Politics & Policy

A Patriotic Duty

My Cerebral-Cortex Stimulus Package

President Bush recently signed an economic-stimulus bill that will send checks for $600 to $1,200 to American households. The idea is to drive up consumer spending, and so boost the economy a bit.

Some economists object, saying people don’t change their spending habits on the basis of a one-time cash influx. Other economists say, “So what?” — banks will invest their savings, and that, too, will help the economy. Still others insist the bill will just “move money around.”

#ad#I’m no economist, so I’ll trust my government: For the good of the country, I will use my stimulus windfall for purchases I wouldn’t otherwise make. I’ve decided to spend $600 on video games. I’m a public-spirited guy.

But how exactly to distribute this “free” money? It is important to take into account both utility — buying the products I most enjoy and rewarding the companies that make them — and a desire to target my “aid” in a way that will most benefit the American economy.

First, a quick survey of the current game landscape. The three competitors are the Nintendo Wii ($250), the Sony PlayStation 3 ($400 with a 40GB hard drive), and the Microsoft Xbox 360 ($350 with a 20 GB hard drive). I already own a Wii (note how much material I get from my hobby), so for $600 I could buy either a whole bunch of Wii titles, or another system and a few games. New games run about $50 apiece, but all three systems are backward-compatible with at least some older games, so used titles — some costing as little as $10 — are a possibility, as well.

It’s important to realize that a video-game system has no value in itself; it merely unlocks the door to enjoying its software. There are diminishing returns to buying additional consoles: Third parties make many of the games, and these titles often appear on two or even all three of the systems. There are also diminishing returns to adding to my Wii library: I already own the titles I want most, and the technical limits of the Wii — its radically different controller, and its comparatively weak processor (.729 GHz, vs. 3.2 GHz for the other two) — make it incompatible with some of the best games produced by third-party game designers. So it seems I’m buying a 360 or PS3.

But which? As far as stimulating the economy goes, the PlayStation 3 starts with a strike against it, coming as it does from Japan-based Sony. Consoles themselves aren’t very profitable (Sony sells theirs at a significant loss) and both contain a hodgepodge of foreign and domestic parts — but importantly, a cut from every new game I buy will go to the hardware manufacturer.

In the long run, economists say “Buy American” impulses are wrongheaded — both sides benefit in international trade — but the goal of the stimulus is to provide an immediate boost to the U.S. economy. Spending money here seems the best way to do that.

Strike two against PS3 is that backward compatibility is limited — unless I shell out more money for a higher-end system, I can’t play PS2 games, leaving me with games from the original PlayStation (which debuted in 1994) as my sole option for used titles. Another problem is that the PS3 has fewer games of its own than the 360 does. The one upside is that the PS3 has a Blu-Ray player. That format recently won the high-definition war, but then again, I watch few movies.

Really, it comes back to the games: Not only does the 360 have more of its own, but it’s mostly compatible with Microsoft’s original Xbox platform, which became old-school two years ago. Add in the American factor and the $50 cheaper price tag, and there really isn’t much of a contest. Bill Gates, here I come.

Now I just have to figure out how to get the most from the remaining $250. The shooter Halo 3 is an imperative — and I’ll need an extra controller, as well.

For some input, I e-mailed avid gamer Brian Anderson, editor of City Journal (you think I’d listen to a liberal on such an important matter?). A few stood out:

The best single-person shooter game . . . is Bioshock, which creates a remarkable alternate world, set in the early sixties, in which you’re the survivor of a plane crash who winds up in an Objectivism-inspired underwater dystopia, a city called Rapture, where you explore various mysteries and battle mutated humans and robots.

Ayn Rand dystopia + shooting “mutated humans and robots” = awesome.

Anderson also recommended the “mind-bogglingly bloody” Conan, where “you basically hack and cleave your way through about 2,000 foes while the famous barbarian swears ‘By Crom!’ and shouts ‘I’ll cut your skull to the teeth‘ — or something like that.” That sounds about up my alley. In the spirit of patriotism, I figure I’ll need to grab the terrorist-killing Call of Duty 4, and that should take care of all my free money for the year.

I’ll have served my country well.

– Robert VerBruggen is an NR associate editor.

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