Steam, Consumerism, and Contentment

By Josh Ortiz

Have you ever found yourself in a store having a sale and you felt the urge to buy something - shoes, jeans, a book- that you really didn’t need? Or have you ever found yourself scrolling through the options at an online retailer, like Amazon or Ebay or [insert your favorite shopping site here], and you saw a deal that was just too good to pass up, but in the back of your mind, you knew you really didn't need it?  If you can identity with this urge to purchase more and more, then you can easily relate with the experience of some gamers who frequent sites like Steam.

If you don't know what "Steam" is, it is an online game store where anyone with an account and a credit card can begin filling up their computer hard drive with digital copies of new and old PC games. Personally, I came across Steam a few years ago, and although I was initially skeptical, I soon found it to be a very reliable online portal for purchasing PC games.

Now, there are many things that could be said about Steam, but I would venture the most talked about aspect is: The Steam Sale. On a weekly basis, Steam runs sales on all kinds of games at all kinds of discounts. In fact, whole websites, like Cheap Shark or SteamDB or IsThereAnyDeal.com have been developed to track sale prices on PC game-selling sites like Steam.

However, a few times a year, particularly in the summer (around June) and in the winter (around December), Steam will run a massive sale with major discounts on their vast PC game library. And it’s these sales that are often the most exciting and the most problematic for PC gamers. They are exciting, because you can almost always purchase great games at great prices. They're problematic, because with the sheer number of choices that confront gamers and the consumeristic pull to buy more and more, gamers who shop on sites like Steam may be tempted to spend too much time researching and/or buying games they will never play. For instance, a 2014 Kotaku survey of 1,400 gamers found that while 79% of gamers enjoy the feeling of getting a deal, the average gamer fails to play 40% of the games they’ve purchased in the past 12 months. This practice of over-buying generates what gamers often call a "backlog" of games. These are games that gamers have purchased but never played or barely played.  According to the same Kotaku survey, the average gamer's backlog is about 18 games, but the "compulsive collector" can have a backlog of roughly 100 games.

Now, why all this detail about Steam sales? Well, as a person who enjoys playing PC games, I regularly grapple with the exciting and problematic nature of Steam sales. Living in a consumeristic society where "more is better" and where "the sale" reigns supreme, it's a daily battle to be content with what you have. There are so many consumer goods, like games, available to us, and the ease of buying them online makes it all the more likely that Western consumers like myself will want to buy more than we need.

And so, what's my proposed solution? Do we need to shut down sites like Steam or Amazon? No. I am very grateful for online retailers like this which make it possible for us to easily discover and purchase great products. And yet, as I've wrestled with how to curb my interest in the latest Steam sale, I've come to realize that many of tips consumers give each other to restrain spending are only temporary remedies. Preventative measures to over-spending like budgeting or working through your backlog or limiting your use of sites like Steam or CheapShark can only help so much. Yes, they may temporarily shift your attention to enjoying what you already have and keep you from spending too much, but they cannot give you the true contentment you long for. I know, I've tried. It's only a matter of time before you begin to lose interest in what you have and begin longing to find something new - and at a great price, too! And before you know it, you're riding the wearying carousel of consumerism again - hoping that your next purchase, your next turn around the circle will give you that lasting satisfaction you long for.

But it can't. Material possessions like games, while often wonderful blessings, can never give you ultimate satisfaction. True contentment cannot be found in the stuff you have. Jesus so helpfully reminds us of this in Luke 12:15 where he says: "Take care and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Jesus is telling us that life is not all about getting. It's not about having a barn-full of stuff or a back-log full of games. No, living like that is foolish, because it never fully satisfies, you cannot take it with you when you die, and most importantly, it gains you nothing before God.

Rather, true life, contentment and satisfaction is found not in what you have, but in who you know. True contentment is not about having the right mix of stuff, but rather about being in right relationship with your Creator. And that happens by faith in Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who said in John 10:10: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." Deep down, Jesus provides us with what our consumer goods cannot. He provides us with a never-ending stream of purpose and pleasure and peace, because He Himself is never-ending.  And so, is it any wonder that the Apostle Paul who had it all in his religious upbringing could say with conviction, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…" (Philippians 3:7-8). For Paul, Christ was not a crutch or a second-best option. No, Jesus Christ is the greatest treasure. Jesus Christ is the source and path to abundant life. So, no matter what Paul had or didn't have, if he had Christ in his life, he had all he needed to be content (Philippians 4:11-13).

Now, knowing Christ and having Him as your chief treasure doesn't mean we cannot enjoy or purchase earthly possessions like games. Rather, I believe it enables us to enjoy them rightly because we understand what they really are - not the source of true contentment, but rather momentary gifts, often mixed with good and bad because of man's depravity, which point in some way beyond themselves to the Author of all life. In other words, games are meant to be a finite means to the good end of worshipping the infinite God who makes the act of making and playing games even possible. And so when we see games like this, then we can begin purchase and play games in a more self-controlled manner, not because by doing so we will be more content, but rather because we have the inward peace of knowing that when we turn the computer off, we still have our source of contentment: Jesus Christ. Yes, it’s a fight of faith to believe that Jesus is all we truly need, but I am finding day by day as He patiently schools me in His way, that it is a fight worth fighting, a contentment worth having.

So, in closing, I want to share with you a poem I wrote that help me process through this issue. I hope it serves you as well! May you find in Jesus all you've ever needed.

 

The Choice

My soul, why are you restless within me?

As you survey the latest Steam sale

There is no quiet

There is no solace

There are too many

Choices, choices, choices

 

My soul, why are you restless within me?

There are only thousands of games to go

There is no time

There is no way

To make all of these

Choices, choices, choices

 

My soul, why are your restless within me?

Your backlog is bursting

There is no justification

There is no reason

To be making all of these

Choices, choices, choices

 

My soul, I know why you are restless within me

You turned a good thing into a god thing

You defined who you were by what you own

And no amount of

Savings!

Could save

Your restless heart

 

My soul, rest in the Way

That needs no refunding

My soul, rest in the Truth

That needs no DLC[1]

My soul, rest in the Life

That He gives freely

 

My restless, Steam-wandering soul,

Find your greatest achievement

Not in the size of your limited library

Not in the vision of your fleeting fun

Not in all the

Choices, choices, choices

You can never seem to finally make

But rather in the final price

He paid

For you.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] DLC stands for “Downloadable Content.” It is extra content you can purchase to add-on to the games you already own.