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What’s better: Security cameras following your every move, or shopkeepers annoyed when you don’t buy anything?


Last time, you decided decisively that the spell Fireball is better than a button to unlock all unlocks. I should have known because our dear old friend Fireball is always there for us, always readily available, always keen to punch someone in the face, neck, and chest with a lump of solid fire. Thank you, Fireball. I love you. This week, it’s a question of anxiety. What’s better: security cameras following your every move, or shopkeepers annoyed when you don’t buy anything?

Security cameras following your every move

When I see a security camera in a non-stealth game, I expect it to follow me. It should always do its best to focus on me, the star of this video game. The teensiest break of the fourth wall. Ideally it should make a good noise while doing so, or at minimum have a glowy little red LED.

Permapeeping cameras create a little mystery. Who’s controlling this camera? Why are they following me so intently? Why are they not doing anything about all these problems I’m creating? It implies a whole other layer of infrastructure and humans in this world. Even if you don’t see it that way, you can still enjoy imagining the bafflement of a security officer watching you toy with the camera by spriting, blinking, dodging, ducking, and diving to see how fast and how well it follows you. Yes, buddy, I’m still watching, and being on minimum wage only stings more when I can’t get back to my book because I have to watch you fanny about.

I like how curious cameras in games indicate the opposite of in reality: no one is watching. It’s not a security guard watching you closely and making sure you know they’re watching, it’s just a script set up to follow you. Whereas if I see cameras follow me around the Scotmid, my anxiety is spiking. If this cameras actually did something, like in stealth games, you would have opportunities to evade its gaze. So you can be almost certain that this camera will bring no consequences for anything it sees you doing. This is just decoration! Ha ha, how fun! What a fun little trick! Crime all you like! Unless… it wants to lull me into a false sense of security? A game wouldn’t do that, would it? Oh no.

Shopkeepers annoyed when you don’t buy anything

In real life, it is mortifying to enter a small shop and leave without a purchase. You have been rude. You have wasted the shopkeeper’s time. You have raised their hopes then dashed them. You have disrespected their livelihood. You have treated their life’s passion as an idle distraction. They probably think you’re a thief. Worst of all, you have frankly proved yourself a failure as a capitalist subject by leaving with nothing rather than buying a Caramac or a pack of Nik Naks or a postcard with one of those twee colourful Highland cow paintings or a tattered paperback or a birthday card or a slice of visibly dry carrot cake or a ‘flat white’ you know will be a frothy latte or literally any other token recognising the sacred relationship between customer and shopkeep. Wow. How dare you. We all know you’ve failed. We’re all disgusted with you. They hope they’ll never see you again. And yet, acting like they will not one day be on their very deathbed still thinking of how much you revolt them, they trill “Bye!”

This is not so in games. No matter the graphical fidelity or variety of voiced lines, you do not feel the pressure of a social encounter with a real person, even if their raytraced eyes track you around the shop like a security camera. The shopkeeper is a medkit dispenser menu which happens to have a face. You’ll rarely derive satisfaction from it as a social encounter either. I’ve come to quite enjoy checkout chit-chat in reality but in games I really do want to just offload your vendortrash then hit the next quest. Sorry, no time for #bants. So to make you feel something, fast, the game’s shopkeeper will slag you a bit.

I’m delighted by the rude shopkeepers of video games. Knowing it’s the only voice line of theirs you’ll hear in full, finishing as you walk away, they part with some indignant or surly barb. The emotion of this entire complex social encounter condensed into three words, and maybe a grunt. You can always tell the writer and voice actor particularly enjoyed this bit. Slay The Spire’s besuited potion seller even punches you (and I’m afraid to Google her in case I find fan art). And why shouldn’t shopkeepers be annoyed! They spent 15 minutes showing you every Epic and Legendary in stock. They were even patient when you kept buying then returning then buying then returning that jerkin you decided you actually didn’t want after all. Maybe they can tell how little you care about them as people with lives of their own. And yet, when you return, they’ll still greet you with a friendly “Hail!” or “Welcome!” That’s better than you deserve, you pauperous prick.

But which is better?

Honestly I’m getting too anxious thinking about these scenarios in real life and must abstain this week. Which do you think is best in games, reader dear?

Pick your winner, vote in the poll below, and make your case in the comments to convince others. We’ll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.



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