I stopped getting angry about lowest common denominator pop culture years ago. Not that I’m so above it or something. If anything, the further I went down the rabbit hole of my own interests, the less I felt the need to prove my intellect by poking holes in reality shows a few groin-hits away from being Idiocracy-caliber entertainment. It’s a natural evolution many face as they become more entrenched in niche genres and study the works that truly inspire them. Blather to enough people about whatever drone metal album or artsy Taiwanese film you’re gung-ho about this week, and suddenly railing against Scary Movie 16 or Fifty Shades of Grey seems obvious at best, petty at worst. Junk like that is the definition of “critic-proof” entertainment. The latest Twilight wannabe isn’t getting greenlit with pop culture bloggers in mind, so why should I waste my time screaming into the abyss about its blindingly apparent shittiness?* There’s already enough troubling or middling media out there that gets a free critical pass to last me a lifetime of writing. Isn’t it better to engage with a cultural force when the people consuming it are actually open to a dialogue?
If video games are, by and large, the most “lowest common denominator” of mainstream entertainments, then “freemium” games are the lowest-est. Also known as “free-to-play” games, “social” games, and — in some very enlightening YouTube comments — “worse than Hitler,” freemium games are the bane of every “serious” gamer’s existence. And honestly, with good reason! Freemium games usually employ the mechanics of simulated building games like SimCity and the grind-heavy, “rare” item fetishization of RPGs to create something that looks like a game and quacks like a game, but honestly has way more in common with that stoner dude who tried to get you to sell Cutco knives with him the summer after graduation. In these pseudo-games like FarmVille — maybe you’ve heard of it — players progress in baby steps if they aren’t willing to shell out or annoy their friends with constant invites. The entire point of these games is to accrue cool shit for your farm/city/what-have-you, which happens at a glacial pace if you’re not willing to transfer your real-world money into whatever cutely-themed currency Zynga and their brethren designed for your specific virtual display case. They are money funnels, and they are notoriously audacious in how little they try to hide that fact. Continue reading