5 Disturbing New Problems In Modern Video Games
After decades relegated to the slums of Pop Culture City, video games have officially moved on up and become part of mainstream entertainment. AAA titles can rake in a billion dollars quicker than you can say "Avengers who?" But every leap forward creates issues that were unimaginable back when we were all only chasing white dots with yellow circles. For every pay-to-win game shamed or Gamergater pantsed, half a dozen new controversies pop up like particularly embarrassing Piranha Plants. For example ...
White Supremacists Are Creating Racist Mods
Of all the many terrible flavors gamers come in, the worst is the sweaty swirl of Gamergaters and Stormfront-lovers. Sadly, even some of these knuckle-draggers know how to punch together enough code to modify games, and they're using this knowledge to tackle the biggest issue they have with the industry: It's not racist enough.
Paradox Games' assorted strategy games have a fairly robust modding community, which has made them natural targets. This has led to games like Hearts Of Iron IV getting mods that feature fascist wet dream scenarios wherein noted white supremacist Richard Spencer can be made a subpar president instead of an above-average punching bag.
There's also a "Deus Vult" mode, which enables "crusaders" to enslave all "Saracens" (read: Muslims), and a WWII-era mode in which Germany can be governed by, um, Taylor Swift in full Nazi regalia. It's hard to understand why some lonely racists get off on imagining a notoriously liberal lipstick blonde pop singer ruling over them with an iron fist while dressed in full leather- oh wait, now we get it.
Hearts Of Iron IV isn't the only title that's gotten an Aryan makeover. Stormfront-affiliated gamers have produced mods like Stormer Doom, a Doom mod in which you get points by shooting Jews (and Bill Clinton), and a Counter-Strike mod that changes your heroes' clothes to neo-Nazi regalia. They've also spliced a white-male-only "Euro-Solarian Empire" into the space exploration game Stellaris.
There's even a "wish list" section on the Stormfront forums hatching plans for future mods. This includes a version of Fallout 4 that introduces segregation between the white and black bombed-out shacks, and rewriting the lore in Skyrim to make it about white supremacy -- apparently forgetting all the Scandinavian types in this game are whiners who put dark-skinned people into ghettos and lost every war they started. Sounds pretty true to life, though.
Competitive Players Hack Games To Make Them ... Look Worse?
Behold the glory of Battlefield V, one of the finest-looking shooters on the market:
No, we didn't accidentally insert a screenshot of Goldeneye as played on a toaster. That's a player deliberately running the game with extremely bad graphics. Why? To get a millisecond's edge over the competition.
Because e-sports are now a multi-billion-dollar industry, competitive gamers desperately seek any tiny way they can improve their performance. That includes lowering the graphical settings to beyond the lowest the game offers, using text editor tweaks and programs like NVIDIA Inspector to render beautiful multiplayer extravaganzas into violent Minecraft mods.
Once your eyes stop bleeding, the advantages of this particular cheat become clear. Not only does the game run much smoother (which improves your reaction time), but it also features less aesthetic clutter. Imagine slowly advancing on an opponent, thinking that you're safely hidden by lush foliage, only to get no-scoped by someone who turned your bush into three Tetris blocks and a stick. Fortunately, the Battlefield developers have caught on to the exploit and are banning graphics cheaters, which seems a bit besides the point. How do you punish somebody who loves punishing themselves?
YouTubers Are Peddling Sketchy Real-Life Loot Boxes
The much-maligned loot box is the gaming equivalent of a lottery scratchcard. You open one expecting a treat as shiny as the box itself, but most of the time you walk away with a pair of ratty leather pauldrons and wasted cash. But like any sort of gambling, it's addictive as hell. So two of the greatest drains on society have come together to exploit that compulsion. We're talking, of course, about criminals and YouTubers.
A shady Polish website called Mystery Brand has started selling physical loot boxes, i.e. expensive grab bags which gamers pay for to get the chance to win something great, like a Lamborghini. Instead they get scammed into spending $299 on a Borderlands-themed fidget spinner. Prizes range all the way from alleged luxury mansions to stickers that read "iPoop," and the company really doesn't want you to worry about the fact that they don't actually possess any of the really expensive items on their gambling lists.
