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Good Morning, Orthodoxy is a series of articles examining a coordinated attack made by games journalists on August 28 and 29.  In the fifth installment, we’re going to talk about consumerism.

We’re all consumers—all of us.  There, I said it. Every last one of us goes through the act of consumption over the course of every day.  We consume food and drink; our bodies turn that food and drink into energy.  We consume natural resources; those natural resources get turned into physical products or the energy through which services are provided.  We consume media; our brains take that media and transform it into information or any number of emotions.  What media we consume often depends on the kind of information we want or emotions we want to feel at a given moment; other times we can’t control the media we are consuming or the information we get/emotions we feel when consuming it—what’s on the televisions at a sports bar.

It might make you wonder what consumerism has to do with the orthodoxy and the 2 Minutes Hate.  Well, it isn’t consumerism in and of itself that the orthodoxy has a problem with, but one specific definition of consumerism, defined as follows:

“Consumerism” is the selfish and frivolous collecting of products, or economic materialism.

The definition itself has two pejoratives in it, “selfish” and “frivolous”, to which any consumption of entertainment media would apply.  Hence the need for the orthodoxy to change the definition of game away from things that provide entertainment such that this definition of consumerism doesn’t apply to the people writing it.  The Dan Wilson guidebook for assassinating gamers suggests similar:

We always remember that we don’t need to buy new things in order to legitimately appreciate games. We play old games until they’ve revealed all of their secrets, and then we play them some more. We stop implicitly accepting the idea that games are meant to be disposable. We dissect gaming’s recent and ancient past (and everything in between) instead of just perpetually flailing around in its cacophonous, slippery, and overwhelming present (and future).

It would appear that Dan Wilson has never suffered from burnout, the colloquial term gamers use for the application of diminishing marginal utility to videogames.  Gamers as consumers are enthusiasts.  We want to consume our favorite pieces of media in as large of chunks as possible, akin to binge watching shows on Netflix.

More from Wilson on consumerism:

We change the culture of game consumption to be less about buying and rating games, and instead develop a paradigm that is more about playing and thoroughly investigating games. The reason this is so vital is because to be a “gamer” is not merely to play games. At its core, to be a “gamer” is to obsessively and regularly make the correct purchases. “Gamers” are such vicious gatekeepers because they want to protect the perceived value of their investments. We can subvert that by making and playing more free games, changing the ways we evaluate and discuss games, and finding new ways to fund game development.

There are a couple things to address here.  First, by what arbitrary standard is a game “thoroughly investigated”?  100 hours?  200 hours?  500 hours?  Is the only game in my Steam list that I’ve thoroughly investigated Civilization V?  Surely the suggestion isn’t based on achievements?  Or is Devin Wilson so dense that he fell for the developer trap that achievements = replayability in otherwise shallow single playthrough experiences?  Second, to be a good consumer is to make efficient use of one’s income.  To claim that’s unique to gamers is to admit naivety to how the real world works: I produce output at a job for which I am compensated.  I take that compensation and apply it to various products and services: housing, transportation, food, entertainment, etc.  If I want to maximize the amount of products and services I get from the compensation I earn at my job, then it is always in my best interest to make “the correct purchases”.  This notion extends into “required” expenditures like housing and food to provide even more entertainment.  It just so happens that because most games are mathematical optimization problems, gamers tend to be pretty good at this particular skill.

Chris Plante from Polygon chimes in with some orthodoxy:

This week, it should be clear to this community that games are at a cultural turning point. No longer are games designed, marketed and sold to a niche group of young men. Games are now ubiquitous, their ability to provide a safe space for experimentation and empathic experiences serves a population that, in a time as economically and politically bleak as this one, need them desperately. More games are being created by more people for more people than ever before.

We’ve seen this quote before in our examination of gamer, but we can also use it to note a lamentation at the idea that gaming is a consumer driven industry, and the marketing people for game companies know who their audience is.  It’s a lament that’s trumpeted by the Supreme Pontiff of the Orthodoxy, Leigh Alexander:

That’s not super surprising, actually. While video games themselves were discovered by strange, bright outcast pioneers — they thought arcades would make pub games more fun, or that MUDs would make for amazing cross-cultural meeting spaces — the commercial arm of the form sprung up from marketing high-end tech products to ‘early adopters’. You know, young white dudes with disposable income who like to Get Stuff.

