Most people who endorse it are either convinced air conditioning is the height of luxury or insist you can only withdraw 3% of your minimum 3 million dollar portfolio a year. To the uninitiated, this means they’re insanely frugal or already very rich. The unfortunate truth is being born upper middle class is almost a prerequisite to retiring early. Marrying someone with a solid pension (there is no such thing) also helps. Finally, choosing to leave the job market maybe 8 or 10 years early makes the whole thing more realistic. Good luck retiring at 31 if you’re not a hedge fund asshole with exceptional self control.

The inherent belief at the core of the FIRE movement that anyone can retire early with basic knowledge of the market and some discipline has become an American Dream Jr. Much like people who believe in the dream, FIRE fans are inherently conservative because they insist they created the circumstances that allowed them to flee the rat race. ‘I did it, and so can you’ is ultimately the same as ‘if you don’t do it, it’s your own fault.’ Combine this mindset with some of the biggest FIRE celebrities explicitly advising people to fully withdraw from political activity and from even following politics and we have a class of people who, if not directly helping the world go to shit, are at least passively (not) watching from the sidelines. Uncoincidentally, the most famous FIRE guy also dismissed COVID concerns when it was apparent the virus was about to hit the states very hard. And that’s why I want to retire early.

The world’s a joke, try to die before the punchline

A darker path requires more planning. It seems reasonable to sell what I can now and stash the cash for when milk is $19 a carton. But then I get into a game of mental chicken with myself, which I’m already engaged in over when to install solar panels. See, they have a life of say 30 years. But I may not be dead in 30 years and I certainly hope my kids won’t be. So I wait. Wait until the last moment possible to get the most life I can of my solar panels and as much money out of the retro game bubble as possible. I hear timing the market is easy, so how hard can timing the collapse of civilization be?

But what if the Elon Jrs of the future who still have access to dependable electricity decide that old games are a delicacy? Do I play the odds that the rich in our new world will want what I have and pay me frivolously for it? Do the rich ever pay peasants frivolously for anything? Perhaps just as solar panels on my roof would signal to desperate neighbors that they should shoot me in the face, owning a copy of Warsong will only make my untimely demise a certainty. At least I don’t have Suikoden II, that’d really paint a target on someone’s back.

Warren Buffett would murder you for this.

I haven’t entirely figured out the current purchases piece of the puzzle. Limited editions of physical games have managed to sneak past my rational defenses and I am guilty of indulging in a dozen or so (Underhero, which I ordered in April of last year, is certainly still coming, right?). The bigger sin is I haven’t opened most of them and it’s become difficult to do so. The problem with collecting more games is that it is indefensible in either future I am contemplating. If things go mostly smoothly (millions of people living in poverty are drowned or displaced but generally forced to live in squalor far away from freedom loving eyes of Americans) all of this money I throw away on games should be going into savings to facilitate a comfortable early retirement.

And vice versa. If the world is going to hell, I should be spending this money paying off my house (apparently banks liked taking peoples’ houses during the Great Depression), buying gold coated bitcoins, and learning how to shoot the types of weapons usually reserved for murdering first graders. These games are a waste of money to a survivalist and the Switch ones don’t even taste good.

My past is made of plastic

There is a part of me that cannot believe the past is actually gone. This is absurd on its face; we all intellectually understand how time works. Yet it is still difficult to accept that what came before, my childhood, is irrevocably lost. My memories and feelings are all that is left of it and those are slowly fading. Still, now and then I almost expect to wake up and it be Christmas morning and I am a 9 year old sleeping in my sister’s room, excited to go down stairs and see what Santa brought – this year it was the one-two punch of mediocrity that is Sword of Vermilion and Phantasy Star III.

The past, at least the unique version of it in my mind, will soon forever cease to exist, and that terrifies me. I don’t know if this is a universal sentiment or if I should see a psychologist, but based on the money made from regurgitating things that remind people of their youth I can wager a guess.

There are no games and we are their players

Ultimately, and possibly unreasonably, I have doubts about my power to predict the future. COVID has shown just how delicate our structures are, we are loath to spend money on infrastructure because it’s not immediately profitable to the important players, and a Christian fascist coup could very well precede environmental collapse. Things could go from bad to worse very quickly. I have always strongly identified with the wife in The Road. You probably don’t remember her (and it’s one of the 4 books I’ve read in the last 30 years so I don’t know if she’s even in the movie – I find not reading is the surest way to become a better writer), but she makes what I see as the rational choice given the circumstances.

My hero.

Before the armchair therapists and brigade of Corporal Obviouses (there’s only one Captain in a company, nerd) come to explain the healthy way to handle this stuff, I already know. Also, you’re wrong, the healthy option is to work with people to topple world governments and establish structures that are somewhat responsive to our fears of imminent global destruction. But let’s pretend you are right and I should focus on the here and now and stop losing sleep over what could be.

