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Spending a Fortune to Save a Dollar

Susan Arendt | 10 Sep 2009 21:00
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This past year has been a difficult one for the game industry, and it's made me extremely cautious with my money. People far more experienced and talented than I have found themselves quite suddenly unemployed; so far I've managed to dodge that particular bullet, but I'd be an idiot not to prepare for the worst. As a result, I've been even more frugal than usual with my income, stretching every dime just that much further. But saving is rather a lot like dieting - do it too strictly for too long, and you're headed for a binge of epic proportions. It's bad enough when that means eating an entire double fudge cake by yourself; it's worse when it winds you up in calamitous debt. Fortunately, I've found a way to avoid succumbing to the temptations of commerce: videogames.

I don't mean buying them - that's another expense that has to fall by the wayside in tight times - I mean using their merchants and shopkeepers to satisfy my consumerist urges. Under normal circumstances, I'm fairly tightfisted with my in-game cash. I'm always convinced that the second I shell out for the really good armor, I'm going to come up against a boss that requires the Super Supremo BattleAxe of Assured Destruction, and I won't have enough coins to buy it. This probably says something quite revealing about my inability to commit or take risks, but let's save the psychoanalysis for another time.

In the current economic clime, however, I completely abandon that approach to virtual money management. Instead, I counteract the mental impact of spending as little real money as possible by spending in-game cash like I've got my own Scrooge McDuck-ian money bin. Oh, your town has a casino, does it? Let me drop 10 grand in this here slot machine. Would I like to play this skill game for 100 rupees? Why, yes, thank you, I would. You say that ring will add +2 to my Intellect and costs a mere 1500 gold? I'll take two.

No expense is too great, no purchase too frivolous. The goal isn't to acquire something of value; the goal is simply to spend. I recently finished replaying BioShock on the Easy setting. I had missed several audio diaries and a few Little Sisters on my first play through, and having completed the game on Normal, I wanted to simply breeze through it while I tracked them all down again. Playing on Easy certainly let me speed through levels without batting an eye, but it did have an unforeseen side effect: I didn't have to spend any money. A good sneeze was enough to kill most Splicers; the really tough ones required little more than an extra thump from my wrench. I never had to restock on ammo, buy first aid kits or EVE hypos. As a result, my wallet was constantly full to bursting with cash, and I was regularly forced to leave money - sometimes huge piles of it - behind.

This, clearly, would not do. My self-imposed budget may not let me indulge in my morning latte anymore, but I'll be damned if I don't spend every last dollar I have in Rapture.

So I started using the "buyout" option instead of bothering to hack safes. I fired ammo of all sorts just so I'd have a reason to visit the El Ammo Bandito machines. I bought first aid kits from un-hacked (and therefore more expensive) Circus of Values machines, even when there were Pep Bars and Health Stations within spitting distance. And of course, I hung out in Fort Frolic's casino.

It was a stupidly wasteful way to play, but it at least let me indulge in a bit of wheeling and dealing as I made my way toward the final showdown with Fontaine. But my willy-nilly spendathon had another unexpected benefit: It allowed me to experience the game in a way I never would have otherwise. I froze enemies with Liquid Nitrogen, then smashed them with the wrench - a killing move I wouldn't have tried in other play throughs because it would have robbed me of the chance to pick the Splicer's pockets. I used my most powerful - and expensive - anti-personnel ammo whenever I felt like it instead of saving it for only the most dire of situations. Instead of hacking security cameras and bots, I blew them away with a blast of Electric Buck, an ammo type previously reserved for Big Daddies, which I instead now destroyed with the grenade launcher.

For the most part, it was all just silly good fun, but in my goofy desire to spend money, I discovered techniques that I'll more than likely use when I play again on Normal or Hard - techniques that I never would've tried if I hadn't been pinching real-world pennies. Who knew being broke could be so liberating?

Susan Arendt hoarded all the pre-war money in Fallout 3, too.

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