Now that we’ve received the awaited stimulus checks, it is no surprise that thousands of Americans are blowing it on the newly released game consoles: Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s PlayStation 5.
Escaping Reality By Spending Stimulus Checks On Game Consoles
This isn’t to say that people spending money on game consoles aren’t hurting for money and spending their stimulus checks poorly. It has been six months since the last stimulus check, and at this point, $600 is comparable to giving a bandage to someone who was just disemboweled. On the contrary, gaming platforms allow users to forget the reality of their situations. We are in a time when a video game can offer an escape from the chaos of everyday life. Is it predatory that Microsoft and Sony waited until right before the holidays to release new consoles and games?
Yes, but it is a predatory nature that is being embraced. Not to mention that spending money on game consoles is both condoned and propagated by the government. The government would like nothing more than for individuals to stay at home in an effort to reduce COVID cases, and rightly so. People are given these “stimulus” checks to re-inject them into the economy in an effort to stimulate economic growth. Similarly, it is no shock that Nintendo (another gaming console maker) is expecting 2021 to be a record-breaking year. It is also not that shocking that the new Xbox has been sold out since November. People are scouring the internet, refreshing out-of-stock websites in hopes of finding some mental escape in these new technologies.
The struggle to find these new technologies is in part due to the reduction of labor on the manufacturing side of things and the newly invigorated intermediaries that are making cash off the reselling of these systems. Bots are watching suppliers and buying out everything that gets restocked in an effort to resell the consoles at a higher cost.
Along with video game consoles being sold, AMD (a gaming graphics card company) just released its revolutionary new 4K resolution graphics cards, which are sold at around $700. They have also been sold out due to programmed bots that can jump the line in checkout. These bots have been buying up graphics cards, not to resell, but for use in supercomputers to mine cryptocurrencies. These technologies are in high demand, and users are at the whim of sellers.
The Rise Of WallStreetBets
While individuals struggle to find a way to escape reality, they are also finding a unifying force in online communities. These are the same online communities which led to the GameStop uproar on Wall Street last week. The Reddit community WallStreetBets with over 6 million users is fighting back against the disappearance of GameStop and AMC.
These places were in their heyday in the early to mid-2000s but stopped being a necessary intermediary between buyer and developers now that video games can be downloaded (relatively quickly) on any device and movies can be streamed at 1080p in any living room. Why haven’t prices for video games gone down since retailers have been cut out of the picture? How are people supposed to extract wealth from the control of large corporations?
We aren’t the only ones asking these questions. In January, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern about large social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and the threat these companies pose toward “legitimate democratic institutions.” Recently, Putin made the news by jailing activist Alexei Navalny after a failed assassination attempt. A documentary was also simultaneously released on Putin’s $1.3 billion secret palace. It would seem as though Putin is entrenched in the lost fantasy of luxury.
In his palace exists rooms that will never be entered, items that will never be used, a theoretical fantastic space realized but not lived. As we watch videos of the 3D-rendered remapping of the estate, we engage in a similar fantasy of walking through its halls without physically doing so. Protests have been erupting through Russian cities as realities/ fantasies collapse in on themselves. Is this the same fantasy that users on Reddit’s WallStreetBets have for GameStop?
This is the paradigm between physical and virtual space. The experience of going to GameStop and buying a video game represented a physical ritual for entering the virtual. Now there is no physicality, and so it becomes fantasy, and virtual becomes reality. As individual lives get consolidated to fit the screens we stare at, we imagine a reality that has now become lost. The fantasy becomes an escape from a reality where data is mined, collected, sold, studied, distorted and denied. If this is the new space where individuals are to find self-worth, community and entertainment, it is no wonder that there would be the paradox of wanting the physical while existing in the virtual.
About the author:
Matthew Bacher is a professional artist and is working towards his MFA in Painting and Printmaking at San Diego State University. His work deals with postmodern ideas around nature, technology and the self. You can find his artwork at mbacherart.com.