Creatures of Appetite: The Virtues of Covetousness in Video Games

Look at all my shit!

— Alien, Spring Breakers (A24 Films, 2013)

I often say that I prefer dogs to cats. Cats are self indulgent, self absorbed creatures. They remind me too much of people. They remind me too much of myself.

The dog, on the other hand, is a noble creature. Seemingly selfless, ever loyal, ever faithful, and capable of unconditional love.

My basset hound puppy, of course, escaped again, bolting outside (as she loves to do) to run roughshod over the neighborhood. I took a small piece of boneless chicken and a leash as my implements of entrapment. She made me chase her two blocks, but as always, she was trapped by her stomach, a creature of appetite, a creature of impulse. Once again, I was reminded of people and once again too much (unfortunately) of myself.

This summer it seems like all I have played are games like League of Legends, Infinity Blade II, and Rogue Legacy. These are games — I think — like Diablo, games of appetite and impulse.

The pleasure of games is often in winning. It’s why we play chess with other human beings (to beat them). It’s why we say about single player video games on completion, “I beat that game.” The allure of Diablo, though, is something else. It is acquisition. Completing it is beside the point.

Diablo and Infinity Blade, these are games that are repetitious in the extreme. You do the same thing over and over. You run the same dungeons over and over. You “beat” these games over and over (I am paralleling “beating” with completing the main plot here). But you always want more.

As I said, it is acquisition that drives the need to play these kinds of games. You loot, you level up, you make something more of yourself through loot, through levels. It’s the desire to acquire that these games count on in human beings, what the Ten Commandments refer to as “covetousness” (a term, I have to admit that as a kid I didn’t really get the “sinfulness” of, as an adult, I’m afraid, that I do all too well).

Somehow getting that next cool sword or that next important stat number seems like it will make my play in the game completely complete, maybe make me completely complete. And, after all, I’m just having fun doing it. People played Diablo II for years, having killed Diablo countless times only to jack up the difficulty level and go just another round. After all, the loot will be better on a higher difficulty setting.

Now, I play League of Legends against opponents to beat them, but to be really honest about it (and as I have reported before — see “Gotta Catch ‘Em ALL: Being Programmed to Collect”), I really think that I play League of Legends not so much to win, but to collect. I collect LP (League Points) in ranked games so that I can feel good about myself (it tells me how skillful I am at such a game overall). I collect champions to collect champions. There’s 113ish champions available in the game now. I have 80 or so. Just need to grind out a few more IP (Influence Points) to catch ’em all.

Why do I want them? I dunno. I just want.

League of Legends in particular is a game that I feel rather high and mighty about my own collection. See the thing is: you can just buy champions with real life money. But I haven’t. I’ve “earned” them all. Playing games gets you IP (winning games nets you more, losing games gets you less — see the point for me isn’t to win, winning is merely a vehicle to more effective acquisition).

See, I earned my champs.

Then I think about Alien from the recent film Spring Breakers and the scene in which he shows the girls around his room — well, actually shows the girls around his stuff.

“Look at all my shit!,” he declares over and over again as he shows them gold chains and machine guns, colognes and nunchucks.

I see him standing there arms extended so that we and they, the viewers, can take in the room, take in his shit, take in himself — what he “means” as a human being, what he has “earned,” and how that represents him. And I see a fool there.

And I see myself as a gamer.

Look at all my shit.