Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Economic Impact of Unethical Games Journalism

Regular Bad Company readers may recall my inaugural Gamergate-themed post, wherein I took one Henry Smith to the woodshed for his portrayal of gamers strictly as "rich white men with expensive toys."

More than simply false -- gamers come from all races, genders and walks of life -- it was incredibly shortsighted.

It was shortsighted for more than just the misapplication of what he claims as his own ideas. It's also oblivious to the people to whom the ethical issues associated with Gamergate matter most.

Simply put, the "rich white men with expensive toys" argument has virtually no understanding of to whom these issues are most important. Simply put, the less money a gamer has to spend on their hobby, the more important these issues are.

Upon its release a AAA video game can cost approximately $70. For gamers who partake in the hobby on a low-income basis this can present a serious quandary, particularly if they don't want to wait for a second-hand copy of the game at their local EB Games or on Kijiji. If they're going to spend $70 on a new video game, it's especially important for these gamers that they choose wisely in a field that, like all others, offers no guarantees.

Perhaps more than anywhere else, low-income gamers rely on games journalism to give them an indication of which games they should spend their money on. So when games journalists give glowing reviews to AAA games that are simply not up to snuff on a technical basis -- Dragon Age Inquisiton being a prime example -- they have betrayed their audience to an unconscionable degree.

No one should expect perfect objectivity from video games reviewers. After all, many of the key elements of a game -- graphics, music, sound effects, play format -- are subjective measures. However, the mechanical aspects of a game: controls, artificial intelligence, processing coherence (whether or not the game is glitch-free or is glitchy as all hell) -- are not. If a game is lacking in these measures it is automatically a bad game, regardless of whether or not some games journalist prefers its subject matter or finds it sufficiently caters to their tastes or political opinions.

Economics teaches us about the concept of opportunity cost. Explained most simply, opportunity cost is the best option, in terms of marginal utility, foregone for the purpose of an option selected.

In the case of a video game purchase it's not unreasonable to suggest that the opportunity cost of a bad game purchased is a good game purchased in its stead.

For the individuals fomenting the cancer at the heart of games journalism -- journalistic standards sacrificed for the purpose of promoting the "social justice" agenda -- opportunity cost is also an applicable concept. For them, a game produced that does not serve their agenda represents a game not produced that does serve their agenda. This is obviously an issue with any game, but for AAA games, the production budgets for which can be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, this becomes far more acute.

Social justice warriors among the so-called "elite" of games journalism have unquestionably tilted their ratings in favour of some games, including AAA games, that didn't deserve the ratings. If the result is that gamers purchase games that aren't worth the money, that will give developers an incentive to produce games that successfully pander to the "social justice" agenda even at the expense of game mechanics. If this happens, these particular games journalists have just succeeded in doing something tremendously pervasive: they've shifted their opportunity cost from themselves to the gamers who also happen to be their customers.

You're welcome, I presume.

The lower the income of a particular gamer the more negatively impacted they are not only by any journalistic trend that may mislead them into a poor game selection, but also that any journalistic trend that encourages a decline in average game quality.

My observation is that the so-called "elite" whose activities have given rise to #Gamergate are too drunk on power they don't deserve and don't know what to do with to have even considered the consequences of their actions. In the famous words of Mal Reynolds: I don't credit them with an overabundance of brains. And so I cannot put this past them.

This is the kind of thing that facilitates the decision to make everything else secondary to a political agenda -- just don't bother to think about what the unintended consequences could be. This is rooted in the conviction that no price is too high to pay for "social justice" ...even if the "justice" being pursued is just one narrow, almost narcissistically narrow, view of it.

Some of them simply aren't predisposed to think of the consequences. Others, like Ben Kuchera, seem to literally be having too much fun abusing the power they've been given -- sneering at dissenting voices all the while -- to care.

One way or the other, regardless of Henry Smith's caricature of gamers as rich white males, it's the poorest gamers who actually have the biggest stake in #Gamergate. The economic impact will invariably fall hardest on them.

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