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Opinion – Would you still play video games if you knew the human cost behind it?

My own double standards regarding the game industry.
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The controversy behind 2020’s The Last of Us Part II was a big reason for making me buy and play the game. I’ve pretty much played every Naughty Dog game that was given on PS Plus and I actually liked The Last of Us when it first came out in 2013, but wasn’t too keen on the sequel years leading up to its release.

Why were people reacting so violently about the game? Was it the developers and the crunch they endured? Maybe the treatment of a beloved character? The new “protagonist”? The game being too “woke”?

I just wanted to know what pissed people off so much.

“I could only find Crunch, what do you mean you want a Snickers”

I didn’t enjoy The Last of Us 2.

Let me qualify that, it’s a technical marvel with beautiful graphics for the PS4. The gameplay is on par with the first game, but the story leaves little to be desired even if I tried my hardest to like it. Some may have enjoyed it fully, I’m one that resides on the other side of the fence.

Personally, I felt it had bad energy and it just sucked out the enjoyment I had for video games at that moment, plus it didn’t help that I played Vampyr, This War of Mine, and The Sinking City prior to playing this game. I pretty much stopped playing games for a good three months and picked it back up when Hades came around.

It probably has to do with the current pandemic and how the world has grown undeniably angry or bored. Now that many privileged individuals like myself have too much time on our hands, we started to weirdly indulge in our favorite pastime: OUTRAGE.

Instead of looking for healing and positivity, I actually logged in more hours of watching who’s screwing who in the video game industry: sexual assault allegations, Twitch Bans, developer crunch… You name it and I most probably read and reacted to it.

I expressed interest in Aeon Must Die during a late Summer’s State of Play. Hours later, I found out that Focus Interactive allegedly feigned ignorance when Limestone Games allegedly strong-armed their creative team to work inhumane hours to meet unrealistic deadlines and when that team quit over abuses, Limestone Games and Focus Interactive allegedly stole their IP and showed it on State of Play.

Just like the film Sausage Party, a film I initially liked, gave me a bad feeling when a friend of mine who worked in the animation industry told me about the abuses made to animators when making the film. I rescinded my Facebook review of the film and pretended I never liked the movie. Does liking an IP created through terrible means make me a bad person? I’d like to make an analogy with consuming meat.

Not that kind of meat, Jessie

A sausage by any other name…

I like meat whether it comes in beef, chicken, and pork. Sometimes I could get adventurous and try more exotic fare. Yet consumption of meat, though socially acceptable, is seen as murder by vegans. I try to cut back on consumption when I can because I’m not getting any younger, and it makes me feel better about myself that I’m not fully contributing to the slaughter of 100 billion animals a year.

Would I continue to eat meat? I’d be lying if I said no, but if I don’t want to feel guilty, I abstain from it a few times a week, plus my body thanks me for it.

That being said, what about video games? Do I boycott certain companies because of terrible practices? Sadly, I merely boycott companies because I don’t like their games. As an example, it’s very disheartening to find out that some Ubisoft’s executives were involved in terrible acts and it was easy to abstain from their games before, but their recent trio of offerings in Watch Dogs Legion, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Immortals Fenyx Rising have been very good.

After hearing about Focus Interactive’s shady practices with Aeon Must Die and how a publisher under them, Nacon, undercut Frogwares (The Sinking City) last year from selling their games on platforms like PSN even if their licensing agreement has expired, I don’t mind avoiding their games. Why? While they do have creative titles, their games lack a certain polish. It also saves me some cash that could go towards another high profile title or indie darling that I like.

Double Standards, Everyone’s Got Them

However, here is where the double standard lies. While I am an intermittent Square Enix fanboy, I’ve purchased and played Final Fantasy XV and also Final Fantasy 7 Remake even when I kept telling myself to stop coming back to that manipulative ex. If Square Enix falls into a scandal of sorts, would it stop me from playing Final Fantasy XVI?

