Contradictions of Jim
Jim Sterling is the Ralph Nader of gaming, and for him to keep that reputation, he’ll have to keep working hard for it. I like Jim. I like how his brand of humour is that inventive sort of irreverent. I like his fixation on toys, which reminds me of mine with stuffies. Most of all, I like how popular he is, for anybody can describe the horrors of the gaming industry, but he is the only one with enough clout to change the opinion of the masses.
The way he talks isn’t too brilliant, nor is it consistently insightful, but it is honest, and he comes across brilliance often enough to make each one of his videos worth a watch. He describes the industry as he sees it, and though I consider him reactionary, it is necessary for games to have a devil’s advocate to shake things up a little. When we reduce our standards, we get the horrors of pre – NES console gaming, or what mobile gaming is now. Or what Steam is. Did I mention I don’t use Steam?
It is then in this position that he must understand that what he says matters. Who guards the guards? Well, the guards were pretty powerful, so… nobody, really. And I am in certainly no position to criticise; for all the good I think I do, I have yet to see the effects. It’s then that I discuss his most recent video with not an aim to criticise, but to teach, for anybody may criticise, but to teach is a skill, indeed.
Free is too much
The video in question is “Bullshitstorm,” talking about how the developer Gearbox launched a campaign with key seller and alleged fraudster G2A, causing a great deal of backlash. As a pragmatist, I’m forced to base my view on the world in terms of cause and effect. G2A provides a service that sells games, which I remind you is only possible because of artificial scarcity, cheaper than through official outlets. It’s basic economics that when the same product is available for cheaper, most people would buy the cheaper product. But I trust in Jim’s evidence that G2A obtains these keys through fraudulent means, which would cause real – world damage for real victims instead of simply being online. The real world remains scarce — money remains important. Stealing money is thievery, and it hurts real people.
To share digital copies hurts nobody, and enhances the lives of all who are shared to, for when a company gives you permission to play something that we have the technology to spread, for free, forever, and infinitely, then it is not wrong to ignore their permissions and play without it. The only reasons that “keys” exist for games is because companies are enforcing, once again, artificial scarcity, saying you cannot enjoy a product unless you pay them an arbitrary amount of money, despite the product being able to be endlessly manufactured for free without any cost. If there was a machine that could manufacture food forever and for always, but you were charged to use it, would that be ethical? But the same situation exists with our art. The difference is we all have the machines — computers and the Internet — that makes this possible. Companies call it piracy. I call it freedom.
We must remember that no artist, no matter how big or small, is entitled to their money — they must earn it through making a better product. Currently they earn their money through the copyright monopoly, using the blunt arm of the law to censor copies they don’t want to exist. This is based on the discredited theory that every copy manufactured is a copy lost. Personally, I know a girl who made $100 in a day on a free visual novel, a lawyer who made thousands on a free e – book (as much as an average published book), and Jim Sterling himself making a $140,000 before – tax salary from his fans. Yes, their content is under a copyright monopoly. But there is room for profit without resorting to the law, and without resorting to censorship of extant copies.
I now bring up Jim’s point of calling culture sharers “thieves”. G2A is an alleged thief, using allegedly fraudulent financial information to finance their business, though none of this has been proven in court. If this is the case, that is cut – and – dry thievery. To say that those who make their own copies of things that can be copied infinitely, are “thieves,” is plain wrong by most accounts. This is an old point, but one that has yet to be disproven, and so is correct despite its wear: copying benefits everyone because nobody loses anything. Thievery benefits the thief and nobody else, which happens because the thief steals limited materials. In essence, if we could clone bread, nobody would need to steal it. To put it another way, nobody is a thief, because nobody needs to steal, nor are capable of stealing, because copying is simply not stealing. This isn’t a hard thing to understand, and yet there are many people who convince themselves this isn’t as cut and dry as it actually is.
