Jesus loves gamers, sure. We think he might even look fondly on quite a few of the games that were released this past year. But, like he always said, his mission wasn’t to play doctor to healthy people. He came for the sick ones, and this culture we hold so dearly is still very much sick.
Once he strode into a temple in a furor against it’s denizen profiteers. Were he to enter the hallowed halls of gaming and the industry and culture around it, odds are good that he would have something to say about these four issues.
1 The Console Wars
Regardless of the ethics of purchasing a piece of technology whose materials were harvested and whose components were assembled by people who make less in a month than you can in a day, there is something deeply shortsighted about taking a side in this manufactured war.
That the concept exists is not surprising. After all, in the words of Chris Hedges, “war is a force that gives us meaning.” Jesus preached peace, exclusively, and while many can still debate the ethics of whether war is ever justified, there should be no doubt that declaring a debate between the relative merits of various entertainment products a “war” should, while a marketer’s dream, be everyone else’s nightmare.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is what Jesus taught. I can only imagine what he would have to say to a culture where the creators of massively popular and niche-important games alike are expected to become accustomed to death threats in response to their work, or where a company that hopes to create a haven for indie developers finds itself labelled the filth of the internet after some (admittedly grievous) PR missteps.
Though this utter vitriol may be spewing from the mouths of a relatively miniscule portion of players, these individuals still manage to flavor the industry for all of us.
The mistake that most people make when thinking about sexism is that it’s always something done intentionally. The truth is that it’s most often accidental, a casual reinforcement of a status quo that pushes men to the front and women to the back.
This year we saw a company release a sexualized and mutilated women’s torso as a bonus for gamers who bought the collectors edition of their game, we read a fumbling attempt at apologizing for a grossly offensive statement, we watched a largely insightful web series about the ways that games have perpetuated sexism shut down comments on its videos in order refuse a platform to the raging horde of commenters who simply could not believe that a woman had the gall to butcher their sacred cow. And finally we played a best-selling game that presented a thoroughly cynical and misogynystic view of women, and then witnessed a massive public outrage against a woman at a major gaming outlet who dared to point this out in her review.
The life of Jesus can be problematic in certain regards. His inner circle was exclusively men and he never spoke out against systemic sexism directly, but from the several examples we have of him actually interacting with women, we see him empowering them, and pointing us all in the direction of equality.
4 The Industry
The consumers are not the only problem, though they certainly perpetuate it. Many of this years greatest travesties in gaming come from the culture within the industry itself. From layoffs, to “crunch”, to a business model shifting towards microtransactions in order to get the most money out of consumers, to the unfortunate way so many in our industry speak about addiction as if it is an asset.
Here’s a quote from an article entitled “The Top F2P Monetization Tricks”:
A coercive monetization model depends on the ability to “trick” a person into making a purchase with incomplete information, or by hiding that information such that while it is technically available, the brain of the consumer does not access that information. Hiding a purchase can be as simple as disguising the relationship between the action and the cost as I describe in my Systems of Control in F2P paper.
People are spending more money on games than ever before, and cash-hungry entrepreneurs continue moving into the field, looking for ways to siphon every possible dollar. While I’m not suggesting they don’t have the right, I believe that Jesus, always on the side of the little guy, would today urge those who game to intentionally support sustainable and honest businesses and business models, rather than merely demanding the entertainment they want at the moment they want it.