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Op-Ed: Does buying RDR2 make me a bad person?/ by /

17 Oct

Spoiler alert: No. If you buy Red Dead Redemption 2 you are not a bad person.

A lot of the pre-release conversation around RDR2 has resulted from the Vulture article about it’s production, and the now-infamous “100 hour work week” quote from Dan Houser. Rockstar, despite it’s iron curtain veil of secrecy, has a long and storied history of unhealthy work conditions, so this isn’t a surprise to anyone who is either familiar with Rockstar, or aware of labour practices in game dev generally.

Until now most gamers were content to just play their favorite games and critique it on a purely subjective level, but over the past couple of years anyone even remotely tuned into the journalistic side of games has started to see how the sausage is made. And it’s not pretty. Crunch, once seen as a Puritanical badge of honour, is now increasingly understood to be harmful to both people and companies, and something to be ashamed of rather than crow about. This is what makes Houser’s brag so tone-deaf. It’s something from ten years ago, when “passion” could be seen as compensation over, say, salary.

That leads us to the question: What can I, the average consumer, do about it? Usually we understand that the only real power we have in a Capitalist system is to vote with our wallets, but does that apply in this case? I’m not sure it does. We are still only beginning to understand the depth of the problem of crunch and poor working conditions in the game dev industry. The average gamer still either isn’t aware or doesn’t care. Call of Duty will still sell massive numbers, no matter what the developers had to do to get it to release date.

What we *can* do is (a) be aware, and (b) be outspoken about labour practices. In the social media age, optics count for a lot, and most marketing departments understand that such things have a direct influence on sales. Educate yourself. Ask questions about how a game was made, and, vitally, patronize and support journalistic outlets who cover these subjects and aren’t afraid to ask those questions.

There has been a very rapid shift over just the past five years. Large outlets like Kotaku and Giant Bomb, once content with simply covering a game for review, are now taking deeper dives into the culture that surrounds games and what that means holistically. They are starting to shine lights into previously dark places and ask tough questions. The *reason* for this is simple: there is now an audience for it. You, as part of that audience, shift the balance towards this kind of content.

It’s all about the algorithm. What gets the clicks? Clicks are better than cash in this space. Read up on Game Workers Unite. Listen to podcasts like Waypoint Episode 195 where they dig deep into the Rockstar issue. Write your own blog posts and record your own podcasts about the subject. The Internet was supposed to give everyone a voice, and it still can, if you use it.

But, and this is the crux, you can still enjoy the game. Deciding not to buy Red Dead Redemption 2 at this point will have zero effect on the working conditions of those who made it. Playing it, reviewing it, and *also* talking about those conditions will.

UPDATE 10/18/2018: Since I published this several Rockstar employees have come forward with permission to tell their stories of working on the game, and I’m pleased to see the news isn’t all grim. Danny O’Dwyer of NoClip points out that Rockstar has probably got more than it’s fair share of hyperbolic bad press over the years, that, if anything, has made accurate reporting harder. I’m happy to read that RDR2 wasn’t made under quite the grim blanket that Houser’s misplaced brag made it seem. All the more reason for we as consumers to educate ourselves on the dev process, and for studios to be more transparent.

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