Do y’all remember when Siege was going through the Chinese cert process and, in order to avoid any roadblocks, Ubisoft implemented a number of minor universal changes to UI and UX? I believe they were principally focused on eliminating visual taboos (skulls, etc.) that Chinese censors historically take umbrage with. Anyway, Gamer Internet in general and the Siege subreddit in general caught fire with a weird mix of PragerU aggression and neo-McCarthyism: people were posting videos of themselves smashing their PS4 and Xbox discs, uninstalling, writing nasty tweets, saying that the CCP were worse than the Nazis, you know, pretty much everything that you’d expect them to do. I always wondered how many of those gamers went out within the week and dropped $60 on a new disc. After all, with cloud saves, the only thing they were losing was time and a little FunkoPop money.
Make no mistake, as much as the American media likes to jump at Russian shadows, we’re deep in the midst of a cold war–economic and cultural–with China. The sudden humanitarian tacks that spineless worms like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio take when talking about the Uyghurs (for example) is, to borrow a phrase, a kind of jingoistic virtue signaling. Anything that the US can do to bruise China’s reputation in the global marketplace–video games included–they will do. And nearly every for-profit journalistic outlet has as vested an interest in fighting on the American side in that culture war as our government and industrial sectors do.
I’m not accusing Vice, broadly, or Waypoint specifically (or any of its constituents) of playing into that conflict. But crucial to recognize is that China, not unlike the United States, is a world power. It may practice a slightly different form of late-capitalism than the US, but, stripping away the labels and theoretical pretense, that economic horse sense is as extractive as any other.
Our… consumption of slick, mega-industrial media forms that could only exist in economies as bloated, uneven, and extractive as this one is, when you do the ethical calculus, as callous as playing the lyre while Rome burns. It is the capitalistic pact we affirm every time we go see a blockbuster, buy a new car, a new phone, or put a new part in our PC.
Does that mean I’m advocating for people to stop playing games altogether? No. And neither does it mean that, having noted that broader ethical calculus, we should hand-wave smaller, more personally-agonizing calculuses about abusers, or inhumane working conditions.
But it does mean that, as much as sometimes people use “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” as a kind of fatalistic hand-wave (mostly on twitter), we should not stop engaging with that particular chestnut. After all, it’s true.