Jim’s economic adventure
So Jim spent some time, not a great deal of which, talking about how Bulletstorm’s price tag of $60 was too much for the game. He also lamented that there was a $5 add – on of Duke Nukem available on the day of release and on pre – order. Jim’s made some great points about DLC before, how no company ever adds in DLC expecting nobody to buy it. The reason DLC is a thing is because people buy it. Same for micropayments; people buy micropayments, in droves. This is especially cruel in multiplayer games, where it creates a caste system of people who can afford to buy virtual goods, and those who can’t. Companies leverage human shame to make them buy their products. Basic psychology, really.
Jim ignores two things: in the current economic system, where companies make art artificially scarce, art is a luxury. Games and movies are too expensive for most people; even CDs and books are getting pricey. Under this climate, a vendor can charge as much as they want for a game so long as their customers buy it. And people do buy it, despite how Steam is proprietary spyware that uses digital restrictions mechanisms, combined with a hefty dose of human manipulation and predatory pricing. When people do things that are bad for them, and they know it’s bad for them, it’s hard to not feel bad for the human condition. The rest are unaware of the damage this climate does. I sure was, just a few years ago.
The second thing that Jim ignores is the possibility for somebody to simply manufacture their own copy of the game, barring digital restrictions mechanisms that are sure to be defeated within weeks, and ignore the price point entirely. This is just; as the copyright monopoly seeks to censor, manufacturing new copies bypasses this censorship, like how the printing press allowed new ideas to spread, and how the Internet allows the same. As a guideline, I never buy anything under the copyright monopoly — it’s a regime I will never support, not from stubbornness, but under the practical knowledge earned through seeing the damage it’s done.
But I’m not a fool. I know the basics of trade. Somebody wants something, they pay to have it, and only care about the consequences later, such as when they lose their Steam password after four years and lose the hundreds of dollars worth of games on it, thanks to a poorly – designed password manager. Or is that just me? It doesn’t matter if it’s my fault; I’ll even say it is my fault. What matters is that it should not be possible, under any circumstances, for media that can be infinitely spread to be restricted from me. And yet tens of millions of gamers accept these schemes. In fact, they even defend the multi – billion dollar, Steam – creating, Valve Corporation in taking away their freedom. Why? I chalk it up to Stockholm syndrome.
Is there such thing as a perfect critic? Of course not — that would be me, at least to somebody like me. For all that Jim wants to see the gaming industry get better, he seems to believe in a system of artificial scarcity, where nobody may enjoy the same art as him unless they have the money to pay for it, enforcing the class system to the benefit of nobody except for the companies he enjoys criticising. Do you see the contradiction? That Jim, at the same time as he criticises these companies, support the regimes that let them make selfish decisions?
He believes that games should be paid for, even though the only reason they need be paid for is because of an outdated economic system. He believes in the rights of artists, including the imaginary “copyright,” which is instead a creative monopoly that censors art more than it ever does invite its creation, also the system which allows this injustice to spread. He hatess high prices and day – one DLC, but supports the system which makes them exist. He hates how Steam has no quality control, but still wants it to exist. He is all for the rights of consumers, but when there are options to give them those rights at no cost, he tells people it’s wrong to indulge in your fundamental human right to art and culture. In essence, he has the trappings of a college libertarian. “This land is your land, but God help you if you step on mine.”
I want a future where my country can read my work and not have it locked by a greedy estate, leasing out copies at arbitrary prices, taking culture away from the majority and bending it to benefit the minority. I want a future where the speeches of Martin Luther King are free to all, and not to rent, where we own our art and not have it leased to us by the bourgeois, where the laws of Sakartvelo are available to be read by the populace, and not under the copyright monopoly rented for $1000. I want to die knowing that what I have contributed to the public, stays with the public, where what I say can be spread forever, and not spread by those who give it permission to be spread. I want culture, not dollars. I do not want a world where money is more important than what we do to earn it.
The future that Jim wants is one where he has no power to change it. I am creating the future I want to see in this world. I may only pray he does the same.