There’s an Andy Warhol quote I come back to again and again. It’s from his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol:
You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
One of the things that made Soulja Boy’s video review of Braid so fascinating (for me, at least) was that it showed a successful musician geeking out about something that nerds had almost taken for granted. We’d played this game. We knew it. On the other hand, Jay-Z’s lyrics are increasingly about extremely exclusive experiences (“Let’s get faded / Le Meurice for like 6 days“), but in the case of Soulja Boy and his Braid video, this was an experience that anyone with an Xbox could have.
Videogames used to be a great social democratiser. If you could afford a videogame, you would be getting the exact same experience as anyone else It didn’t matter how many albums you’d sold or how much money you had in the bank. The only experiential difference came down to your skill at the game.
The recent controversy surrounding microtransactions in Forza 5 makes me think we’ll be seeing the end of this. If I can’t afford to buy a particular car with real money in Forza, then I have to grind and grind until I amass enough in-game credits. According to some calculations, this could take anywhere up to a couple of years for some of the top-end cars.
And that’s what I find most troubling about microtransactions. They’re extending class structure to something that didn’t need one. Now, when I play a game, I’ll know I could always pay more and be playing a better version of the same game.