I should be playing the games and enjoying the time I have in relative luxury. My children have never even played a video game, so what the hell am I doing? I could show them what I like, then be a normal human and let them tell me what things they like and then encourage that (as long as it’s Japanese developed stuff on Genesis, Saturn, or Dreamcast). Experiences and memories of fun together will be valuable if I enjoy a 50 year retirement in the Bay or if I have a heart attack next year. And reliving them in absurd detail could be the only thing that keeps me sane while I’m chained up in someone’s basement and slowly carved up for food.

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1 year ago

I find myself agreeing with much of this post in a lot of different ways, so I’m going to latch onto a very specific part of this and ignore the rest which is one way I try to cope with the vaguely existential dread of life in America right now.

I try to engage my daughter with modern games more frequently and older games less frequently – partly because the older games I enjoy tend to involve a lot of reading, partly because newer games are more accessible and convenient. She’ll watch me play King’s Bounty or we’ll play Pocky & Rocky every now and then, but most of the time if we’re playing a game it’s something like Animal Crossing or Switch Sports. Since she’s not reading quickly yet that closes off a lot of games I’d otherwise try to get her interested in. I’ve tried more advanced stuff like Don’t Starve Together that’s lighter on reading but requires higher level planning, but that usually ends up being a more direct metaphor for parenting than I need when I’m trying to ignore the impending collapse of society (or prepare for a relative lack thereof).

1 year ago

This was an engaging read!

I’m amazed to find another person who thinks FIRE is a load of hooey for 99.999% of the people who may try it (unless that part was sacrasm)

On a serious note, I agree with and understand the many anxieties expressed in this piece. And I’m not really sure what to say about it.

It feels like, at a really high level, our generation is old enough to be able to do something about it, but are held back in part by the fact that even older generations are still kicking, and still largely controlling the reins of power.

I sometimes envision a scenario where the world is hell and my kids ask me “why did you let this happen?”, and I’m not really sure I’d feel if I answered with “I wasn’t able to stop it”, because deep down inside I’m not sure if I really believe that’s true.

That being said, on the flip side, it’s also interesting to see what happens when generational changes do affect some sort of societal change. Here’s a piece about how the number of pubs in England is dropping to record lows, and while it blames COVID, a bit of research suggests that it was happening even before the pandemic.

One explanation for why is that Millenials and Zoomers are drinking less. You’d think, in the aggregate, that this is a good, responsible shift in societal interests, but you can find plenty of older people decrying the loss of history and social bonding that comes with closing pubs (while of course ignoring that most of them are left scarred and traumatized by having alcoholic parents who spent as little time with them as possible in the 40’s-60’s).

So we’re dammed if we do and dammed if we don’t!

Yeah, I don’t have any answers.

1 year ago

i am as cynical and pessimistic as the next guy (as long as the next guy is less cynical and pessimistic than jay, apparently) but i think the likelihood of doomsday scenarios is sort of overblown. for most of human history a quarter of kids died before their first birthday and life expectancy was in the mid-30s. a mad max future would be horrible, but things would have to get much worse from where they are to make the world uninhabitable. maybe loss aversion makes it feel like any backsliding would be catastrophic and i do genuinely worry about politics of the US, but on climate there is actually a fair amount of good news compared to where we thought we might be headed a few years ago (we have cut off the extremely bad tails of the distribution with really cheap solar, for example).

if we end up in The Road, i won’t begrudge anyone their choices, but i think its more likely we see some environmental degradation lead to some global instability as we see more climate emigration, but middle class americans (at least the ones that dont get murdered at parades or overdose on synthetic opiods) muddle through. of course there is some tail risk we have to escape to canada with our wives to avoid a handmaid’s tale type future from our white nationalist christo-fascist overlords.

1 year ago

oh, and its absurd we dont own suikoden ii. really regret not buying it when it was merely crazy expensive instead of its current outrageous pricing.

1 year ago

Like the rest of the crew, Jay, I appreciate your honesty and wit (and another soul willing to make Burlington Coat Factory jokes). There’s certainly varying levels of dread in the national atmosphere at present, though you may or may not find it amusing that it feels familiar regardless of the fact that the specific worries and scenarios of folks in my circles are more decidedly of the Reagan booster club set :)

I’ve thought about this article a lot over the last few days, and I’ve mostly come back to a similar line as Pat. Things do seem like they’d have to get a lot worse for most people before we were in danger of living out Remember Me (though the American version would have a lot more guns, obviously). Humans seem to be highly motivated and capable of pivoting when convinced of a good enough reason, though I can’t deny that I’m hoping that any necessary social earthquakes favor the series of tremors approach rather than the river-going-backwards sudden adjustment.

All that said, I don’t know how much these larger issues really affect the underlying sadness of having games or any other part of who we are fade away and what we’re supposed to do about it. I’m not sure if anybody else here identifies with this sentiment, but for my own part, as time has gone on, I’ve felt more and more that games as they WERE FOR ME aren’t worth guarding. Trying to preserve the past as it fades feels more and more not worth the effort as a general practice, particularly if I can actually make new memories in the place of the things that now I only have enough association to remember that they were important to a me who I can’t easily identify with. It seems like guarding the tomb of memory isn’t nearly as worthwhile a pursuit as making new memories, if that makes sense.