the artistry and psychology of gaming


How Karl Marx Can Explain the Main Problem of Video Game Industry

How Karl Marx Can Explain the Main Problem of Video Game Industry

Karl Marx is someone that most of us think we are supposed to hate. That’s misinformed and simplistic. Marx cannot be equated with Communism or even Marxism (he himself famously said “I’m not a Marxist”). His depth of genius and the vastness of his influence is incomparable to almost any other philosopher in the history, and certainly none in the 20th century, and without him no economics or no sociology would exist. Ron Paul is equally indebted to Marx as Lenin is. So, first off, respect Marx, even if you think you disagree with him. Most likely you, as well as all philosophers after him, can actually trace your ideas back to him.

So what idea of Marx can explain what’s wrong with video game industry today? It’s false consciousness. Marx believed that the capitalist stage of the society the capitalists exploit the workers (they include laborers and teachers and clerks and all the people who are not investors). But the workers don’t rebel. Why is that? The investors actually benefit from the workers’ misery, but the workers have to cooperate with the bourgeois, because if the workers all rebelled against their oppressors, there would be no capital and no gain. Marx believed ideology is the tool of the oppressors. They use not the guns and the police (called Repressive State Apparatuses by Louis Althusser) but family, school, media, etc, (called Ideological State Apparatuses by Althusser) to make workers think like the investors, not themselves. Because of ideology the workers think like the investors or are deluded about their own possibility of upward mobility.

Marx’s concept of false consciousness was later used by a variety of thinkers. Antonio Gramsci and Althusser, two other communists who deserve your respect, used it to explain not only the economy but politics and the whole society. Feminists and post-colonials have used it too, for example to show how women think as patriarchs do and not as women.

The concept is genius, and true. It can explain how social oppression works. It can explain the economy, how the whole concept of “American Dream” is a lie, and when Republicans talk about opportunity they are lying. When Marco Rubio says “We have never been a nation of haves and have-nots but  a nation of haves and soon-to-haves”, he’s creating a false consciousness. When Joe the Plumber confronts president Obama because he wants to raise taxes on the rich he’s thinking not like a plumber but like an investor, and now that he has become famous he might be able to buy that “company that makes 250 to 280 thousand dollars a year”, but he wouldn’t be able to buy fart if he remained a mere plumber.

That guy is the embodiment of false consciousness. Graham in the back laughs because their BS has worked.

 Now, of course, false consciousness is not only used by Capitalism, but also Socialism. When people in USSR were being executed, they would shout “long live Stalin” right before their death. Stalin’s torture methods focused not on “breaking” the innocent person caught in their net but converting him.

What this all have to do with video games? I think false consciousness is the source of all problems we have. Gamers are costumers, and deserve to be treated like costumers, but they think like creators, not gamers, and this gives the industry the ability to screw them over. The dominant discourse is their discourse – and we define ourselves by their standards.

I have written on how to deal with piracy and the sad news of Diablo III clusterf***. To summarize, the problem is that the video games are overpriced, and the solution to piracy is to cut the prices. When someone asks you “Would you steal a car?” in order to stir your conscience against piracy, the right answer is “Yes, I would, if the car industry priced a car a billion dollars. I’m not the thief here, they are.” The solution is to make cheaper games.

But no one ever says that. I have quoted John Cheese before, let me quote him again. He explains that the problem of DRM never goes away because:

I also understand that we dug our own hole with this one. We are a culture that really, really likes getting s*** for free, and the gaming industry hasn’t even been able to curb piracy, let alone stop it. It’s been going on for decades, and every time they come up with some new security measure, we have it cracked within days. How bad is it? […] This isn’t a small problem. According to that link, even the low projections say that half of all games being played are stolen. So if cutting it out doubles your profits, wouldn’t you as a business owner try anything at your disposal to weed out the thieves?

But the problem is, Mr. Cheese misses the first step. He never asks why do we pirate. To him, we pirate because we’re greedy mean bastards. But that is not why we pirate. The problem began when the video game industry overpriced its games. The problem is, four video games will consume my income entirely. And at the bottom line, it’s mainly a form of entertainment, it shouldn’t cost that much.

But Mr. Cheese is not a video game creator, he is not David Cage (whom he quotes in the article), he is exactly like me, a gamer. Why does he think like a video game creator? He must think like a gamer. And I don’t quote him because I think he’s a manifestation of false consciousness, those moronic Blizzard fans are, he’s one of the most intelligent writers on the internet and has a deep understanding of everything he writes about. But ultimately, when he sits down to judge, his perspective is that of a game creator.

This problem will never go away like that. We need to defend our own interests, not theirs. They are capable to do that themselves very much. It will be halfway measure between our interests and theirs which will end the troubles, but for now, gamers are not aware of their own interests.



  1. I would casually note to our readers that when Ali says “we pirate,” he is not referring to Gaming Symmetry’s collective authorship. We are greedy mean bastards though…

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