Let’s take a step outside of our own little virtual worlds for just a minute to recognize that we have several problems in the gaming community. We have toxicity running rampant in several confined places, we have false accusations stating the under-performance of hardware, and almost all of this news is taken as the gospel truth. There is no wondering where it came from, there is no checking sources. These false stories have been running so rampant that developers themselves have to step forward and say something to quell the flames before they get out of hand; especially when we start throwing around egregious words without understanding what they actually mean.
Every little piece of news has become whittled down to buzzwords which are flippantly tossed around without questioning what the words mean and the phrase of this month just so happens to be “anti-consumerism”. To be quite frank, at face value the phrase “anti-consumerist” sounds quite awful, almost threatening. We see that word and go “well I am a consumer, and I plan on consuming some games, this has to be terrible!” and you’re not too far off from the immediate notion. But it doesn’t refer to anything that has been happening in the video game industry. So I am going to spell it out for many of you, what is “anti-consumerism” and how does it relate to our video game lives.
If anti-consumerism exist, then that means that consumerism has to exist. And it does, albeit it’s confusing as there are various definitions and they actually conflict with each other on an ideological level. Years leading up to the 1970’s, consumerism is defined as the continual buying (and consuming) of material possessions. The term engrossed our abilities to become informed decision makers by studying the items that we wish to obtain, making that decision to buy or pass on it. We have the ability to go online and look at items that we want to purchase, as well as read reviews and understand the item more from first hand accounts. Our ability to go on social media and discuss products (respectively) with people is a core component to a positive consumerist state.
Consumerism also highlights that the marketplace is responsible for ensuring fair economic practices, keeping in line with the status quo of the consumer. Items aren’t priced too out of range where it’s impossible for someone to purchase as long as that item is relative to the various aspects of that person. If you are someone that makes around $35,000 to $45,000 a year, it’s easy to say that at the very least you should be able to afford necessities and even splurge on a vacation every so often. When you make that much and want to purchase the Lamborghini Veneno, a sports car that at its lowest price was $4 million dollars, the market will not support your endeavor. You can complain that it’s not fair, but it’s out of the bounds of reasonable financial expectations. Yes, there may be a moment where someone inherits a large sum of money making that purchase viable, but the chances of that are incredibly slim to none. Plus the price is reaching closer to $10 million now so quickly crunching the numbers, making monthly payments for a typical five year contract would be $153,846.15, and that doesn’t include any interest.
Lastly and perhaps the most important aspect that carries the most weight in these arguments: consumerism gives you choice. You are never forced to buy material goods. With proper research and financial backing, the choice is the last thing you need to consider when it comes to the big decision to buy something or hold off. No one is holding a gun to your head in these scenarios and forcing you to buy any material good.
Now it is important to understand that some aspects of anti-consumerism can be applied to situations making them consumerist. Before you start forming arguments in your head, I would like to welcome you to continue reading before you start sending me more hate messages on Twitter. Even though all three aspects are important, if you do not have a choice in any matter then it is pretty much anti-consumerist. I don’t mean a “I have no choice but to buy this battle pass” type of choice. I’m not even talking about “I want to play Avengers but I am forced to buy the game” level of idiocy. I am talking about Sony walking in with a loaded gun, forcing you to give them your debit card to buy stuff. Yes, it’s also attempted murder in some states, but that holds a lot of weight when it comes to an anti-consumer practice. People didn’t have a choice to download U2’s album Songs of Innocence, it just appeared. It was still considered consumerist because you had the ability to delete it. But that actually required effort on our parts.
Now that we understand some concepts of consumerism, we can now better understand what is anti-consumerist. If “anti-consumerist” is the opposite of “consumerist” then we can all believe that anti-consumerism involves:
- Unable to conduct proper research
- Items sold not at a standard but at an inflated price
- No choice to purchase and the item is forced upon you
Since we live in a capitalistic society, it is always best for companies to allow pro-consumerism to overtake the public. The more we know, the easier we can find information, the more we are willing to part with our money in exchange for something we want. The more information we receive the easier it is for us to make the decision to buy your console Microsoft and Sony!
