You don't have the right! Rights, privileges, and human labour.
I'm going to step away from video games for a moment and discuss broad politics for a moment, but it will relate to gaming in the end, so please stick with me. I want to discuss rights, privileges and what we should expect from each other and the wider world...
As I sit here right now, I speak from a position of extreme privilege and I know this. I live in one of the richest countries in the world, and I have access to some of the best luxuries you can imagine. For the vast majority of human existance, people fought and worked for "riches", so they could have good food and clean water, walls that keep out the wind and rain, security and the stability to go about their daily life, and the expertise of doctors to make sure they live a pain free and long life. Those are the main concerns of all people and the reasons for wealth. Beyond that is simply leisure. Art is nothing more than the expendature of wealth of emotional enrichment once food, water, shelter, security, and health are covered. Video games is the modern version of this and you don't have the right to video games, or any art for that matter.
In fact, you don't have the right to almost anything. You only have the right to things intrinsic to yourself and that are not an imposition on yourself. Examples being you have the right to your own mind, your own labour, and your own life. You are free to decide what you think, who you love, what you do, how you live etc. This is pretty simple stuff. We extend our rights to mutual rights. In order for me to have my right to life, you have to give up your right to murder me. In return I give up my right to murder you, so you can enjoy your right to life. This is the basis of reciprocal law. We both agree not to kill each other, we both benefit. We extend this to more nuanced things, assault, theft, rape etc. things that almost anyone agrees are a violation of someones basic rights. Theft is perhaps the most interesting one. We don't have the right to take things others own, and others don't have the right to take what we own... aaaah, but then who decides who owns what? It seems so simple. Murder and rape are obvious, we don't need to define these. But ownership rights that's different. Still to this day we can't all agree on ownership rights.
Some people claim we have the right to certain things, like healthcare. I disagree, and as a disabled person who champions my countries national health system this is a very dangerous statement for me. I do not have the right to free healthcare, it is a privilege given to me by the government as a reflection of the will of the people. The people agree that a levy of tax should be taken by the government to pay for infrastructure that we all benefit from. Think back to those few things we need before luxuries and health is on the list, but it's not a right. I cannot claim as a right anything that mandates that someone elses labour is mine. I would need doctors, nurses, etc. to be compelled to work for me is healthcare is a right and that's not fair. What is fair is that while I'm unable to work, my family, my friends, and compassionate strangers who live in my country; they all decide that they will work, they agree to pay into the tax fund and as a result they decide how it's spent, via voting. They agree free healthcare for all keeps everyone better off. It's cheaper if paid for as a collective and ensures that everyone who has an ill, elderly, or dying relative, (which is most people), knows they will be cared for even though they don't contribute directly to the tax fund. This is fair, this is what most people want, so it happens. Some people don't want this and as a chronically ill person I'm at their mercy. I could call them evil, I could claim they lack compassion and that they're greedy; but that's not right. It's their labour, they earned their wealth, tax is mandated institutional theft after all and it's only not that if we agree that it's vital. For those who don't they don't get to opt out. I for one want to thank those people who pay into the tax system, even those who don't want to. Without you all, I wouldn't be here, and I won't label you evil for wanting your rights respected. I will be a hypocrite, I will defy you here. I will vote to maintain the tax system, to keep the NHS funded, to keep the system as it is because I need it; but I do it knowing I'm using force, force by proxy, to make you do things. I would rather convince you through my gratitude that your sacrifice of wealth is necessary and appreciated though because it truly is.
But what does this have to do with geek culture and video games. Well it's all about ownership. Everything comes down to ownership and how you define it. Some people see things extremely person centred, where even nationalised healthcare is a privilege that they begrudge paying for. That they consider it theft that they are forced to pay for my healthcare. I wonder if people would feel the same about defense? The police? What about something absolutely vital like the sewege and plumbing system? You can't get more basic than water. You have the right to water. You don't have the right to clean filtered water delivered to your house though pipes, and for the sewege to be taken away through different pipes, treated, and properly disposed of. This requires a lot of labour from people, but the majority of people see value in it so it's OK.
