Sunday, May 06, 2007

I'm a hoarder. For most of my life, it was books. I am quite certain, when I one day shuffle off this mortal coil, the majority of books in my library will be unread, at least by me. But this is hardly uncommon. And quite affordable; a good chunk of my library was purchased used, and with the exception of a few handsome volumes, none were very expensive.

My attention shifted, a bit, with the advent of DVD. I suppose I could be considered an early adopter of DVD, if you consider anyone who owned a DVD player pre-PS2 to be an early adopter. But the idea of special features and audio commentaries intrigued me, and I took the plunge on what was still a fairly pricey player. But the sticker shock was softened by the fact that the internet boom was in full swing, and internet merchants were more then willing to drastically cut prices on DVDs to try to move some players. I remember ordering lots of DVDs from (now owned by Circuit City, apparently) at well under $10 each, free shipping, and often getting microwave popcorn or Red Vines thrown into the package as a nice bonus. So, forming a video library wasn't too expensive, either. In fact, I used to argue to myself that it was cheaper than renting, because I could keep it as long as I wanted, watch it, and sell it on to recoup a reasonable part of my investment.

But I never did sell them. And I probably only watched three or four movies a month, along with a few TV shows on DVD. And as my interests tended to run towards TV show boxed sets and Criterion Collection releases of classic foreign films, this became a rather expensive hoarding. So I gradually put the breaks on my DVD spending. And I suppose, all this time, I was also assembling what seemed, for the most part, a ridiculous CD library, as well. But like books, this is hardly uncommon, nor terribly expensive. And while most of these CDs were rarely listened to for most of my life, the advent of the iPod and iTunes means that the vast majority of this library (I have yet to finish digitizing all my CDs) is available anytime, anywhere, and as a result, this lifetime's accumulation of music is actually being used to something close to its full potential.

Like I said, I consider myself a hoarder. I'm not a collector, really, because I have no object in what I purchase; I'm not trying to get rare books or CDs or DVDs, necessarily. And since I never actually use a large percentage of what I obtain, I can't really say I'm an enthusiast. I think my purchases relate to my gambling; if I ever stop to think I might be wasting money, I just remind myself how much I lost on one hand of blackjack on a recent occasion, and then I feel ridiculous for ever questioning the expenditure.

Anyway, I tell you this to explain my most recent purchase. Ever since I slowed down my DVD purchases extensively, I've found myself purchasing quite a few electronic devices. I'm on my third iPod, I've purchased several upgrades for my computer (which I have been forced to admit were, due to the fundamental limitations of my antiquated system, pretty much useless), a Wii and Nintendo DS Lite, an HDTV, a PDR (which now sits mostly unused as I'm also renting one from the cable company), an upscaling DVD player to complement the new HDTV, among others. Now, for the most part, I'm getting quite a bit of use out of these products. But I really had to question my desire to supplement the Nintendo products, and my old PS2 (I'm currently on my second) and my now obsolete Gamecube, with an Xbox 360. Yet in what can only be described as a bizarre compulsion, compounded by the siren-call of Viva Pinata and Settlers of Catan, I purchased an Xbox 360 on Thursday.

If this weekend is any indication, the Xbox 360 will not be one of these products that simply contributes to the quantity of stuff I own, but will be something I actually use. The games look fantastic (especially Viva Pinata), and I've had a lot of fun growing my garden in that game. But the main reason I wanted an Xbox was to access the Xbox Live Arcade, and play some of the games there. This week's release of Settlers of Catan was one of the reasons I finally took the plunge and got the system, but so far, I've just stuck with the games that came with Xbox Arcade Unplugged, a collection of a few of the more popular games for the service. Geometry Wars is okay, as are most of the other games I've tried. I've played a fair amount of Backgammon, though I've had trouble finding opponents online (I thought it might not be a popular game, but I think it may be the result of technical difficulties). But, degenerate gambler that I am, I've clocked the most hours playing Texas Hold 'em. It's actually pretty well-implemented, for a fake-money poker game. Playing in tournament mode, you only have a limited amount of money to pay the entry fees. In many games, if you run out of money, they just refresh your bankroll. In this game, if you lose your money, you have to grind out a new bankroll playing free tournaments for limited prize money. As a result, people seem to play a bit more reasonably than they do in other free poker games. And while I worried the voice support would mean dealing with a lot of assholes, for the most part its just friendly banter, and there's always the option to mute an annoying player.

Of course, all that sidesteps the larger issue, which is, did I just lay down a significant amount of money to play poker and backgammon on my TV? And the answer, really, is yes. I've enjoyed Viva Pinata and look forward to playing Crackdown and Dead Rising and Oblivion and other games that fully utilize the impressive hardware I just purchased. But I think, at heart, I lean more towards what the market classifies a "casual gamer." So I'm comfortable playing Bejewelled on my HDTV, even if it a bit like driving a porshe to the market. And I think, in the long run, I'll spend some quality time with some of the more intensive games for the system (though my aversion to first-person shooters rules out some of its most popular games).

I'll discuss Viva Pinata later, along with my feelings on any other games I might want to mention. For now, I've rambled on long enough. Just wanted to let you know I'm now a member of the Wii60 demographic. And I think I'll try to curb my electronic purchases a bit. Though now that I have an Xbox 360, I could really use a new computer with Vista's Media Center capabilities. And my car seems rather empty without GPS capabilities. And a new car stereo could really maximize the potential of my iPod. UPDATE: I forgot to mention one thing: I've used the Xbox 360 for about three days, and it has frozen up on me twice. My Wii has never frozen. My Nintendo DS has never frozen. My PS2 has frozen maybe two times. My original Nintendo Entertainment System used to freeze, very rarely, late in its life cycle. And again, my Xbox 360 has frozen twice in my first weekend of ownership. You can really tell it's a Microsoft product.

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