Prior to the release of Cyberpunk 2077, I was a big CDPR cheerleader because I enjoyed what they have done throughout the years, also because they’ve filled a RPG hole left behind by Bethesda and Bioware. Ironically, they also issued a mandatory crunch schedule to deliver said game even after saying they wouldn’t. Fast forward to after its release, CDPR dug themselves a really deep hole that may have wiped out all of their built up goodwill, intentionally manipulating review scores and hiding performance issues for certain platforms. Even then, would I boycott the game I’ve been rooting for the last few years?

And finally, Toshihiro Nagoshi, executive director of Yakuza/Ryu ga Gotoku has disparaged pro gamers of Puyo Puyo calling them “they look like they eat cheese beef bowls” (roughly translated to “they’re uncultured otaku”), but as a big Yakuza fan, am I just gonna drop all of their future titles?

The answers to all three questions are “probably not” and I’ll probably enjoy the end product that they’ve produced.

I’ll still play Cyberpunk 2077 despite being delayed thrice and a buggy mess

Because the truth of the matter is, if a company creates a good product, gamers will buy them and sadly, we usually don’t think about the human cost of the game.

I discovered the extent of the damage of Gamergate and how the victims still fear for their lives and how the movement was the basis for the alt-right that pushed Trump into power.

I just learned the ludonarrative dissonance theory and how popular AAA games can’t become higher art because of this disconnect where a game tells a story about a benevolent hero but also is a ruthless serial killer going through a body count that racks up hundreds.

However, we’ve managed to take huge leaps in accessibility in games! It’s also good that the industry is trying to reach out to their audience and there should be more efforts like this to bring more positivity.

Yes, we will find a way to justify our games the same way that we find ways to justify eating meat, listening to music with questionable lyrics, watching classic films with racist undertones, wearing affordable fast fashion that’s destroying the environment, and relying on Amazon because it’s convenient even if they’re destroying local businesses and failing to deliver our Playstation 5’s. It’s just another day living in this unbalanced system of late stage capitalism.

It’s a crummy reality, but the few other options are to stop enjoying these mediums altogether and just continually be offended by the executive decisions made by corporations we’re supposed to trust. Gaming is an industry after all and while creators really just want to make good games and please their core audience; we have to figure it out for ourselves what we will deny and what we will accept. After all, the buck only stops if we don’t buy it.

What Can We Do To Not Feel Bad?

My take is to be aware that these realities happen: Crunch happens, racism happens, misogyny happens, and we live in an unjust material world where some get more than others.

It’s good to have awareness and be critical about our entertainment and environment because while it seems hypocritical, that’s the magic about our contradictory behavior: we can feel guilty while enjoying the things that we enjoy. Consuming these faulty things doesn’t make you a bad person when the world that we live in is already terrible, but do so with some perspective. Some may actively protest, some may not care, but being aware about it is the first step.

It’s okay to call companies out for bad behavior and vote with your feet, maybe if enough people would do it, companies will change their ways. That being said, you can continue to draw horns on [insert bad CEO here]. Whether you boycott an IP or not, that is your right as a consumer. If you really want to feel better about your lifestyle choices, either accept that there will be double standards or you could make your own sacrifices and stop gaming altogether. In an ideal and perfect scenario, we all get together to celebrate gaming in its purest form, but sadly we are very far from that reality.

hades review banner
Hey, you can always just play Hades

Here’s another suggestion: For every AAA title you buy, maybe spend some money on independent studios who take care of their people and their audience. Supergiant has a strict no-crunch policy and Hades went through Steam’s early access for quite a while to create the masterpiece that it is. On sale, it is a fraction of the next live service game or that yearly shooter/sports title that’s rife with microtransactions and crunch culture. You can start from there… or you don’t.

After all, it’s your money that supports these companies, when they start to feel that their core audience is leaving, they will make adjustments and maybe give in to consumer demands, even for a little bit. For myself, I’ll still eat that sausage if I like that sausage.

Author

Vincent Ternida moved Vancouver, Canada in 2006 and called it home ever since. He spends the lockdown catching up with his Japanese RPGs, writing his new manuscripts, and figuring out why he suddenly became the main character of the latest Haruki Murakami novel.

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