Finding meaning in f2p games- and why we really don’t have to

There is a lot of talk about how free-to-play (f2p) games undermine the meaningful component of gaming because anyone with money can quickly garner points without much effort. I agree that a lot of newer games suck up a lot of time and/or money, I’ve certainly paid my share, but I don’t understand why that is such a big problem. What makes a game good, what makes a game meaningful, really depends on the individual and circumstances in which that particular game is chosen.

To make an analogy with other types of media, let’s take books, for example. The romance novel industry is one of biggest markets in fiction sales, and there is certainly a wide range of “quality” when it comes to titles. From a literary perspective, you have Lolita, which is lewd plot about an old man who has sex with an underage girl while dating her mom, but is considered to be insanely good literature because it has one of the most beautiful writing and emotional depth of characters. Then, we have titles like Fifty Shades of Grey, which is perhaps unarguably, far less sophisticated on the writing front in comparison to Lolita, but still has proven to provide immense satisfaction to its readers. It is the same with any other type of media, whether it be television, movies, music, or art. More people probably watch Honey Boo Boo or Kim Kardashian over National Geographic documentaries – all of these programs are an attempt to depict “reality” but can you really judge someone for preferring one over another? Why is it okay to pay $60 for a well-made, complex triple-A, but stupid to pay the same amount in Farmville 2 to have a nicer barn or accelerate the growth of my crops? I mean, can we really even compare? Is it really more “meaningful” to shoot human enemies in Battlefield vs. green pigs in Angry Birds? Why is it okay to spend hours on MMOs or Call of Duty, but not on Bejeweled Blitz?

I don’t like the argument that f2p demeans the player, because people play for a lot of different reasons- for some, it’s just to get a high score, but for many more, it’s about more than earning a high score. (Besides, even if you get a high score, intrinsically you will know the difference between one that is bought and one that is earned). Also, microtransactions within a game are not always tied to game mechanics for advancement- sometimes, the things you can buy are purely aesthetic. Plenty of people buy ceraminc garden gnomes to place on their lawns; why is it “stupid” to buy a garden gnome for your virtual lawn?

I understand how, in the case of social games, paying may seem like “cheating” because some people spend time and effort rather than money. That is why companies have started to differentiate between items that can be acquired with time versus money. I think that is a good way to go, because the value of the different items are not comparable.

I’m not ashamed for the $6 I spent to speed up product production on my factories in FarmUp. The game doesn’t provide the intellectual stimulation, pleasant visuals, or excellent storyline of some other games, but it provides entertainment, and I think I am entitled to enjoy different types of entertainment without being judged. Let entertainment be entertainment.

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