I distinctly remember how cross-cultural Anime MUD was in the 90s while I was running around a hospital murdering nurses. It must have been my White Privilege blinding me from the white text in a black Telnet window describing the nurses we were killing newspaper personal ad style: GBF Nurse, mid 30s, seeks multi-race party of heroes for friendship and romance.  No smokers or demon summoners, pls.  Further, an organization that’s driven exclusively by profit focused marketing on the people who have money?  That’s insane!

More orthodoxy from her holiness:

By the turn of the millennium those were games’ only main cultural signposts: Have money. Have women. Get a gun and then a bigger gun. Be an outcast. Celebrate that. Defeat anyone who threatens you. You don’t need cultural references. You don’t need anything but gaming. Public conversation was led by a games press whose role was primarily to tell people what to buy, to score products competitively against one another, to gleefully fuel the “team sports” atmosphere around creators and companies.

It’s clear that most of the people who drove those revenues in the past have grown up — either out of games, or into more fertile spaces, where small and diverse titles can flourish, where communities can quickly spring up around creativity, self-expression and mutual support, rather than consumerism. There are new audiences and new creators alike there. Traditional “gaming” is sloughing off, culturally and economically, like the carapace of a bug.

If the second quote were true, there wouldn’t be such a violent need to redefine game to include e-books made in Twine.  If it were really true that tastes were shifting, and with it, the market, then the AAA game companies would have to adapt to shifting tastes or die.  Yet 6 of the 10 top sellers in the World for 2014 are Action or Shooter games, so the global market seems to have voted with its collective wallet.

The reason marketing people reinforced the notion that gamers were outcasts is because we were outcasts.  We were also kids, and we relied on our parents for our disposable income.  We had to know which games were good and which games were crap.  Getting a junky game for a birthday meant having to wait months or more before getting a chance at another game that may or may not be good.

The last entry of orthodoxy comes from Dan Golding:

The gamer as an identity feels like it is under assault, and so it should. Though the ‘consumer king’ gamer will continue to be targeted and exploited while their profitability as a demographic outweighs their toxicity, the traditional gamer identity is now culturally irrelevant.

I don’t know what cultural irrelevance has to do with the desire to maximize the value I get from scarce resources; that’s what this particular piece of the orthodoxy comes down to: picking a negative definition of consumerism to condemn those of us with the critical thinking skills to look at a non-game of dubious quality loaded with social justice indoctrination narrative and say, “No thanks.  I’m gonna shoot stuff instead.”

The proper definitions of consumerism as they apply to gaming are any or all of the following:

“Consumerism” is the concept that consumers should be informed decision makers in the marketplace.

“Consumerism” is the concept that the marketplace itself is responsible for ensuring social justice through fair economic practices.

“Consumerism” refers to the field of studying, regulating, or interacting with the marketplace.

What I care about is maximizing the value I get from my scarce resources: time and money.  I don’t care, and if I can arrogantly presumptuous for a bit, I don’t think the overwhelming majority of gamers care how many clothes the women in their games are wearing as long as it makes sense (no parkas on the beach).  I don’t think the overwhelming majority of gamers care what the gender of their protagonists are, so long as it makes sense.  I want, and I think gamers want, to be able to sit back at whatever the “end” of their time with a game is and feel like they got their time and money’s worth.  That’s consumerism in gaming, and it is a good thing.  Gaming websites and legitimate journalists helping us determine what is good and what is garbage only help consumers be informed about where to spend their time and money.  When that’s compromised by corrupt journalists writing good reviews for people they have relationships with, our ability to act as informed consumers is compromised.  Is it any wonder that the definition of consumerism has to be changed in the new orthodoxy, when an informed consumer base is completely counter to the orthodoxy?  To prove it, we’ll use a thought experiment.

Let’s say parts of the orthodoxy got implemented and parts didn’t.  Specifically, that the definition of game was perverted to mean everything, and everyone is a gamer.  Suddenly, the market is flooded with titles that might not be games of unknown quality.  Games websites can’t be trusted to provide honest reviews, as the reviews only discuss how narratives push social justice agendas; further, the reviewers review games of people they have relationships with.  How can I possibly know which games I should reward with my time and disposable income?

