I think one root cause for this fear is a question that we can try to answer for people too: how would unionization change games? I’m reading Blood, Sweat and Pixels right now off the back of finishing Capitalist Realism and one extremely common theme in Pixels is that because crunch and precarious employment is universal, it is inevitable. Every constraint placed on games by the capitalist system is one that we accept, some times critically and sometimes uncritically. Loot crates, for example, are not a game mechanic, but a completely unobscured extraction mechanism. Often enough even those of us who is critical of loot crates shrug and say “It’s inevitable, isn’t it?”.
Organization is not seen as inevitable, it’s seen as a choice. And the constraints that organization will place on games companies will be real! Last second executive shakeups can’t be effective if you have to pay severance to the employees you’ve laid off. Crunch can’t be as pervasive if overtime is implemented.
Organization has the power to change not just the lives of people who make games (in my view, for the better), but the games themselves! Maybe it means companies have to change how they think about deadlines, maybe the structure of publisher capital has to change, maybe everything is released extremely early and works on a long tail. Who knows?
To @dogsarecool’s point: yeah, there have absolutely been corrupt unions. People and their parents have worked in corrupt unions. But in order for a union to get corrupt it has to build any kind of worker power in the first place, and laws in the US make that an increasingly hard sell. It would take decades to form a union that’s capable of any kind of genuine corruption.
Also, we have to think about what our definition of corruption means at this point! If a company can post a record year followed by massive layoffs and pay huge bonuses to its exec, what would we call that but corruption? To charges of corruption I say all human institutions are capable of corruption and it’s only through continuous improvement of our systems that we distribute power in such away as to minimize corruption.
So many of us claim to value freedom and democracy, but the moment we step over the line into a workplace it’s suddenly no longer a concern. I don’t love piggybacking on neoliberal definitions of freedom, but I think it’s worth convincing people that it’s worth doing.
This is getting long but finally: we should try to convince consumers of games, it’s worth doing when they’re not just being obstructionist. But, crucially, this isn’t about consumers, it’s about workers, and I think the best way to convince workers is in practice. As some smaller workplaces unionize, their effects will hopefully be felt.