I would like to start by saying I really hate getting politics all over my leisure activities, but sometimes, it’s unavoidable. That said, for all of you out there, this particular post is completely avoidable, so if you just want to click onward, I don’t blame you.
It’s not what I’m here for most of the time either.
The next step, I suppose, is to talk a little bit about the idea of “ethical consumption” (otherwise known as “ethical consumerism“) – I find that a lot of people who are quick to talk about voting with their wallets don’t even really understand it. Heck, sometimes, I don’t think I really understand it. There’s a lot of complexity to it, because a person or a corporation might be really excellent in some areas, while sorely lacking in others.
Take, for example, this completely made up scenario: Maybe you buy all your notebooks from a company that works with 100% recycled paper. That’s great! I mean, recycling is great, right? That notebook maker is sure to slap that information on every product they put out. What you may not realize is that they’re making those recycled notebooks overseas using child labor. Uh oh. Not so cut and dry now, is it?
In a perfect world, we would all have the means to make all of our purchasing decisions based on ethical considerations. This is not a perfect world, and there are a LOT of economic concerns as well. That’s why so many people shop at mass market retailers that consistently pay their employees below market wages and avoid giving benefits – because it’s what they can afford based on their current economic state.
There are things I need, and although I’d like to say I make ethical purchasing decisions, when it comes to needs, I find that I most often have to make economical decisions. I need to buy food, I need to heat my home, put gas in my car and keep the power on.
Because of this – because need and means are so closely tied in a way that frequently makes me more than a little uncomfortable while staring down my non-choice – I make damn sure to allocate my “luxury” spending more thoughtfully.
And here, we get to what I really want to talk about – the ethics of non-necessity spending, specifically as it relates to entertainment media, most specifically to PC gaming.
Being disabled, I probably consume more entertainment media than your average person, as a lot of things people do for fun just aren’t options for me. So I watch a lot of television and movies, I listen to music, I read books, and I play a lot of video games.
Because it’s the Age of the Internet, and everything is recorded and screenshotted and posted online, it’s not really possible anymore to separate the creation from the creator. Still, it’s not new. I vowed to never by anything written by Orson Scott Card after he wrote an essay in which he advocated for laws against homosexual sexual relationships. Even when I was a teenager, I understood that giving my money and my attention to someone who believed that was not something I wanted to do.
But it’s everywhere now.
No longer do we have to wait for someone in the public eye to do something so incredibly boneheaded for us to see the skeletons in their closet. Activism is in, and people are out there actually searching for things to blast folks out about on Twitter and Reddit. So how do we, the consumer, decide who should and shouldn’t get our attention and our money?
I can’t tell you that. I can only tell you how I do it.
Firstly, I don’t get all caught up in the drama surrounding loot boxes and microtransactions, because I understand the simple fact that corporations exist to make money. If someone else is doing something, and it’s making them money, other companies will jump on that bandwagon.
Now, I think it’s shitty to expect your customer to pay full price for a game, and then add in a zillion micro-transactions in order to make the game fun (or perhaps even playable), but here, I think the consumers are just as problematic as the companies. These types of games frequently don’t appeal to me, so it’s not a moral quandary, and when I do play paid games with micro-transactions? I don’t indulge in them.
When I find out something awful about a person or company who has made or published a game I am interested in, I absolutely will factor that into my decision. I honestly don’t spend hours hunting for a reason not to buy things – I tend to stumble across things in the process of trying to find out more about a game. Sometimes, I have a visceral reaction which immediately flops something onto my “never buy” list. Most often, I need to mull it over.
First, I will ask myself if this is an issue relevant to my core values. I am not even going to pretend I’m a perfect person and that I feel strongly about every wrong thing back to the beginning of time. I’m not going to boycott a developer who was arrested once for smoking a joint, because I don’t care. I won’t necessarily decide not to buy something because one of the development team got into a Reddit argument 15 years ago and called someone an asshole (especially not if that person was – well – being an asshole at the time). People are PEOPLE and they’re going to fuck up, but that doesn’t invalidate everything else.
Now, again, these things will mostly apply to small development teams or solo devs, because I don’t want to know the business of every employee that ever worked for a huge publisher. But I won’t be buying a game if there are credible reports of the devs being abusive towards women, children, animals, or people in his or her employ. I also refuse to support anyone who is publicly supporting (and yes, folks, if you can connect someone on social media to their game, that’s publicly in my book) disenfranchising or dehumanizing any marginalized group of people.
Of course, sometimes, you’ve already spent the money when you find out that the person behind the creation is in complete opposition to your moral compass. Then what?
I won’t judge you for playing it anyway, I promise. Only you can decide if the end product is still worth your time, and your money isn’t coming back. But for me – personally? If I hadn’t played the game in question already, I’d toss it into the never-to-be-played pile and move on. If I had? I certainly would never ever recommend it to anyone else – while they too can decide where and how to spend their money, I want no further part of supporting someone I find morally reprehensible.
I can’t tell you that it’s easy being an ethical consumer, on any level. It’s not. It’s not a thing I want to think of when I’m looking for a bit of escapism from all the other awfulness around me, but sometimes, I feels like the only thing I can do, y’know?