Vegas and Videogames: More, More, More


Purse PyramidLike a lot of people, I spent a lot of my summer in pursuit of leisure. And like a lot of people I visted Las Vegas.

Dipping my toe into that bacchanal of excess, I noticed a display in one of the many opulent bastions of conspicuous consumption that are the Forum Shops at Ceaser’s Palance. A window display inside Dolce & Gabbana featured a towering pile of faux leapord skin purses. Like pyramids of skulls built on battlefields to remind the enemy of your power, your absolute ability to dominate and create a tribute to excessive force and violence. the purse pyramid was a becon of Vegas’ consumerism: See, we have so much crap we can just pile up expensive handbags.

Purse Pyramid DetailI could leave this as some sort of hand-handed capitalist parable. But what really got me thinking was that, in fact, while this is a very obvious illustration of the excess of Western Capital Culture, it is also a pretty good example of something that’s been bugging me about videogames.

In the virtual world, a pile of purses consumes the same resources as a pile of rocks, or a tower built of Tiffany Crystal. So, videogames have created an inside-out view of materiality.

On one hand, games without a lot of stuff feel empty. For most of us, slaying one monster from hell would be enough for a lifetime of bragging. In games, we have to mow down thousands of Nazis to feel like we have our money’s worth. MMOs have become fashion runways where more is better, and more exotic is best. Game quality can be measured on one axis by the number of textures (read simulated materials) the game has at its disposal.

On the other hand, we have started to loose the sense that things matter. More dead enemies, more options at the local armorer’s shoppe–it’s all a blur. Videogame’s casual treatment of matter bleeds into our real world perceptions until it doesn’t shock us to see a lot of anything. We’re used to it.
The computer’s ability to dematerialize excess and make excessive the material is one of those frontiers where the digital medium and the material world, synthetic places and real spaces, interface. In this liminal space, the real and the virtual coexist, and window display works as well as an advertisement as it does a place in Second Life.

2 Responses to Vegas and Videogames: More, More, More

  1. Actual and simulated excess are usefully read as overlapping developments that are functions of the social and economic moment that we are inhabiting right now. Visions of excess have long been available to those who have cared to see them. The current levels of consumerism and the accompanying rendering of human life as cheap and disposable are things that have multi-billion dollar industries behind them as authors. Videogames are only a part of this larger current.

  2. Perhaps you are right. We’ve had the “let them eat cake” mentality for as long as there have been people able to command large amount of resources.

    What is different, I’d argue, is that conspicuous consumption and material excess have been democratizes. I think this is more or less what Debord was predicting. And now the unwashed masses can enjoy piles of crap in Vegas or giant manicured lawns in WoW.

    What happens next? The capitalist engine can push consumption only so far. Sooner or later we run short on resource. Or perhaps we all become decadent, drunk on our own virtual experience, fiddling while our Rome burns.

    — David

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