April 4, 2008

Wiis and Human Nature

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Several weeks ago, I had the thrill of receiving my first paycheck. I decided to celebrate by purchasing a Nintendo Wii gaming console. My friend had purchased one a few months ago and had warned me that it took him a few days to find one. So I knew I wouldn’t be able to purchase one immediately, but I didn’t think it would take too long. The Wii has been released since November 2006, so I didn’t think the demand would be too high.

Three weeks later, several Wii-tracker website alerts and several store phone calls later, I was still without a Wii. Why?

For those of you unaware of the economic Wii situation, it is often compared it to the ‘90s Tickle-Me-Elmo craze. Online retailers such as Amazon, who can only make them available once or twice a month, often sell out in a matter of minutes—sometimes even seconds. Electronics and gaming stores tend to be restocked with Wiis every week, but also sell out shortly after being stocked.

When asked about the shortage, Nintendo has answered that their revolutionary Wii has tapped into a new market of people and thus increased demand. But as far as I can tell, the true cause seems to be Wii scalpers and resellers—people who purchase as many Wiis as possible from stores, and then sell them online at an inflated price, often hundreds of dollars above the retail price. With a dry market, these scalpers are in an easy position to make profits off of desperate Wii-hunters such as myself.

The worst part is that there seems to be no way to stopping the scalpers. As long as Nintendo is selling all the Wiis they make, what difference does it make whether people are playing them or reselling them? And because demand is so high, what the scalpers do is certainly profitable, meaning that it gives them more incentive to continue their purchasing-and-scalping business. And so the cycle continues and the market continues to be dry.

And so, as I was tempted towards frustration as the Wii hunt continued, I began thinking philosophically about human nature. Many believe that people are basically decent and will strive to make the right decisions. I tend to assume the opposite—that people will tend to do what is self-serving, even at the expense of others. That is not to say that they always will do this, but that they tend towards it. Some might say that people are a mixture of “good” and “bad”, but practically, we all tend to assume that people will behave in a particular way.

Rather than debate the validity of those assumptions, I’d like to discuss the implications of living by my assumption. Because no matter what you decide about human nature, all of us have to react to the fact that people do things that we consider bad, inconsiderate or unjust.

If you assume that people will strive to make good decisions, then you have to account for people’s unjust decisions by use of external circumstances, such as being forced to do something wrong because there is no other way. But, practically, there’s a problem. In the case of the Wii crisis, for instance, is it really likely that every single scalper is scalping Wiis only because they’re forced to? Perhaps one or two, but every single one? None of them interested in making a profit? There can only be a certain number of times you resort to external circumstances as an explanation, which I have found segues into anger. After all, oftentimes the reason we’re angry is because people are behaving differently than how we expected them to.

If you assume that humans are inherently bad, there’s no reason to be surprised by things like the Wii crisis. Even if it is unfair, what else could you have expected from them? From there, I saw myself having one of two options, since I had no ability to actually fix the crisis: complain that things should be different, or accept it and be at peace. And when good things do happen, you’re all the more grateful for them because you realize that they would not normally happen.

It was making that mental realization that helped qualm my frustrations and provide a strange amount of peace. And when I finally did get my Wii from my local Gamestop, it made me that much more grateful for it. For now I understood that to receive a Wii was both a blessing and a miracle.