Category Archives: Politics

Economics and Gaming

A short aside.

Every so often I just want to grab a whole bunch of tech writers and game makers, shake them by the lapel, and yell “YOU LIVE WITHIN A LARGER ECONOMY”.

I know. It sounds obvious! But whenever I read a discussion of “AAA” gaming and consoles and resale and all of that, nobody ever really seems to think about it. There’s never anybody who steps up and says “maybe people aren’t buying these games because they can’t.”

Maybe they’re trying to find the cheapest entertainment options, ones that leverage devices that they’re already able to afford thanks to instalment payment plans (hello, mobile!), because they don’t really have any other choice.

Maybe they live in places that don’t have the sort of Internet connections you want them to have because those places are cheaper to live in.

Maybe they buy and lend and trade and sell because it’s the only way they can experience anything like the console games that they grew up with.

Maybe they aren’t buying new PCs because they can’t justify the price tag for something they already have, even if they’d like to upgrade, and are only buying tablets because they’re technically new devices and (people forget this!) are actually really damned good ways to teach your kids things. People will go deep into hock for their kids’ sake.

Maybe they only shell out for Call of Duty and Madden because they know their friends have those, know what they’re getting, and can’t damned well afford to take a chance on non-refundable entertainment products.

Maybe not. But the point is, you have to think about these things. You have to remember what the hell is going on in America and around the world. You have to remember that Silicon Valley and the lucky techies there and elsewhere with the good-paying jobs are the EXCEPTION rather than the RULE. Maybe you have to pay a bit more attention to what the rise of Apple as America’s most profitable company is saying about the possible permanence of the shift of the economy to extreme polarization.

You aren’t in a bubble. You’re part of a larger system, and that system is really, really not doing well right now.

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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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New Spurring the Centre on Boston

You can read it here; it’s about the Boston Bombing again, this time about the potential ramifications of the bombers’ possible Caucasian Muslim identities.

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Boston bombing reaction now at “Spurring the Centre”

I’ve just started a new straight-politics/policy blog called “Spurring the Centre“. I named it after this weekend’s Spur festival in Toronto, and intended it to talk mostly about the Spur festival. I’ve got a few entries on that, but clearly the events in Boston have intervened.

By training and disposition, at least, I’m a conflict analyst. I know security issues pretty well. So I’ve written up an early response to the Boston Bombing. Yes, this may well have a big impact on games, but right now I’d prefer to focus on security.

I’ll try to remember to link them here.

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