The cost of entertainment is a funny thing. Regular readers of The Cascade may remember that I reviewed a few board games in the past month. Both games (Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate and Dark Souls — The Board Game) are the kind of game that comes in a large, sturdy box, and weighs more than my cat. They’re filled with pieces and boards, and while both of these games were given to me as gifts, I’m well aware that games like this are far from cheap. Even if I’d bought them myself, having played each game once, and enjoyed each immensely, I feel like I’ve gotten my “money’s” worth. I’d happily pay $60 tomorrow if I came across another game of their calibre.
On the flip side, I’m endlessly stingy when it comes to video games. I can look at a game and know that I’ll enjoy it, know that I’ll get 10 or more hours of fun out of it, but decide that the $8 being charged in whatever Steam sale it’s a part of is still just too much to justify when I have other games I haven’t played yet. Then the next day, I’ll turn around and go to a movie theatre for $12. But I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a movie other than from thrift stores — why would I buy physical media when, between Netflix and the library, I can see whatever I want? Why pay $10 for an album when it’s on YouTube and Spotify?
Where does this disparity come from? I suspect some of it is the social element. Where playing a board game or seeing a movie is typically an activity shared with friends, a video game or album is more often solitary. Scarcity is a factor as well: we assign more value to a tangible object or a passing experience than a digital file, even if is just as functional, and capable of providing just as much entertainment.
Perhaps that speaks to why events like concerts can charge such high prices, and still sell out — that combination of the social element and the fleeting nature of it means that you may only have one chance, but you’re paying to build a unique memory, likely one strengthened by sharing it with friends.
It could also be a consequence of where we are at this time in our society. There’s more supply than demand of everything. Nobody will ever hear every song, play every game, see every movie. These things are unbelievably abundant, and if you don’t care about having the newest and most popular, there are many available for little or no money from smaller, independent creators. To a certain extent, this is a new phenomenon. The internet has enabled us to have countless options, when before we were limited to what was carried in local stores, or shown on a limited number of television channels. In the future, as we come to terms with this post-scarcity media environment, will we be able to value media more objectively, in more clinical terms of what it provides us?
I can’t say for certain, but the success of services like Patreon (which allows fans to pledge monthly payments to creators) are a great indicator that public perception is starting to shift. Creators are being paid for the entertainment they create, and in many cases offer for free, and in a growing number of those cases, are making a living doing that. We’re learning to pay creators for their work directly, rather than valuing a specific concrete project, and appreciating the value of having those creations in the world, not of just owning them for ourselves.
Maybe it’s better that I follow the trend. Instead of spending that $60 on one board game, maybe I should pick some creators whose work I’ve enjoyed for countless hours over the years, and give them a few dollars every month.