The Iniquities of the Video Game Industry and Gamer Culture
Although I wrote several blog posts summing up my experiences with movies, blogging and social media in 2018, I didn’t get around to writing “a year in gaming”. There are several reasons for this. First off, it was a year in which I bought several games that just didn’t chime with me. No Man’s Sky and Monster Hunter: World were both white elephants. Also, I have yet to find a single player games that has had the impact of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, so overall my gaming experience was somewhat lacklustre in 2018. I did however rediscover my love of the MMO genre and therefore spent most my gaming time in The Lord of the Rings online and Star Trek Online. But secondly and possibly more importantly, as a fifty-one-year-old man, I find a lot of the shenanigans associated with the video game industry and so called “gamer culture” to be embarrassing and crass. We live in a time where fandom and openly expressing your interests is quite common place, mainly due to commercial. Having said that, why do I want to openly identify with an industry that has its mindset firmly stuck in the 1950s and with a fan community that is often insular and hostile to anyone who doesn’t “fit the bill”?
In case you didn’t notice, neither the video game industry or the gaming community covered themselves in glory in 2018. Here’s are a few “highlights” from the last twelve months. Let’s start with start with lootboxes and live services. While some gamers aren’t interested in social commentary, diversity, equality or an industry that that behaves like an 18th century mill owner, a lot of them do care about getting fleeced. Therefore, when Electronic Arts and other companies opted to build this semi-gambling mechanic directly into several games there was a public rightly outcry. The Belgium government even found loot boxes to be in breach of their gambling laws, yet rather than feeling shamed, some games publisher played the victim card and made the issue all about them. We now live in an age where games as a “live service”, means that companies patent algorithms that figure out the best way to apply pressure to make players buy more. For a lot of the big dogs of the industry, it’s no longer just about the game. That’s just a secondary consideration. It’s first and foremost about building a commercial product around tried and tested monetisation mechanics. And 2018 was also the year that numerous game studios such as Telltale Games where closed, the staff ignominiously stripped of their benefits and kicked out the door, with out any consideration or empathy.
The gaming industry also has a track record of institutionalised sexism and poor workers’ rights that hasn’t improved over the last 12 months. “Me Too,” has exposed several companies for being just glorified boys’ clubs in which shitty behaviour is de rigueur. Riot Games even ended up facing a gender discrimination lawsuit from employees. Then there’s the numerous instances of "crunch" culture that have been reported on. Rockstar Games seemed even proud of its archaic macho ethos with co-founder Dan Houser crowing with pride about the arduous work hours required to complete Red Dead Redemption 2. And then there where numerous instances of companies utterly failing to grasp the fundamental of social media. Need I remind you of the Jessica Price debacle? The narrative designer was fired after she responded to a high-profile YouTuber who was a key ArenaNet influencer. Mistakes where made by both parties although the bulk of my sympathies lies with Jessica Price. This massive own goal could have been easily avoided if the company had a clear policy on social media usage. And then there was the usurping of #WontBeErased via GoG’s twitter account. This matter was dealt with swiftly but yet again it demonstrates an industry that seems to regularly employ square pegs for round holes.
And what of gamers themselves? Oh, where shall we begin? Apparently having female avatars in Battlefield V was beyond the pale, because many gamers have based their entire understanding of women’s contributions to World War II upon Mrs Miniver. Then there was Valves piss poor handling of sexual content on their Steam platform. The “debate” over this reflected very badly on some gamers that claimed an “anti-censorship” platform but really wanted to protect their own questionable tastes in products that range from the morally reprehensible to potentially illegal in many countries. Esports also continued to be a male dominated activity with a reciprocal fan base driven by notions of “gender essentialism”. A common mantra from this community is “keep your identity politics out of my gaming”. Other popular buzzwords among such “thinkers” are “social justice warriors” and “females”. Beyond such obvious sexism, the gaming community is rife with those that think the industry is there to serve their exclusive needs. Some gamers still fail to grasp that “being a fan” does not grant you anymore leverage, input and respect. Fandom is a self-appointed title that ignores the reality that we’re all just consumers.
So, on mature reflection why would I and indeed many of my colleagues and friends, wish to cry from the rooftops “Hey, you. You see this shit? We really dig all this and we’re immensely proud to be associated with it”? Couple all the above with a lack of games that have personally delighted me (and that is not a claim that there aren’t good games out there) and you’ll understand why I now just look at gaming per se as just an amusing diversion and no more. Yes, it can be art on occasions and it can affect social change, raise awareness and do good things (think Childs Play charity etc.) But in many respects these positives are often cancelled out by the negatives. Popular culture seems to have acquired too much of the bellicose, binary, “belief over fact” driven narrative of contemporary politics, along with all the fervour and zealotry of fundamental religious faith. So, I’ll leave it to others to hold the line and fight the good fight against all the above. I’m done my time and paid my dues. I’ll happily embrace the term “gamer” when it’s respectable again and the video game industry no longer behaves like a character out of a Dickens’ novel.