Gamers are the most oppressed group of people under capitalism.
Okay, that’s not really true, but our economic system certainly is spoiling our fun, whether you make video games or simply play them.
Now, I’m not much of a gamer myself. I used to be a gamer, but now I’m more of a dabbler. I dabble. And I dabbled hard last week when Nintendo surprise released a remastered edition of their classic game “Metroid Prime.” When it came out, I neglected everything and spent hours and hours rotting my brain playing a favorite game from my teens.
While I was busy shooting virtual aliens in glorious HD, I didn’t really stop to think about the workers who made it all possible. The capitalist system is mystifying. When we go to the store to buy a product, we don’t often question how the product came to be there, who made it or the conditions in which they worked. There is simply an interaction between commodities, between things – money and product.
We do have some information about the developers who worked on the original “Metroid Prime” at Retro Studios 20 years ago and the picture isn’t pretty. As the deadline for the game’s release inched closer, Retro employees were forced to work 80 to 100-hour weeks, often sleeping at their desks and unable to see family during the last nine months of the game’s development.
This phenomenon is all too common in the gaming industry and is often referred to as “crunch time,” mandatory overtime usually without extra pay. According to a 2019 International Game Developers survey, some 40% of game developers reported working crunch time at least once over the course of the previous year, usually consisting of an extra 20 hours on top of a 40-hour workweek.
The practices of the gaming industry are perfectly summed up by Karl Marx, whose words from over 150 years ago still ring true.
“Capital has one single life impulse, the tendency to create value and surplus-value…” Marx wrote in 1867. “Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks. The time during which the laborer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labor-power he has purchased of him. If the laborer consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.”
But capitalism isn’t just a vampiric system for those who make the games – it’s also a detriment to those who play them.
Video games are already expensive, with many costing $60 or more on top of the high price of gaming consoles. And once you’ve spent all this money, what are you left with? Oftentimes, unfinished games urging you to spend more money on microtransactions and downloadable content (DLC).
Microtransactions, or in-game purchases, are mostly just for cosmetics – spend a little extra, and your character can have a cool costume. This seems to be problematic on its own, but it gets much worse. With some games, you can spend extra money to get advantages over other players, a phenomenon which has been dubbed “pay-to-win.”
Gone are the days when you had to play a game a lot to get good at it – now, with the power of money, you can crush your competition with ease.
Besides microtransactions in games, there is also the problem of DLC. The usual story goes like this: you spend $60 on a game, and then a few months later (sometimes less!), the developers announce that you can spend more money on additional content for the game you’ve already purchased.
This is an admittedly genius scheme the capitalists have hatched. If the only goal is to accumulate more and more money, then why wouldn’t you release an unfinished product and then charge the player more to finish it?
This isn’t just some socialist conspiracy theory, either. “Super Smash Bros.” developer Masahiro Sakurai called DLC a “scam” in 2015 and charged the industry with selling unfinished games in order to make more money.
And so, I call on the gamers of the world to unite for the cause of dismantling this corrupt and brutal economic system. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have virtual worlds to win.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a junior studying journalism and political science.