I will admit that as a young adult, I still love video games. I have had a few video game related posts I have put up in the last while, so eventually I think I will have to add another category to group them. This is another piece concerning a column I think is downright stupid which has been put up on Kotaku, a website dedicated to all things gaming. If one had to compare them to a somewhat “relevant” news organization, they would be the National Enquirer of gaming publications. A lot of rumour, a slew of opinion pieces, and only a handful of hard gaming news stories. The post addresses another one of those ill-informed politically slanted opinion pieces which has been put out to misinform its easily swayed readership, Brian Crecente’s ‘The Inconvient Truth of Buying Video Games’. Now before I start discussing this piece, give it a read…
What do you consider when shopping for a new video game console?
The games available for the console? How much it will cost you?
What about the ethical impact of your choices?
Do you weigh what the creation of that console does to the environment, whether it was built in sweat shops or contains supplies sold to fund wars?
The notion of “ethical consumerism” is an increasing concern among shoppers of all types, including gamers, according to Jordan Louviere, professor of marketing at University of Technology Sydney and executive director of the Centre for the Study of Choice.
Louviere, an internationally recognized expert in consumer choice modeling, said that while many of today’s consumers aren’t aware of or educated about such issues, that seems to be changing.
“It is likely that these issues will play ever larger roles going forward over time,” Louviere told Kotaku, “and those companies that are smart enough and strategically on the ball will see that there are potentially huge returns to product changes/innovations and associated sales and marketing from doing this.”
While examining where consumer electronics, like the PS3, Wii and Xbox 360, come from and where the money you spend on them goes may sound strange to some, Louviere points out that it’s just one more feature set that consumers can look at.
But is balancing the global impact of your gaming habits a reasonable expectation?
“‘Reasonableness’ depends entirely an a person’s individual value system,” he said. “All products and services have tangible, functional and other features. The choices that people make involve taking the features into account to try to get a product that best suits them for a price level that they are willing to pay to get them.”
And for those interested, there are plenty of ethical issues to consider, topics to wade through.
Each year Greenpeace releases a guide that rates how “green” different consumer electronics, including video game consoles, and their parent companies are, based on, among other things, the chemicals used in the products and the energy consumption of an item.
“Gamers who are concerned about toxics leaching to water supplies and causing troubled pregnancies and other health defects should care,” said Daniel Kessler, communications manager for Greenpeace International. “We believe that manufacturers of electronic goods, who have benefited from sales of their products, should take responsibility for them from production through to the end of their lives. To prevent an e-waste crisis, manufacturers must design clean electronics with longer lifespan, that are safe and easy to recycle and will not expose workers and the environment to hazardous chemicals.”
Kessler says that Nintendo remains in last place in their annual guide, though the company has shown some improvements.
Enough: The Project to End Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity tracks the use of certain minerals, like tin, tatalum, tungsten and gold, that can be mined in the Congo and used to help fund the war there. Some of these minerals are found in a variety electronics including video game consoles.
“We’re accustomed to not asking too many questions about where our video games and other belongings come from,” said David Sullivan, policy manager for Enough. “But given that we could be indirectly financing some of the worst human rights abuses in the world via our purchases of these products, I think most consumers would want to be able to choose not to support those kinds of things.”
The issue with tracking the use of these minerals, though, is that they are processed at facilities, mostly located in Asia, where they blend together with minerals from all around the world. So Enough is asking companies to try and keep these minerals out of their products.
“Microsoft and Sony are both part of an industry group that is working to create a system to deal with conflict tantalum,” Sullivan said. “Nintendo is not part of this group.”
Nintendo didn’t provide a comment for this article, but has said in the past that they ask that their supplies comply with the company’s corporate social responsibility guidelines.
Professor Louviere says that international research conducted by his center found that “many consumers are willing to pay small, but significant premiums to choose products that are not environmentally harmful and/or that have environmental benefits.”
“The middle ground is for all consumers to understand that climate change and environmental degradation are real, they are not going to go away, and unless we all do something about it, they will only get worse going forward,” Louviere said.
