Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Two Pronged Attack

"It's the 90s all over again!" when it comes to video games and government legislation.  In the wake of recent school shootings the president of the United States wants to (maybe?) have a meeting with the ESA to discuss violence in video games and the potentially negative impact it's having on the youth of today.  Coming from the opposite direction is a grassroots push to get loot boxes and other quasi-forms of gambling mechanics out of mainstream gaming.  Should enthusiasts of this beloved hobby of ours be concerned?...eh, yes and no.

If you asked me ten years ago about what the World Health Organization is calling "gaming addiction" I would have told you it's a load of crap.  However, given the direction over the last decade or so of publishers going out of their way to introduce psychologically researched methods of manipulating players out of their money, it's not hard to see how some people might get hooked into becoming a "whale."  I still think that the underlying vulnerability to these sorts of predatory practices is caused by issues such as OCD or depression.  Treating that fundamental problem should be the overriding priority since gaming addiction is at worst a symptom of a much larger concern.  Additionally, there are still a lot of games that do not deal in micro-transaction based revenue streams.  The vast majority of games with "addictive" mechanics are MOBAs, MMORPGs, competitive online shooters, and free-to-pay (not a typo) mobile games.  If you are like me and not really into any of these particular sub-genres then I'd say you're relatively safe.  The thing is companies like WB interactive, EA, and Activision are pushing hard to turn the industry into nothing but these sorts of games; all branded under the "live services" PR label.  Speaking as someone who enjoys single-player narrative-driven experiences, I can't say I have been very happy with the direction the industry is going in for a long time now.  Does that mean that I welcome government regulation?...not really, but what other recourse do we have?

Boycotts have proven to be notoriously ineffective.  The ESRB/ESA are as corrupt and useless as the teamsters union cercia World War II.  FYI, did you know that the ESRB doesn't actually vet any of the games it tags with those E, T, M or AO labels?  The publisher just submits some paperwork, pays a fee and that's it.  What do they do then?  Well...aside from pocketing money for next to nothing, ESRB does pass some cash over to the ESA for bribes - excuse me - "lobbying" government representatives to look the other way.  Back in the 90s when the ESRB first came into existence they did a good job of compromising between the opposing groups.  Concerned mothers got their MPAA-style rating system while simultaneously not having to violate the first amendment.  This time around though, things are a bit different.

Contrary to Extra Credits' claim, I don't see any artistic value or merit in loot boxes.  In fact removing them from the hobby entirely would probably greatly improve things from a developer/consumer perspective.  The only real beneficiaries here are publishers, who (suprise-suprise!) give a lot of money to the ESA.  It's really just about profiteering, although that hasn't stopped some groups from trying to play the censorship card anyway.  The ESRB's attempts at self-regulation this time around are also a joke.  Unlike their original rating system, which is a step up from what the movie industry uses, this decision to tag any product containing in-game purchases is not only overly broad, but easily circumvented in that a company could introduce loot boxes through software updates anytime post-launch and avoid the label altogether.

So should we be concerned?  It depends on who you are and what you stand for.  More than anything else though it's a matter of a rich and powerful few getting to decide things for all the rest of us...and that sucks...even more than having to pay real money for additional save-slots in Metal Gear Survive.

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