Broadly, I'm a socialist. I believe that society works better as a collective, that a high tiered taxation system works best for ensuring a society where everyone has a high standard of living. That government subsidies can aid farmers to supply food, that government infrastructure should be used to supply clean water, dispose of sewage, provide housing, defend rule of law, defend the nation as a whole, provide healthcare; (so far all the base desires we discussed at the beginning of the article), but also to provide education, transportation, a power-grid, telecommunications, news media, environmental protection, fitness and wellness facilities, and even art preservation. All of this is something I feel the government can do better than private enterprise. I feel the profit motive is not well suited to ANY of these and in some cases like healthcare I feel it's actively detrimental. I am not however a Marxist. I frankly don't give a shit about the "means of production", and consider this outlook to be outdated and limiting. I'm also not interested in the social control aspects that Marxism pushes. This idea that equality of outcome is preferable. I don't want that, I am a socialist out of pragmatism, because we work better as a collective than as individuals. It's entirely an argument of efficiency of resources and success of motive. Private companies and the profit motive fail at these tasks...
...when it comes to video games though, I'm starting to wonder if capitalism is failing there too.
We don't have the right to video games. It would be hard to argue that socialised video games would be a necessity that should be paid for by taxation. That is an overstretch that goes beyond reasonable. It would be taking the labour from people in order to fund a niche luxury that many of them would get no benefit from. This is where capitalism shines right. Luxuries are personal and fulfiling those wants and desires in exchange for wealth, well that's the nature of mercantilism and the beginnings of capitalism. Sure, and for the most part it works; except when the profit motive breaks the established contract of society.
Under a consumerist philosophy, the consumer wants a game, the merchant creates a game and sells it for a profit, they can now afford to make more games and earn wealth. The consumer, valuing the game higher than the wealth they paid, feels they got a fair exchange as they will enjoy the game more than the wealth it cost them. Both consumer and merchant are happy. But what happens when corporations or even savvy merchants learn to manipulate their consumers. What happens when they lie? Con-men become a thing. Cut corners and alterations to the product become a problem. Food has quality assurances to make sure that industry isn't selling us rotten food that will make us ill, but that we won't immediately notice is rotten. Because the profit motive would encourage them to do that. Healthcare should be socialised immediately, because the profit motive doesn't encourage hospitals and doctors to cure their patients. It encourages them to treat them. To keep them ill for as long as possible, ill enough to need constant treatment, but not so ill that they can't work and can't pay for treatment. Curing the patient removes them from the consumer-base. The profit motive directly encourages doctors and hospitals to keep people ill, and spread minor illnesses. That is a terrifying idea, but a far bigger one than this site can tackle. What about video games? Well the profit motive encourages piece-meal gaming. It encourages micro-transactions, gambling mechanics, DRM measures, constant DLC expansions and excuses to portion out content, entending of gameplay to encourage addictive behaviour, bland gameplay to appeal to the most people, political pandering, tropes and trend-following. It creates the industry issues we see all the time. The anti-consumer gambling focused monitisation methods, and the bland AAA "gargle-spunk-wee-wee" to quote Zero Punctuation that we see time and time again eroding the artistic integrity of the medium.
The profit motive in gaming turns what should be an artisic expression to fill the luxury needs of people who already have food, water, shelter, security, and health sorted out. Those people who choose emotional enrichment through video games should be playing the games with the strongest artistic value surely, after all, it's a luxury not a need. Capitalism has learned to manipulate us though, we buy bland games, we get addicted to gambling mechanics or skinner box appeal. I don't have the right to tell people not to support this stuff, but I'm going to anyway. We don't have a good alternative for capitalism for gaming right now. Passionate advocacy is all we have. It may not be as important as convincing people that healthcare is a worthwhile use of tax, but I need to tell people how to spend their money because we all benefit if you listen, and we need to ALL do it or it doesn't change. You need to only support the very best games in the AAA space, support indie games whenever possible, buy new not used when you can, especially with indie games and niche genres to show publishers what you'll support. Don't support piracy and don't support pre-order culture; both are destroying the industry from opposite sides. Do preserve games. If you've bought a game, you have every right to torrent it, rip it to your computer, play it through an emulator, or anything else you wish. You own it and can do what you bloody well like with it; whether these companies want you to or not.
We may not have a right to video games, we may not have the right to demand video games be the way we want them to be; they are a luxury and they're ultimately unimportant... but they are our emotional enrichment, the actualisation of our culture, they are what elevates us from animals to a cultured society. Art has always been that. So it's my privilege to force my demands on this industry. I hope I've convinced you to do the same.