While many of the most vocal gamers express disinterest at best about topics like green gaming or conflict minerals, these passionate gamers are also the ones most likely to participate in a different type of ethical consumerism, perhaps without even realizing it.
They are the ones often quick to sign petitions and call for boycotts of companies perceived to be mistreating developers or over-working employees, another ethical concern.
It may not be recognized as such, it may not yet be the first thing a gamer thinks about, but it seems that socially responsible gaming is coming.
Before I break this down, let’s take a look at the description given to this piece as a ‘Well Played’ opinion column,
Well Played is a weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.
“[T]he gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come”? That statement alone should indicate the real purpose of this piece and others like it. By making the gaming industry socially and politically relevant, you make those who participate in it relevant as well. Instead of being ill-informed, through this piece, Brian Crecente is able to pass himself and his opinions off as “thought provoking”. The truth is, however, that in the grander scheme of things, the video game industry and the opinion of those inside it are very much irrelevant. Gaming is a distraction, a way to escape the trials and tribulations of everyday life, and it really boggles the mind when people like Brian try to pretend that it isn’t.
The issue, however, is that it isn’t just this article author who believes that they aren’t socially and politically irrelevant. Konami’s Hideo Kojima has a problem accepting this fact about video games as he tries to convey a series of political messages through almost all his titles. Anyone who played even the first fifteen minutes of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is subjected to a random fake commercial critiquing the materialistic nature of modern life (using capitalism to push anti-capitalistic beliefs?), as well as a speech about the horrors of war from Solid Snake, the game protagonist, just before he gets off the back of a truck and enters an urban conflict zone (warfare is horrible, but only for everyone else?). Suffice to say, the game comes off as overly preachy, downright confusing and completely hypocritical. This is common, especially in Japanese games, but no one really pays attention to it. These titles are enjoyable and sell well, not because of the message game designers are trying to portray, but because of how well the game itself plays and how great it looks. I could spend an entire post discussing this point, but let’s continue.
While it would be hard-pressed to find one criticism with this article that is specific to the video game industry (not the most original article out there), let’s start with this idea about the environmental impact of our gaming purchases. Greenpeace has been trying to push this nonsense since 2006, specifically targeting Nintendo for the company’s level of success in their “Guide to Greener Electronics”. Last year Nintendo was criticized for an increase in “C02 emissions” following the gaming giant’s increased level of output. Is it any wonder that former Greenpeace co-founder Doctor Patrick Moore has spoken out about the group’s recent activities? According to Moore, he left the group after it “evolved into an organization of extremism and politically motivated agendas”. Quoting Greenpeace only undermines the credibility of this argument as the organization has become widely known for its anti-capitalist beliefs. Is it any wonder why Brian would cite this group’s findings to push such an anti-capitalist argument?
How about the fact that many of the parts within our gaming systems were made in “sweat shops”? It always bothers me when someone brings this up, not understanding just how ill-informed this statement is. The belief is that the developed world has “enslaved” and “oppressed” those in developing countries through outsourcing. Not only is this view simplistic, it is utter nonsense which depends on an emotional response rather than basic facts. Why did Brian put that picture if he wasn’t trying to “pull of the heart strings” of his readers? The fact is that “Western greed” fuels economic development in these developing countries. Not only do we see more foreign investment in these developing economies, but, on average, multinational enterprises pay there workers more than local companies do. Matter of fact, many economists have pushed for more “sweat shops” for years because of the benefits they provide to these poor nations. As Paul Krugman said in 1997, “A policy of good jobs in principle, but no jobs in practice, might assuage our consciences, but it is no favor to its alleged beneficiaries.”
