Philosony: The demo cometh

It's Thursday as I write this, a day that most PS3 owners (and perhaps a small number of well-connected PSP owners) look forward to as PSN update day. I too love Thursdays but not without a small amount of anxiety. I'm a bit of a completist (yea really, a gamer that's a completist. . .) and much like my obsessive drive to own a mint package of every Kool-Aid flavor ever made, each week when new game demos and vids are uploaded I am preternaturally compelled to download them. The videos are no big commitment, generally a quarter hour of passive watching and they're sufficiently digested, but demos are a real time sink. You see, I don't just download the demos of games or genres that interest me. Nor do I spend a few minutes with each demo, just long enough to decide if the game has me hooked and I should commit myself to buying it or not. Ladies and gentlemen, fanboys and fangirls, I present for your toxonomic consideration the newest discovered species of gamer - homo sapeins completus demotaris.

I say newly discovered because this type of gamer could not have existed several years ago. Sure there were the PC gamers who were occasionally blessed with a downloadable demos (usually after the full game's release), but rarely were these demos consolidated in one place. With modern consoles having become full time netizens, however, demos have changed their status from being the haphazard bone thrown out to increase a game's lagging sales, to becoming fully fleshed out and highly anticipated "micro" games complete with unlockables and online play! Not since getting those bulky 2-disc PlayStation Underground mailers 10 years ago (with fashionably shameless easter eggs plugging musicians on Sony's label) have I been so excited about trying out games I would otherwise have no interest in!

But excitement alone does not a completus demotaris make. The defining feature of this lower primate - nay, its telos, its raison d'extra d'etre, its sole purpose for existing - is to find game demos and grind them into digital dust. We are not content to just play through a demo once or twice. That "demo over" splash screen with the oh-so-sledgehammer-subtle suggestion to buy the full product lacks real meaning - it's merely a suggestion to start the demo over again and see what else there is to explore. It is utterly blasphemous to even think about deleting a demo until such time as it has been beaten, finished, completed, or whatever term you wish to use that describes its having been thoroughly cleansed of all novel replayability.

I must note that gaming, for me, is a hobby. A very serious hobby.

One might go so far as to say call me an "enthusiast" if the word didn't evoke images of stuffy sommaliers in tweed suits. The point is that I'm not a professional game journalist or developer, so I have no reason to feel an obligation to play every demo that pokes its finger in my firewall, much less to play them ad nauseum (a phrase which here signifies the Latin precursor to Godwin's Law). So why do it? As an avid movie watcher I don't aspire to see every trailer that's released, nor do I scour the "search inside" section of books on Amazon or constantly listen to sound clips from bands. What makes game demos so special? Their relative scarcity? Their interactivity?

Perhaps this is a holdover from the days when demos were extremely rare and sought after items. I'm sure I'm not the only sucker reading this who rented bought and then traded back Zone of the Enders just for a chance to play the Sons of Liberty demo. Then again I also paid full price for the theatrical release of Meet Joe Black just to see the Episode I trailer so I shouldn't really talk. But those are high profile examples, trailers and demos released explicitly to feed the hype machine. Is that what demos do now? Not always. Tony Dungy may strike a mean box art pose, but something tells me there's only so much pre-hype a demo of Head Coach 09 could have.

A better explanation may be that I lack the time to be a completist about all of the full length games I want to play so I have to pick on poor, defenseless demos to feel good about myself. It may take me at most an hour to discover the ins and outs of a demo, where a sandbox game like GTAIV would have clocked 40 or more. Call me a close relative of the trophy-whore, but 40 maxed out demos sounds better than 1 maxed out game to me. Sorry Niko, I think we need to see other people.

What about you? Any self-identified demo dweebs like me out there? Why do you find them so compelling? How often do demos do for you what is, on paper at least, their purpose - get you to buy a game that you might have otherwise overlooked?