Games are Political. Sorry.

Had a fascinating exchange on Twitter with Dan Amrich, Community Manager for Activision. We were talking about the anti-used game stuff on the XBOX One (or XBone, if you prefer), and after I rebutted his point that people shouldn’t be haters by saying that it’s okay to hate terrible ideas, and gave the admittedly-hyperbolic example of dumping PCBs into public pools as a terrible idea that I feel free to hate,  he busted out the “it’s only games” thing, quickly following it up by an exit featuring the  “you’re mixing up games and politics. Good day sir.”

Mixing up games and politics.

Hah.

Dan, do you even know what politics IS?

Politics, dear Sir, is about the exercise of power. When I studied political science, that was pretty much the entire curriculum. What power is, who has it, how it’s used, where it’s used,  and how it should be used. An entire field based on one concept.

So why is it an entire field of study that goes back thousands of years? Because power is everywhere. It’s all around us. Every day, in every way, in every action we take and every action we don’t take, we are exercising power and being subject to power. It can be as obvious as not taking a candy bar from a store out of the desire not to be punished by the state, or as subtle as the language we use in a casual conversation with friends. Sure, power affects who you vote for, but it also goes into the things you buy and sell and, yes, the enterrtainments you enjoy.

(Hence that whole “the personal is political” line. It’s not that everything reduces to power. It’s that power  suffuses everything.)

Gaming is no exception to that. The entire field is rife with issues of power. The gender issues that everybody’s worrying over right now? Power. The all-consuming discourse over freedom of expression? Power. The concentration of economic power in the hands of a small number of publishing houses? Power. The move of the industry to the locations with the best subsidies for development? Power. The rise of free-to-play on mobile devices? Power.

But the whole resale thing on the XBOX One? The one that we were talking about? It’s more of a power issue than almost ANY of these, barring the gender and identity questions. It pits the power of the publisher and manufacturer against the power of consumers. It pits the publisher’s power of copyright ownership and the manufacturer’s powers of patent ownership against the consumers’ power of media ownership, as embodied in the first sale doctrine. Whoever has the least power may face bankruptcy, fines or even imprisonment.

(Yeah, that’s the thing about power. It’s entirely relative. It’s a zero-sum game.)

Yes, most of these issues are discussed in terms of “rights”. Rights are about POWER. They’re recognized and endorsed entitlements, backed up by the state’s power to punish and the moral power granted to rights-holders in our society. You have rights? You have power. It may not be much, and it may not be enough, but it’s there.

So, no, Dan, there’s no distinction. Everything is political, and this is VERY political, because it’s a move by powerful publishers and distributors to curtail the (very small) amount of power still enjoyed by consumers.

Now, you could theoretically argue that it isn’t important. People do. Dan did, if unwittingly. But I think that you have to be consistent on that. If games don’t matter, if they aren’t important, then, yes, there’s no point granting consumers these powers. But that opens the question of whether and why their creators should enjoy the powers granted by copyright and patent laws, as well as freedom-of-expression laws like the Americans’ First Amendment.

If they DO matter–and this is where I stand–then their creators do deserve the power that come from the recognition of their rights, but consumers deserve the same thing. That includes resale, borrowing, rental, and all the rest.

And, yes, that includes the ones yelling on Twitter.

(Oh, one last thing. Power isn’t always gained or granted at the point of a gun. Moral power matters. Convincing people that you have a just cause in order to convince them to go along with what you want is often far easier and more effective than trying to use the state as a blunt instrument to punish the hell out of them. 

(If you want people to  respect your rights as a copyright holder, the first step is recognizing their rights in turn. That’s why resale isn’t “piracy”. Resale prevents piracy. Something to keep in mind.)

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2 thoughts on “Games are Political. Sorry.

  1. Mario Kummer says:

    I assume when these consumer unfriendly systems lauch they will experience the power of the consumers 😉
    What they don’t realize yet is that it is all about the Money. People don’t care about lock in on app stores or steam because they buy Games for 1 to maybe 15€ but they will care when publishers want 69€ for a Game.

  2. […] PopMatters Moving Pixels’ Jorge Albor criticizes the industrial manufacturing of need the console represents. Meanwhile, Craig Bamford stresses that yes, there are political ramifications with the new machine. […]

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