Let’s now discuss this nonsense about how gaming is supposedly funding wars. Enough: The Project to End Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity is definitely not an organization with realistic objectives. According to their mission statement, Enough is “helping to build a permanent constituency to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity” since “the United States and the larger international community have taken a wait-and-see approach to crimes against humanity”. Even the International Campaign to Ban Landmines realized it needed the help of the “larger international community” to achieve any significant effort in limited the distribution and use of anti-personnel landmines. While this organization is definitely dubious, Enough’s policy manager, David Sullivan, does make the point that minerals like tin, tatalum, tungsten and gold are mined in the Congo, and that the proceeds from the mining goes to fund the war there. What of it though? Even the article states that the “issue with tracking the use of these minerals, though, is that they are processed at facilities, mostly located in Asia, where they blend together with minerals from all around the world”. So not only is purchasing video game consoles indirectly funding wars, but so is the the purchasing of computers, televisions, and a variety of other electronic products. The only way to be sure that money isn’t going to fund any wars would be to either control the sale of electronics or decrease the importing of processed minerals from Asia, neither being realistic solutions. Didn’t think about that Brian? Of course he didn’t, and there is a point to be made about that.
Does Brian own electronic devices? Obviously. Do you think he wonders whether or not the materials they are made of were mined in war torn countries? Doubtful. How about this discussion about worker’s rights? What kind of computer do you think Brian has? What kind of media player does he have? Knowing his type, both devices were probably made by Apple. Foxconn Technology Group, a company that makes parts for Apple products, recently got into trouble when several of their workers committed suicide at factories in Shenzhen, China. Why hasn’t Brian or anyone else spoken out about this? The truth is that they don’t care. They blame everyone else for the treatment of factory workers, but refuse to point the finger at themselves, refuse to take any responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Read the article again, you won’t find any mention of his shopping habits, nor will Brian refer to himself as part of the gaming community. No, as the reader, we are given the impression that he is beyond reproach on this subject. We are supposed to believe that Brian is supposed to be part of this new wave of “ethical” gamers aren’t we? He wrote the article right, so surely that put him above the rest of us doesn’t it? Not in the slightest. Why should his “crimes” be forgiven simply because he said the right things? I doubt Brian would ever live by this example, but that is the way these people are.
The problem is this notion of “ethical consumerism”, this concept about how we should think about the social and political repercussions of our shopping habits. The statements made in this article by Jordan Louviere, professor of marketing at University of Technology Sydney and executive director of the Centre for the Study of Choice, seem ill-informed, if not misguided. The mistake Louviere makes is assuming that these social and political beliefs are not only shared by a fair portion of the gaming community, but that gamers are willing to forgo purchasing a well reviewed and highly anticipated game due to these beliefs. Even with all the misinformation about Nintendo’s environmental record, especially the “Guide to Greener Electronics” from Greenpeace, we have yet to see any significant change in the gaming giant’s sales because of it. Even with the controversies surrounding Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV, the title sold extremely well, breaking the record for both the best single-day and seven-day sales totals for a video game. Where was all this “ethical consumerism” then? No explanation is given to address the almost complete absence of any significant impact on shopping trends after consumers have been bombarded with this kind of nonsense for years. If “ethical consumerism” is on the horizon, where are the signs? What really dumbfounds me about these statements made by Louviere is that, with all these reports that are being released on the environmental impact on airline travel, he still travels around the world, via aircraft, giving speeches on how these very reports will shape consumer choices in the next few years. Why should anyone take Louviere seriously when he himself refuses to adopt “ethical consumerism”? Just another “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrite.
In the end, it is easy to see that this is just an ill-informed and overly political piece Brian Crecente put out to not only to misinform his readership, but give them the impression that he is “better” than them for having written such an article. Instead of insisting that people join credible groups which work with international community to fight for worker’s rights and against pollution and those who would commit atrocities like genocide, this article would have its readers believe that by simply buying less games, and being more “ethical” about what games and gaming systems they do buy, they can do their part in fighting these “evils”. That is extremely naive and downright nonsensical to say the least. Once again, the truth is that all of this is irrelevant. Your gaming purchases have little to no effect in the grander scheme of things, and for Brian to say otherwise is ridiculous. Let him quote radical organizations like Greenpeace and Enough, as well as shallow hypocrites like Jordan Louviere, it still doesn’t make anything he has written meaningful. That is the real “inconvient truth” in all this.
What Brian Crecente has done by writing this article is to only demonstrate just how irrelevant he and his opinions are. Don’t expect, however, for him to acknowledge this truth as I expect more poorly written and ill-informed articles from him and others writing for Kotaku’s ‘Well Played’ column. Pathetic…