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Good Morning, Orthodoxy! #5

Todd Wohling / October 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM / Gaming, Opinions

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.