Hot on the heels of their last gadget, the sadly under-performing Wii U (about 4 1/2 years later) Nintendo has released their latest console, the Switch! But of course, you already know that because everyone is talking about it! And that’s why I want one.
Part of the reason, anyway…
Okay, the main reason.
It’s a phenomenon called “Attentional Bias”
Attentional bias makes things seem much more important – and urgent – than they really are. Instead of looking at Zelda and thinking “Yeah, that looks good. I’d like to play that someday when I have time” your attentional bias says “OMG look at the new Zelda!! I’ve got to have it RIGHT NAO!!!” This is your inner neckbeard hard at work. The Simple Dollar does a fantastic job of explaining how this works: basically, you talk yourself into buying something (you probably don’t need) because you spend too much time thinking about it.
Now, let me explain: I’m not a Nintendo hater. Far from it, I’ve been a Nintendo fanboy since before I was old enough to hold a controller, raised on infomercials like the Super Mario Bros. Super Show and Captain N: The Game Master. My first console was a Super NES, back in ’91.
Once upon a time – before the purge – I owned just about every Nintendo product known to man… even a Virtual Boy. I had so much stuff that my friends made a parody video, “Closet Nintendo Fan” about a literal Nintendo shrine inside my bedroom closet, which was featured on Kotaku (spoiler: they hated it!) The only thing in there now is a capsule wardrobe.
It doesn’t help that so many of my Facebook friends pre-ordered or waited in line for the midnight release, meaning they’ve been posting unboxing vids, Zelda gifs, and recreations of old Christmas photos from the 90’s (with the Switch standing in for the N64) since day one. Little do they know they’re not just sharing social media; they’re all unwitting participants in a wildly successful viral marketing campaign, advertising the product online, and selling games to their friends and family (and me!) in the process.
It’s no secret, and it’s not a conspiracy, just grassroots marketing strategy: when people talk about your product, that’s free advertising. The more you talk about the product – the more you think about the product – the more product they’re able to sell to you and your peers.
Fun Fact! Nintendo doesn’t like to spend money on advertising; they prefer to let you do the heavy lifting. I know, because I was part of a team that was actually contacted by Nintendo to produce a “viral” marketing video for them prior to the release of the Wii U way back when. The result was Nintendo vs. Zombies, which succeeded as a viral video (10 million views and counting!) and was a lot of fun to make (I played Luigi, complete with vacuum cleaner)
Our reward was a “free” Wii U and a couple of games.
Then there’s the fact that everyone in the geek media world is talking about it, because what else is there to talk about? Switch is the new hotness, at least for now, and every nerd site I frequent is running stories about it on the daily. Even the Google App on my phone is packed with “news” stories about a game I don’t own for a console I can’t find… because they obviously know their audience (and because Google is an ad company)
But I can’t blame them; they’re just doing their job promoting the product. Repeat after me:
Video game blogs and magazines exist to sell games and promote gamer culture.
Game bloggers are not journalists. “Previews” are thinly-veiled advertisements, and “Reviews” exist to remind you the product has come to market. It’s important that we keep this in mind whenever we read sites like IGN. Their content may not be “sponsored” or paid for necessarily, but they’re in the business of selling a way of life that revolves around the endless consumption of entertainment products, and they do it by keeping your attentional bias in overdrive.
It doesn’t mean you can’t visit those sites. I still do. It just means you should take what they say with a huge grain of salt. Realize that none of it comes from an impartial source, that you’re reading ads, and ads exist for one reason and one reason only. Knowing when you’re being sold to is one of the most useful skills to have in the modern world. If you want to keep up with upcoming products you enjoy, that’s fine. Just don’t forget that you’re reading advertising copy.
That kind of constant exposure to seeps into your brain, and does all kinds of nasty things to you once it sets up shop. You get a touch of “keeping up with the Joneses,” where we feel peer pressure via social media posts urging us to own the same devices and consume the same entertainment as our friends. But like Montana Money Adventures wrote in her excellent piece, “Their up is my down,” it’s easy to brag about consumer spending online. We’re praised for it! But rarely are we awarded “likes” or social status for our frugality or lack of consumption.
So am I still going to get one? Yeah! Eventually. Zelda looks neat, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be fun with friends, even if it is a port. I haven’t bought a console or handheld device that wasn’t a phone since 2006 and I’m not in a big hurry to go back to the “bad old days” of gadgetry… I’ve worked hard to make this a “two device” household (smartphone and PC) but in my heart I’m still a Nintendo fanboy. And there’s nothing wrong with that!
Your money is YOUR money, and you gave up your time to earn it. Make sure you’re spending it in ways that actually bring YOU happiness. NOT to “support” your favorite company (that’s already worth billions) and NOT because it’s what anyone (or everyone) else tells you to buy!
Think for yourself and you’ll always make the decision that’s right for YOU.