The Latent Object

There was a discussion on our local chat system a while back about the genesis of the frenzy over Halo 2. Pete suggested that the pre-release hype for a game such as Halo has its origins in the hard-wired obsessive addiction that hard- core gamers have for the next big hit, having been searching for the next big hit since their first exposure to games as young men.

This, of course, does not apply to me. My strange obsessive frenzy for Halo has a completely different source that Pete could not understand. After thinking about how to explain it, I came up with the following.

It is actually pretty simple. For any given hobby, there is always the object that you can see, but do not yet own, which will improve your experience in the hobby.

Similarly, the reality of the real object is always a letdown compared to the perfection and bliss of the latent one. Therefore, it is usually much more fun to shop for things than to actually buy them. Not coincidentally, the way I tend to interact with hobbies, especially when I don’t have much time to really do them, is in shopping for latent objects that will improve my relationship with the hobby when I finally have time later. Which brings me back to Halo 2.

The gaming industry, being full of talented sales people, are masters of manipulating the desire for the latent object. This is the reason that “journalism” in the industry concentrates almost entirely on previews of games that have not been released yet. The game not played is still in a state of perfection. The latent game, if you will, has no save problems, no glitches in the online servers, no gameplay foibles, pacing problems, or unbeatable boss battles. Gaming provides an almost unending stream of new latent objects to shop for, to think about, and to compare.

So of course this drives my natural addiction to shopping into a frenzy, and hence the psychological mania over Halo 2. Luckily, I mostly shop, as opposed to this guy.

My other little shopping project of late has been comparing the GameCube and the Playstation 2 as second console purchases. After weeks of painstaking research, it seems to me that it all boils down to Mario and Zombies against Final Fantasy and cult Japanese imports. But more on that another time.