What they do own are a bunch of popular YouTubers. The company paid vast sums to the likes of Jake Paul and Brian "RiceGum" Le, who then released videos encouraging their (mostly underage) fans to try their luck on these ridiculous "mystery boxes." This drew the attention of the rest of the internet to a shady Polish gambling den, causing a scandal and some well-deserved chastising for the dummies.
The company has since claimed that of course they have an underage gamblers policy -- the policy being that they'll keep both the kids' money and their loot boxes. The same goes for the adults, by the way, as their terms of service clarify that "During using [sic] the services of the website You [sic] may encounter circumstances in which Your [sic] won items will not be received."
Fortunately, their third-grade-level English legalese also works in customers' favor. PC Gamer found a useful double negative in "The web site under no circumstances does not return the money spent on a mystery box." Of course, anyone trying to file a claim against Mystery Brand will likely find out they're trying to get their money back from a company that never existed, headquartered in an abandoned shack in the Polish wilderness.
Gaming Is Officially Old Enough For Companies To Exploit People's Console Nostalgia
Forget crack or blue meth, the most addictive substance to anyone over 30 is nostalgia. Which is why, from ironic cartoon T-shirts to R2-D2 shower curtains, a bazillion-dollar industry has been set up to transport depressed adults back to the magic of their childhoods. To that end, many game companies have been re-releasing their old steam-powered consoles.
In 2016 and 2017, Nintendo released the NES and SNES Classic, respectively. And while both consoles were a lot more compact than their old counterparts, they're also a lot worse. Only a certain number of classic games come included with the consoles, and since it's a closed system, you can't plug your dusty old cartridges in there. Surely, gamers can download more from the Nintendo Virtual Store ... except that service was killed when the Switch was released.
But what companies like Nintendo and Sony lack in good game selection, they make up for with ruthless crackdowns on emulators. Despite these being (theoretically) legal ways for gamers to port their old games to their computers and preserve titles which the companies themselves no longer maintain or profit from, console makers have been suing the pants off ROM websites. In 2018, Nintendo won $12 million off the nonprofit websites LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co, which caused several other major sites to shut down before they could be bankrupted for trying to preserve gaming history. The monsters.
Games Are Raising Whole New Copyright Issues
Today's AAA games are basically a deafening waterfall of cash, and not surprisingly, plenty of people are chasing those suckers, despite the myriad musical warnings. And that's bad, because a lot of games are turning the field of copyright law into a new gold rush.
Let's start with the legal mess that is Fortnite dances. Epic Games is currently being sued by three performers (including the flossing kid and Carlton from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air) who say that the game is illegally profiting by selling loot packs that include their signature dances. But up until now, dance copyright hasn't been a lucrative enough legal area to have a bunch of preexisting high-profile lawsuits setting precedent to iron out all the vague issues. Now that Carlton Banks and the crack cocaine of tween video games are involved, legal history might be in the making.
You know what else game companies are being sued over? Depicting real-life tattoos. For example, many sports games feature actual athletes, replete with their rad ink. But none of those games ever paid the artists who originally created those works of body art, and while the character models are literally on somebody else's flesh, the tattoo designs are still the artists' intellectual property. Didn't think of that one, did you? This whole scenario has gotten so heated that sports agents are now advising their players to work out licensing agreements with tattoo artists before they get in the chair and pay the deepest respect to their mothers. Either that or we'll soon see a lot of new jocks sporting public domain clip art on their biceps.
Even streaming, the Russian webcam ring of gaming, is opening up new copyright issues. Typically, a streamer is broadcasting a lot of other people's content -- a video game, some music, a slightly moist poster of Tracer from Overwatch, etc. And it's hard to figure out exactly who owns that content during a stream. Again, no one bothered to hash it out until they found out that streaming was big business. Since then, at least one major streamer, Ninja, has already had to figure out agreements with artists for songs that play during his streams. And while it's only fair that content creators want a slice of the profits that couldn't exist without them, this trend is scaring smaller streamers who might no longer be able to stream Skyrim for 18 hours straight without having to first sell a kidney to pay Bethesda for the privilege.
If you would like to learn more about racism in gaming from people who know what they're talking about, or simply follow some cool creators who helped bring this article to life, you should start following the Spawn On Me podcast, Black Oni, a talented art and gaming streamer, and Victory, a professional cosplayer.
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