Red Dead Redemption 2 is
out in the world. It’s another mammoth video game from the minds at Rockstar
studios (all 3000+
of them), putting you right in the middle of 1890’s America. You use a
controller to move a digital entity that goes by the name of ‘Arthur Morgan’.
He sure does sound and look a lot like an American man – gruff, weathered,
existing the impression he was moulded by a growing nation, when instead, he
was in fact manufactured by a small army of dedicated souls working overtime to
bring his tale to life.
You may have read the reports about how the employees have
worked long hours to get this game out in the world.
Understandably, these recent articles have gotten the games
industry up in arms. Again. And they definitely should get people up in arms.
After all, many of us would like to live as ethical a life as possible, and if
the entertainment that we consume en masse (with the Australian Games Industry
billion alone) is made under troubling circumstances where employees are
made to work excessive hours, then what are we to encourage change?
Before I go on, I urge you to take a read through the
following articles which outline some of the known instances of ‘crunch’ in the
video game industry:
There’s been calls to unionise the video games industry from
Beat, alongside a website dedicated to the campaign for creating a video
game union – Game Workers Unite.
It’s clear that after this recent explosion of interest in the ethics of video
game production that have plagued the industry this year (Rockstar isn’t free
from the controversy, with Telltale games shuttering shop and in turn getting
themselves in hot water over breaking
labour laws). But the industry has rejected calls to initiate a union.
Arguably, there’s little reason why Rockstar employees were
made to work exhaustive, extensive hours on Red
Dead Redemption 2, especially given the fact that Rockstar’s previous game
– Grand Theft Auto V – has made a
cool $6 billion (that’s billion, with a B), making it ‘the
most financially successful media title of all time’. But, they were, and
here we are.
As a side note: it’s interesting to see the different stance
that Rockstar has this time round in relation to the comments from employees
about being overworked. Back in 2010 when the ‘Rockstar Spouse’ story first
broke, Rockstar opted to respond by basically stating that the
article was bunkum. This time round, they’ve embraced the controversy and
allowed employees to talk on Twitter and to journalists about their experiences
working with the company. It’s worthwhile noting (as in the articles linked
above) that many employees were no keen on sharing their names in fear that
there would still be some kind of blowback for voicing negative feelings about
working for the company.
It’s worthwhile noting that there is no suggestion from
these vocal employees that people should boycott the game to show Rockstar that
the gaming community does not agree with these actions. They want the game to
be a success – after all, if you had just poured countless hours of your life
into a game, sacrificing time with your family just to help it reach
completion, wouldn’t you want it to be a major success?
On top of the pride in their work is the question about a
financial bonus that many employees will receive if their game hits a certain
benchmark. This is not too dissimilar to the problem that Obsidian developers
faced when Fallout: New Vegas missed
out on a bonus after the game received an 84
rating on Metacritic. Financial bonuses shouldn’t be tied to critical
benchmarks, that’s a given. A bonus for hitting a sales milestone is
worthwhile, but again, it simply makes sense to pay employees the right amount,
and to not keep them as hypothetical whipping boys working over the computer.
Look, I could go on about how the work practices at Rockstar
aren’t all that different to the work practices in the film industry, or
education, or the government, or how people are overworked and underpaid to the
point of exhaustion, with job stability a major threat to society, and how
under-employment is a major issue as well, because all of that is just
capitalism at work. So, while the world is suffering at the hands of
capitalism, and we continue to search for the most ethical way to live in the
world, well, we simply have to move forward and be thankful that at least
like whatever company made your mobile phone.
A thought came to me as I dove into the Battlefield V Beta and engaged in another round of digital warfare.
That thought was, how many hours have I spent engaged in this nonsensical,
hyper-stylised versions of very real wars? Using the basic calculator I had in
my mind, and the disturbing fact that I’d spent a good 350+ hours playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on the
Playstation 3, I’d worked out that when I combined my play times of Bad Company 2, with Battlefield 3, 4, and 1 (don’t get me started on the naming of
this series) together, I spat out a figure of about 750 hours across the games.
This is simply me playing the multiplayer modes of the games and engaging in
online battles with strangers.
You don’t have to grab your calculator out. I’ve done the
math for you. 750 hours is just a little over a month. That’s a ridiculous
amount of time to have been playing one game series. I’m thirty four years old,
and it pains me to know that I’ve spent one month of my life playing a video
game that has no tangible benefit to my life. Yeah, I had a lot of fun playing
the game and it was a good way to relax and let off steam, but after eight
years of playing the series, what memories do I have of my time with it?
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