According to the orthodoxy, you’re supposed to sift through an unending sea of free games of questionable quality to find the one you like.  Then, you’re supposed to play that game for ten times longer than you normally would to fully explore it, before wading back into the unending sea of garbage to find the one nugget you might like.  Eventually, you give up on trying to find even a mediocre narrative, accepting indoctrination as the price for a clever mechanic or two.  If this isn’t Orwellian dystopia, I don’t know what is.  The question boils down to this: would you rather have 10 games made per year, 9 of which will be good, or 10 million games, 10 of which will be good.  As an informed consumer, I prefer the former, as I have a 90% chance of spending time and money on a good game.  As an uninformed consumer, I prefer the latter, as there are 10 million games to choose from, and I naively believe the ratio of good games to bad is more than 1 in 1 million.  In reality, the numbers aren’t that simple, but the point is to demonstrate how much harder it will be to act properly as an informed consumer in an super saturated environment with no help from games media.

In the fifth installment of Good Morning Orthodoxy, we looked at consumerism.  Check back tomorrow for the series finale, my conclusions and reflections.

Missed a previous installment? Check them out here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.

  • No Excuses VTW

    Overhyped faux-auteur walking simulator Gone Home is still US$19.99 on Steam. They NEED us to be as poorly informed as possible about how to allocate our resources so that they can convince us we need to spend twenty bucks on two minutes of gameplay in a house filled with someone’s idea of 80s nostalgia and insipid writing.

  • Fenrir Posorski

    I agree that they need us uninformed, but I feel you go to far with your critique of Gone Home. I personally found the story and style quite good, though the price SHOULD be at least half of what it asks, and it takes more than 2 minutes.

  • No Excuses VTW

    I’ll put that down to a matter of personal taste, since I think that it is roughly on par with that FMV Goosebumps game that came out in ’96 (though at least that game was longer). I think most can agree that the twenty bucks is greedy though.

    Seriously, go find that Goosebumps game if you haven’t played it. Jeff Goldblum’s performance is priceless, he comes across like a total paedophile, entirely on accident as far as I can see.

  • Fenrir Posorski

    I believe Gone Home’s worth highly depends on what you bring to the table. If you are from a socially ostracized group, then it does touch something deep, though as a writer I can say it relies too much on that, which makes it much more impenetrable to those who aren’t coming to it with baggage.

    Amusingly, that is why I saw a lot of ‘reviewers’ mistaking it for depth that people ‘just don’t get”. No, I believe people get it, it just doesn’t ring as powerfully with them.

  • No Excuses VTW

    As someone who has faced racial discrimination, and having a mother who was driven to flee her birth country due to ethnic violence, I know what being ostracised is like, but Gone Home still feels like some tacky two-bit teenage melodrama to me. I guess I just don’t have the right *type* of baggage, because it doesn’t resonate with me at all.

  • Fenrir Posorski

    Which is possible. I… honestly do not know how the devs thought it would sell well. The story is VERY tightly focused on sexuality. I myself am bi, in a conservative state. So I definitely could draw link to the character and my own situation.

    The game, if you have a very narrow set of experiences, is good from a story standpoint. But that is it’s downfall, since it is no where near as good for most people. And way over priced.

  • No Excuses VTW

    I suppose from that point of view… where I live, coming out as bi would probably barely even merit a shrug, so I don’t have that point of reference either. Seems like they were piling all their eggs in a very small narrative basket.

  • Fenrir Posorski

    Aye, it is the games biggest, glaring weakness. It requires to narrow of an experience for the needed appeal for mass success.

    Which, to go onto the topic of this article, is exactly what these people are trying to ‘correct’. Like somehow the majority of gamers should not have fun, and buy this and enjoy it anyway… somehow.

    Even as someone who DID end up enjoying Gone Home (And the ending of it is far more emotional if you have dealt hands on with suicides int he gay community), I have to say what they are trying to force is… wrong.

  • No Excuses VTW

    I don’t think “enjoyment” is something they view as a priority; rather I think that they seem to believe that having people play things that align with their personal ideologies is the route to forging a better society. Dispense with actually having fun for the Greater Good, and all that. There are a lot of very troubling things a person can justify in the name of a Greater Good.

  • Fenrir Posorski

    The ends justify the means, and the road to hell is paved in good intentions.

    I feel their INTENTIONS are in the right place, but what they do is replusive, and cannot be forgiven or accepted. Their use of censorship is wrong, and their claims to represent the downtrodden are provably false.

