Am I a part of a culture of "always buying shit"?

When I tour the different discussion sites having to do with RPG stuff, I frequently come across posts about buying stuff and links to sites where one can buy stuff. There is cheap and stupid stuff for sale. You can buy steel, hematite or wooly mammoth ivory dice. There are even high end ’boutique’ sites that cater to the ‘geek culture’ with all sorts of stuff like Geek Chic where you can buy an $8,000.00 gaming table. And they now make a USB drive shaped like just about anything.

I have to confess that while I LIKE buying and owning shit (I am an American, after all), part of me thinks the whole “Geek is the new cool” and “express your unique individuality by buying more shit like a sword handle umbrella or a set of Lord of the Rings Plush minis” begins to make me a bit sick. Because, let’s face it, if you need a table to play games at, do you really need one that costs 8 grand? Do you carry an umbrella to keep the rain off your head or do you carry an umbrella with a samuri sword handle to impress your cubemates at how wacky you are? And if you collect things like Gandalf plushies and you are over 8 years old I don’t even want to know you.

I don’t know if I am a geek or not. I’m not good with computers or math (in spite of having one lightly used MSITM degree). I can’t tell you which actor played Doctor Who in which episode nor do I have a strong opinion on whom the best doctor might be (my default answer is ‘Tom Baker’ because I know his name). I can’t speak Klingon nor do I know the Vulcan calendar. I don’t really like gaming conventions (I have been to two). But somehow I fit the definition of ‘geek’ or I am ‘geeky.’ And when a large part of the definition of ‘geek culture’ seems to be ‘buying clever and useless shit’ or ‘collecting one pristine sample of everything and keeping it in mint condition,’ then I want out.

I realize that for me to rail against the ‘rampant consumerism’ of ‘geek culture’ is a lot like the pot calling the kettle black. I try to make money by illustrating RPG products. I have about 100 lbs of vintage lead minis (including a Jabberwocky and an Umber Hulk) in my basement. I buy more books, art supplies and music than I probably should, given my budget. Right now I’m trying to make some money by making some mosaic items that I hope people will buy (unemployment is like that). I even published my own game book via Lulu (which probably makes all of my “I don’t wanna be a geek” talk kind of ridiculous — and did you see how I snuck in a link to it? Buy a copy, please? Thanks!). But there is stuff and there is crap — and, I’m sorry, but most of what is sold through ‘Think Geek’ or other similar sites is useless crap.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Maybe I’m just fed up because more and more of our lives seem to be spent on paying for or buying things… maybe it’s just male menopause or a mid-life crisis. What about making and inventing things? Miller (played by Tracey Walker in Repo Man (1984)) said, “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.” Maybe that’s true. Everybody drives in Detroit and we have some astoundingly stupid people out here (like the guy who leaned on his horn and gave me the finger the other day because I made a left turn). But I also wonder if just spending a lot of time acquiring more and more stuff we don’t really need also makes us stupid.

2011 is a year when I will buy less. I’m still buying tools and art supplies, books and I’ll include a small budget for music. I’ll buy electronics and similar stuff only if I must (my S.O. has asked for a DVR capable TV because Netflix is phasing out discs by mail in favor of downloads). For the rest, I’ll do my best to recycle, re-use, repair or self manufacture.

7 Comments on “Am I a part of a culture of "always buying shit"?”

  1. Broadcasting an identity through ownership of specific physical items is as old as the hills.

  2. LoneIslander says:

    The only thing I have bought that it game related are two boxes of Mini and two sets of cheep dice. That's about all I need unless I lose more dice again. I would still only buy a cheep set still.

  3. Melan says:

    A good post. I am not against consumption, but this sort of pandering – and people being so comfortable with being pandered to – bothers me. There is an unpleasant fetishistic tinge to the whole thing; I have previously written that owning something like the Ultimate Game Table is only cool in the same way as owning a Realdoll collection is cool, and I mean it. It is not the same thing as owning a really well-made and expensive antique dining table. On the lower levels, cutesy kitsch – Cthulhu slippers, sword handle umbrellas and a lot of that – is just the same thing as porcelain kittens playing with balls of yarn, except for people who like Cthulhu and giant robots instead of kittens.

  4. Mr. Chappell says:

    Guilty as charged. I'm definitely a geek consumer / materialistic fetishist. I like to collect weird dice, hordes of miniatures, and have constructed several dice towers with a ridiculous amount of attention to detail.

    I attribute much of the fetishism to two reasons:

    First, not having any money when I was a kid to indulge in my geeky desires. Now that I'm a relatively comfortable adult, I can live out my fantasies of accumulation, gorging myself on ebay and collecting stuff I may never use. I love to look at cool retroclone books, enjoy the eye candy of Frazetta and Barlowe's guide to extraterrestrials, and to manipulate my “precioussss” D minis in all their dorky glory.

    Second, I don't have enough time to play and the creative energy and rediscovery of the love of the hobby comes out through naked ugly consumerism. It's like being a born again zealot. If I was less busy and could game three or four days a week, I think my appetite would be more satiated. So many commitments, so little time to actually PLAY.

    So I guess I'm pretty pathetic, but happily so.

  5. Mr. Chappell says:

    Here's a good question: What is the dumbest geek fetish thing out there that you ACTUALLY thought about buying?

    For me it has to be the Ultimate DM Screen of Doom: Dum

    I've fought an inner tug of war over this one, but just can't get myself to cough up $300 for something so inanely superfluous.

  6. limpey says:

    Jon, my games at Kevin's have been made more fun by all the minis and props you bring to the game… so I have benefited from your consumerism. And,since you have seen my house, you know I am not some ascetic monk with just a robe, a bowl and a mat — I own a lot of stuff, so there is a certain irony in my being all 'anti consumption' when I have already much more than I need.

  7. JJ says:

    I don't fall into this b/c I am (unashamedly) dirt poor, but don't beat yourself up over spending money on things that get used, like minis, game books etc. But if you ain't using it, get rid of it. And, as I do with things that I'm not using, trade it or donate it, there's someone out there that would probably be super stoked to find your slightly worn Cthulhu slippers at the Goodwill.

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