My post the other day on how video game consoles are regressing technologically spurred some discussion among fellow gamer-journo types, as well some readers. That’s always great to see as it’s why many of us do this in the first place.
Justin Amirkhani, a nearly 8-foot-tall young stallion who’s in the midst of a gaming pilgrimage across North America – and documenting it in entertaining fashion through his blog – wrote in a similar vein. Both of us were spurred to our respective missives by the unexpected success of Ouya, an independent console project over on Kickstarter.
Steve Tilley, the gadgets-and-games reporter for the Toronto Sun, jumped in and essentially called us grumpy old men. I won’t speak for Justin, but I thought Steve – who I consider a friend and a rock-solid journalist (even though Gears of War 3 made him cry) – missed the mark on what I was trying to say. My point wasn’t necessarily that video games suck now, but rather that consoles have gone from simple to unnecessarily complex, which is the opposite of how technology naturally evolves. I’ll revisit that topic soon as there’s lots more to say about it.
The thing that really bugged me about Steve’s take, however, was the suggestion that my complaint was a so-called first-world problem:
You wanna know what a first world problem is? Complaining that it takes minute longer to begin playing your video game because there are new technologies in place that didn’t exist in 1995. Have we become so spoiled by instant-on everything that this is really an argument?
I’m as amused as the next guy when somebody jokes about “first-world problems” on Twitter. It’s usually done in a self-deprecating way, as in “Oh, look at me, I’m complaining about something trivial, aren’t I a douchey brat?” But to use the phrase as a way to counter a valid criticism – or at least one that I considered to be such – is kind of lazy. Indeed, the trope – which has its own website – is quickly becoming overused. Like addressing inanimate objects and entities with “Dear…,” it should probably be thrown on the pile of obsolete internet memes.
Why? Because it’s silly and, as that website shows, can be overused to the point where it means nothing. A movie reviewer didn’t like a certain actor’s performance? First-world problem. The sole on your shoe breaks a day after you got it? First-world problem (which is ironic because it definitely wasn’t made in the first world). Ingesting peanut butter may kill your child? You get the point.
The thing is, video games aren’t a first-world problem, or privilege rather. They have – or can have – a vast effect on the entire world.
The more complex and convoluted games and game hardware get, the smaller the potential market for them becomes. The smaller that market, the more expensive games get.
Simple economics means that the more games or game consoles you can sell, the cheaper you can sell them. If kids in poor countries are ever to experience the joys of beating up a virtual hooker or sawing someone in half with a chainsaw (an act that obviously moves some reviewers to tears), game makers first need to sell a ton of their wares in, you guessed it, the so-called first world.
Put another way, without economies of scale bringing the price of technology down across the board, developing nations will never get Xbox or PlayStation consoles.
While being spared violent games is perhaps a blessing, the real downside is that without cheap and simple hardware, kids will also miss out on the educational value of video games, a fact that’s gaining credence both here in the first world and in developing countries such as India. Games can indeed be revolutionary learning tools in places where literacy rates are low.
It may be over-rationalizing it to say that simpler game technology is a tool that is urgently needed for the development of poorer nations, but it’s similarly underthinking it to dismiss criticisms of issues in the developed world with a silly and overused meme.