The ‘Powerless’ Consumer

September 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

It’s normally with a mixture of condescension and derision that internet petitions are talked about. “Oh look,” a podcast host will say, “the forum kids are angry about something, isn’t that just hilarious?” Of coures it doesn’t help their cause that these petitions are normally very pointless in nature, complaining about exclusives going multi-platform or the art style a game seems to be taking.

Nevertheless these acts of defiance can be important. Recently a large amount of gamers on Neogaf discussed whether they should boycott the Xbox Live Arcade release of Shadow Complex, because of its association with Orson Scott Card, the anti-gay marriage author of the game’s backstory. The community argued whether it was morally right to give your money to a company that paid money to a man who’s beliefs many disagree with.

For the purposes of this discussion it’s not important which side of the argument you stand – though from the sales of the game it’s quite clear which side many chose — but instead where you stand on arguments such as this in general. It is your right as consumers to spend your money on whatever you please, but equally this choice carries with it responsibility. This responsibility is what many people would love to deny that they have.

The problem with any action such as this is that the only language these large companies really listen to is that of money. If their profits drop over an issue, then you can be sure they’re going to do something about it. However, with the type of industry the video gaming one is, there really isn’t a whole lot of choice in the grand scheme of things.

If a certain supermarket chooses to act immoraly then there are a number of other places I can go to to do my shopping. If a sports clothing company exploits its foreign workers then I have the choice to go and buy another product that for all intents and purposes is exactly the same.

If I disagree with Diablo 3’s art style, where is my alternative product? I have no choice here; if I want a Diablo experience then I’m forced to buy Blizzard’s product. If I don’t want to miss out, I’m going to have to go against my principals regarding rainbows.

The industry into which we pour our money is predominantly one run by very large, very rich companies. How can we possibly hope to make a difference?

You could start by choosing a reasonable fight. Shadow Complex? Fair game. Complaining about Devil May Cry 4 going to the 360? Not so much.

Next you’ll want to band together. This isn’t going to be a David and Goliath fight, there’s no chance you’re going to win on your own. You’re ability to pick up followers should also give you an idea of how meaningful your argument is.

The next step is the hardest one. You’re going to have to miss out on something, in the hope that you’ll benefit in the long run. It’s not going to be easy, you’ll have to put up with a lot of jealousy, but again, if your fight is a good one, it’ll all be worth it in the end.

Finally sit back, and wait for the sales figures to be released. If they’re below expectations, then great! Unfortunately they probably won’t be. Gamers it seems, would rather not go without.

That’s not really a bad thing though, all it means is that we as people are passionate about our hobby. We shouldn’t feel too bad about folding under this pressure.

So who needs to change their ways? The companies themselves could listen more to their fans, who in turn could avoid making a stink over other, less important, matters. They may slightly increase their costs in the process, but in our current political climate it’s clear that acting in your own interests the whole time is going to leave you high and dry sooner or later.

Weirdly enough, I think gaming journalists could do a lot more to help. These people have the privilege of a large podium to stand on, and people who look up and listen to them. Instead of dismissing the latest petition, or cry to arms, maybe they could do more to promote the cause, instead of quashing it instantly as many of them do.

You might claim that games should just be ‘fun,’ and I agree with you, but the truth is that this is a massive industry now, with a large amount of power contained within. We as consumers have a moral duty, no matter how small, and we need to use the power we have. Like it or not, games are no longer ‘just games.’

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