I mentioned earlier that the idea of consumerism had a specific definition up until the 1970’s. Since then the definition has shifted. Now the idea of “consumerism” is used to denote “high levels of consumption”. It further states that consumerism is terrible, selfish, and oppresses the ideas of living a minimalist lifestyle. Most importantly, it highlights this pro-globalization concept, where growth of capitalistic ideals exist on a global scale. This means the ideals we have here in the United States carry onto other countries that do not share the same concepts. It is very much a political stance and the web that we can spin from this central point is incredibly vast. Is it good or bad? I’m not going to be the person to make that proclamation as I am a man who just really likes video games, and has the ability to do ample research due to his unemployment during an international health crisis. Instead I will state this. What you saw on Twitter about companies being anti-consumerist doesn’t fit the mold. Sure, it’s fun to say, but it simply isn’t true.
Understanding what these two concepts consist of, we can now appropriately go back to our own virtual worlds. How do consumerist practices and anti-consumerist practices exist within the world of video games? It has nothing to do with Spider-Man being exclusive to a platform, that is for sure.
The Juicy Stuff
Spider-Man is where this conversation started, so I figured it would be easiest to start here. Spider-Man is exclusive to the PlayStation version of The Avengers video game. Applying what we have just learned, we can understand that this is not anti-consumer. We are able to find information about Spider-Man, the game is not being forced upon us, and if we want to buy it then we can spend an amount that is deemed socially acceptable. The major caveat here is that other versions of the game do not get Spider-Man. Meaning, people will get less content for the same price. But hold onto that thought for now. We will swing back to that in just a moment.
The next generation of consoles is coming and people were up in arms about the DualShock 4 controller. It was designed for PlayStation 4 and will not be able to be used on PlayStation 5 games. It can still be used on the PlayStation 5 but only for PlayStation 4 games. If you are someone that expected any different, I’m sorry that what Microsoft decided to do with their peripherals got you angry. All of that aside, it’s still not an anti-consumerist practice. Yes, a new controller comes with the system and you do have to use it to play next generation games. If Sony were to release the PlayStation 5 without a new controller and force you to buy a new one, it still wouldn’t be anti-consumerist. Remember, choice is the biggest aspect that carries the most weight in these arguments. Plus if you do not like something, then why would you buy it?
So now let’s look at something that is awfully anti-consumerist within the gaming industry. Unfortunately, by definition there isn’t much to point a finger at, if anything at all. This is because we have this choice and ability to determine if something is worth purchasing. What Square-Enix, Crystal Dynamics, and Sony are doing is utterly terrible for the industry as a whole. So instead of claiming that they are anti-consumer in order to hopefully sway corporations to budge, we have to do something else. Just like what we did in the 1970’s, we need to change or create something that will catch on and reverberate through the waves of our capitalistic society. It has to be punchy, easy to remember, and call out the truly atrocious behaviors we have seen through these years of unrest. I suggest we call it “basically asshole design” or BAD for short.
Yes, Spider-man as a platform exclusive is BAD. We still have the choice to buy the game, but when a game is filled with BAD choices, then why would we?
Video games that feature gambling mechanics are just BAD on purpose. You don’t have to partake in the slot machines in NBA 2K20, but they really, really want you to.
Locking pre-order bonuses behind a campaign that calls for more people to pre-order said game is also just all-around, BAD.
Having exclusive games designed for specific platforms is NOT BAD or “nothing ostensibly terrible, but also dickish.”
It’s clear that the future of gaming is going to venture into places we have yet to really discuss or think about. We are letting ray tracing and teraflops overtake the real issues at hand. We are too concerned with what system is best instead of looking at some of the more real issues that can have a greater effect on our hobby. We want to preserve the future of gaming but we also cannot forget that we need this opposition in order to achieve technological advancement. We cannot be dancing for these companies, instead we should make them dance for us. Will we put money in the tip jar though? I say we should see just how BAD their act is first.