Thunderbolt logo

Postmodernism & Gaming: My console’s bigger than yours

It’s true, mine is bigger than yours. No need to measure, this is one of the larger ones out there. One of the originals. A hefty weight, it does take a while to get going. It did however get a red ring once and stopped working. I was out of action for a while until that cleared up…Right, enough of the crap innuendos: The rampaging Internet bloodfeud of which console is better will never end. So where does this willing determination to defend what we consume come from?

screenshot

Brands, in this postmodern Western society, define who we are. As the population continues to increase, simple actions don’t differentiate us any more. Instead, we will be remembered by the type of jeans we wore, the smell of our favourite perfume, the DVDs we left behind or the witty quote on our gravestone. We’re creatures of habit. And now these habits are turning into the choices we make when we buy, defining who we are.

It’s this connection to past experiences and the way our brains process them that gives us our identity and the reason why there can be such vitriol about platform preferences. Informing a fellow gamer that the PS3 controller is a crime against comfort isn’t only to make a joke but to poke fun at who they are. It is their comfort, and who are you to judge Sony, and therefore them?

Like the habit of triple checking the fridge is closed, or testing a lock twice, our consuming habits can become ingrained in us too. Ever stood and struggled to make a choice in a shop because the brand you always buy isn’t there that day? The safety of buying what we know has gone, regardless of whether another branded product is identical. It’s been said that ‘perception is more important than reality’.

screenshot

I often catch myself subconsciously doing the same thing. Over-analysing yourself can be dangerous (don’t try it at home kids) but can help to better understand how brand and habit comes together. When shopping for Hay Fever tablets I was faced with three different brands at different prices. The listed ingredients were identical. Did I buy the cheapest? No, I didn’t. And this was because the summer before I’d taken a particular one. It was the safe choice.

Now, if someone else told me that the one I bought wasn’t as good then I’d defend the product. It’s done me well, preventing my symptoms, so why are you questioning it? We’re defending our habits under the veil of a brand. In marketing the term “loyalty” is used to describe repeat consumers. People are rarely loyal to the product, but a habit forms which sees them always buy from a certain store or always pick that one brand of toothpaste.

The standard model of consumption goes a little something like this:

You want something. You search around to find suitable products and compare information. Then you consider the alternatives. Upon making a decision you buy the product. Then you make a decision on whether it was worthwhile. Did it meet your preconceptions?

screenshot

This process forms habit from a series of stages that we go through when trying a product. You get a PlayStation as a birthday present, as your friends that you see on a regular basis have one. Your experiences growing up will often involve this hardware, and an emotional bond is made between the experiences you have and the physical product. It becomes a person, a friend who patiently waits for when you get home, always willing to help out with those boring Sundays. The PlayStation brand is no longer high-risk. It has become a symbol of fun, an expression of your gaming personality.

This is a psychological bond to the product that can overwrite the search for information or alternatives. Will the recent hacking leaks affect sales of the next Sony hardware? Not as much as you’d think, because the damage will already be done. Those that didn’t have a strong emotional bond will seek further information about the leaks, then look at the alternatives (other consoles) and make a choice. They’ve already gone to another party or stayed at home. For those that have that bond, they may disregard what has happened thanks to previous experiences; the bond and preconception of the PlayStation will remain. Everyone gets hacked, right?

Why beat yourself up trying to decide about which new platform you’ll be getting? Habit helps us to make quick choices based on what’s satisfied us in the past, or in new, what appeals to us as a person. As we – as gamers – grow up there is more risk involved in our buying decisions; it’s our money we’re spending. Now the choice is more emotional, and so we’ll fall back onto safe choices.

screenshot

It is this ‘loyalty’ that companies market for. If Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all released an identical piece of hardware, with no variation in specification, design or colour you’d still be more inclined to make your purchase on the brand that you’ve become attached to. Again, falling back onto previous habits – stick with what you know.

It’s believed that brand “loyalty” is in a general decline. At first I dismissed this – there are still many who feverishly defend their gaming habits. But now many people game across multiple platforms, with competing consoles stacked on top of each other. During the Megadrive vs. SNES days it was incredibly rare to find anyone who owned both, even with the vast number of exclusives for each console.

You either loved Nintendo or Sega, further shown in the power of brand mascots at the time (Mario and Sonic). Now people will buy a Nintendo console to play a new Mario game rather than exclude other consoles because they’re “loyal” to them. Perhaps the competitive market is moving our brand habits to the franchises rather than the consoles.

screenshot

The choices we make when buying video games and hardware has a personal history unique to each of us. Whether the cover of a game subconsciously unearths memories of a game you enjoyed as a child or if you associate the colour black as more hardcore with regards to technology, it’s not a random selection. It’s a choice built from many moments in your life that come together to make a decision based against the model of consumption. So next time you bark ‘the 360 is for false gamers!’, remember that you’re making a remark about them as a person too…so make sure it’s a little more offensive, okay?

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

Gentle persuasion

Think you can do better? Write for us.