  • No Excuses VTW

    And so, starting with diametrically opposed viewpoints on one of their critical darlings and very different life experiences, we still, without discrimination or bigotry, converge on the conclusion that their attempts to forcibly “manage” gamer cultural ideology in line with their orthodoxy is pernicious and wrong.

    I think they need to take a long hard look at their theory that gamers always look to exclude people who don’t immediately agree with them.

  • Fenrir Posorski

    I am someone of the type they hate to debate. A victim of real persecution, who find their victim complexes and actions to be repugnant. I personally find them to be… weak. Even taking their claims of persecution on face value, they choose to be dominated by it, rather than rise above.

    As for exclusion… online, there are only two groups I have seen who are, without reservation, open to anyone and everyone taking part. gamers and (Despite their reputation) the furries. And, oddly, both are attacked for what they choose to enjoy.

  • The orthodoxy wants to paint the picture that wanting to play games that don’t address every possible SJW issue, whether real or imagined, somehow prevents the creation of other games that do address these issues.The problem certainly doesn’t stem from a lack of “small and diverse” titles. The problem with the new orthodoxy is that they want to determine what ALL games must be. They want to eliminate all games and all gamers who don’t fit their narrative.

    The idea that these people are just defending the “little guy” is absurd. These people want to dictate what the entire market creates. They want games that appeal to their tastes and their tastes alone. If your tastes don’t gel with theirs then they don’t have a problem with YOU being excluded as you are obviously an everything-phobe who isn’t worth being included.

    To top it off they actually have so little respect for their audience, whom they are so out of touch with that they don’t even realize who their audience is, that they openly state that we are too stupid to know any better than to let big publishers “target and exploit” us.

    Thank you for writing this series of articles. This site has been a breath of fresh air.

  • Kiltmanenator

    Thank you for writing these!

  • Reptile

    I remember once reading this:
    “The consumerism on cable television is bad for our children! We can’t accept it!” – sent by Iphone.
    Funny how we are the “bad guys” for purchasing games, when it is because of us that good games still exist. They are all “games with white male protagonists defending/avenging woman are bad! you should feel ashamed of playing it!”, then Shadow of Mordor launches.

  • Great series of posts. I wrote this comment after reading the first, but it’s just as relevant here:

    These are exactly the sort of people who destroyed every other cultural industry by severing them from their roots. The people who ridicule the statement, “I don’t know about art, but I know what I like,” as if there was something wrong with personal preference. The people who made you ashamed to admit you like chart pop because it isn’t made by miserable people in dull clothing who have a “message” (as if, “Let’s try to escape the misery for three minutes” isn’t one). The people who made mid-20th Century “serious” music totally unlistenable and nearly destroyed Hollywood until George Lucas came along with a movie that was fun. I suppose it was inevitable that they turned up in gaming, but this is the age of the internet, of disintermediation; we don’t need them. We won’t listen to them. And, most importantly, this time we will not be marginalized and disdained for our refusal to conform.

    Play what you enjoy, tell people about it, and screw the self-appointed guardians of Culture. They’re the real losers.

  • Smoky_the_Bear

    Even that belief would not be so damaging, but they go a step further in actively trying to demonize people who don’t share their beliefs. Because I enjoy running around shooting things and don’t care for something like Gone Home, they label me a bad person.

    The issue is that their standpoint comes from a vocal minority, this lead them to attack large swathes of gamers because their social justice laden, hipster indie games cannot gain as much exposure and traction when the majority of people would rather just buy CoD and blow things up.

  • Ryan Lawson

    “”Gamers” are such vicious gatekeepers because they want to protect the perceived value of their investments.”

    Value…like playing all our games over and over until they’ve “revealed all their secrets”? WTF is this guy even talking about, or who is he talking to? We gamers love our classics. PS2, N64, Dreamcast, hell, I’m even playing Myst on my Steam, that game is ancient. How close is this Dan Wilson to Anita? Cause she effing HATES all the old misogynistic classics. He TvW shows some of the oldest color games made and points out the pink pixel of a bow as reinforcing sexism.

  • Ryan Lawson

    “As an uninformed consumer, I prefer the latter, as there are 10 million
    games to choose from, and I naively believe the ratio of good games to
    bad is more than 1 in 1 million.”

    Shades of Apple vs Android vs Win Phone “my app store is bigger so my phone is better” arguments. Great. Your phone can download 500 fart apps. I think I’ll make due with a measly 450.