January 24, 2023

Today’s NY Times feed addressed the changes starting to happen in the world of gamers.  Until recently being a gamer was considered a niche hobby that was often associated with children.  By 2021 about two-thirds of Americans played video games, and most of them were adults.  The rise of the gaming industry is like the movie industry since the 1920’s and American football since the 1960’s.  These are now cornerstones of American life that began as niche forms of entertainment.  The abuses that accompanied Hollywood and the NFL are also found in the game industry as tales of brutal work conditions, discrimination, and harassment are told by the gamers that drive the industry. The video game industry is now worth nearly $200 billion, which is more than music, US book publishing, and North American sports combined.  The US alone employs hundreds of thousands of gamers, and the gamers are trying to fight back.

When I looked online, I found a gamer is a proactive hobbyist who plays interactive games, and especially video games, tabletop role-playing games, and skill-based card games, and who plays for unusually long periods of time.  Some gamers are competitive and routinely compete in games for money, prizes, awards, or the mere pleasure of competition and overcoming obstacles.  In countries like the UK and Australia, the term “gaming” can refer to legalized gambling (traditional and digital) through online platforms.  The Internet gave rise to a variety of gamers communities around the world on sites like Internet forums, YouTube, or Twitch virtual communities, as well as in-person social clubs.  In 2021, there were an estimated 3.24 billion gamers across the globe.  While being a gamer was originally a hobby, it has evolved into a profession, and that includes the game testers. 

The conditions industry gamers work in have prompted more workers to unionize, and Microsoft recognized its first union after video game testers organized earlier this month.  A common refrain in the video game industry is that no one goes into it for the money and it is passion that drives them to be gamers.  Workers have accused employers of taking advantage of their devotion to allow poor conditions to flourish.  One criticized practice is the “crunch”, when employees are pushed to work 60 to 100 hours a week for up to several months to hit a project milestone.  Video game companies say they sometimes need a crunch to finish projects on time and on budget but are working to minimize their use of it.  Another pervasive claim is gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment.  The companies’ responses to the complaints have ranged from saying they are working to be more inclusive to dismissing some of the accusations.  These conditions have driven more employees to try to unionize.  The total number of union members nationwide increased by nearly 300,000 last year.  Like unionization at the turn of the 20th century, workers say they are trying to help themselves, but also the gamers that come after them.

THOUGHTS:  While I have never been much on shooter games of any form, I have found myself drawn in as one of the strategy gamers.  I have followed my preferred game across six full scale revisions and innumerable updates and patches over the last 15 years.  There were times when I spent hours on end nearly every day as one of the aimless gamers.  That was mitigated when I noticed the games were tracking when I last played and the thousands of hours I logged.  Since I am not skilled enough to be paid I cut back on the hours to pursue other interests, but there are still times I get pulled back into the game.  Enjoying what you do and being willing to spend long hours doing it is not a reason for unsafe working conditions and unequal pay.  Without the gamers, you could not play the game.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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