5 Insidious Uses of Video Games

All I wanted to do was jump around as a small Italian man
5 Insidious Uses of Video Games

Video games are a delightful way to pass the time. Im a fan of them, enough so to have deeply impenetrable arguments of one over the other to the chagrin of anyone standing near me and the friend Im talking to. And in no way am I some pearl-clutching modern Tipper Gore, terrified by the spooky possibilities that these made-up worlds might have on our children. If anything, Im more worried about what YouTube is recommending to the children while looking up tip videos than anything included in the actual games themselves. Still, theres a couple times something in games has raised even my seasoned hackles as feeling, well, icky.

Here are five of those times…

Army Recruitment

Rob Fahey

I think we all understand that first-person shooters like the Call of Duty franchise being among the most popular games of all time has definitely skewed opinions on the military. Basically, the military got a gift dropped in their lap in the form of a whole lot of people suddenly thinking they’d make an amazing sniper.

Instead of keeping up any level of plausible deniability and convincing shrugs, the military instead decided it was time for them to get into the gaming arena with a game explicitly meant to appeal to teens. They dumped a couple million dollars into development, which, for the United States military budget, is basically pocket lint. They released it on July 4th, because subtlety is not their strong suit. It was successful by all metrics, helped along by being free-to-play, because, hint hint, the Army's ultimate goal wasn't $60 of your mom's money

Prison Labor


Prison labor is, video games aside, nothing new and already a moral minefield. When you imagine it, though, you’re probably picturing inmates stamping out license plates, or picking up trash off the side of a highway — things that people can at least sort of pretend is “public service.” In China, however, there was another job that prisoners were forced to work at, one that made a lot of money and didn’t exist in the physical world at all: farming gold in World of Warcraft.

If you don’t know shit about World of Warcraft and don’t care to, this basically means making fake video game money that you can trade for real money to people with disposable income who want to own all of a game’s coolest stuff without having to play it. Admittedly, farming up that money isn’t the best part of the game. Regardless, using it as a form of prison labor is gross and psychologically twisted. If you’re thinking “Hey, I’d rather click rocks than have to break them in real life,” that was what they did all day before farming all night. Oh, and if you didn’t farm enough gold, you'd get beaten with plastic pipes

Child Gambling


Speaking of China, in December 2023 they dropped some legislation that the U.S. would do well to steal. The legislation in question bans some specific monetization practices, including daily log-in bonuses, incentives that reward spending larger amounts of money on games and the big one: lootboxes. Lootboxes, booster packs or whatever other cloak they adopt, are purchasable packs of random in-game content that are — and the game companies can’t emphasize this enough — definitely not gambling.

They are not gambling, of course, because online gambling is illegal, and advertising gambling to children is super duper frowned upon and also illegal. It’s not like you can win real money, anyways! It’s merely a way to let children experience the dopamine rush of playing randomized odds in hope of getting something rare or valuable, for just a small amount of money on each attempt — combined with carefully calculated lights and sounds in order to trigger a specific emotional response on winning. This sounds like a slot machine, you might say, but it isn’t, because all the money you put into lootboxes is definitely gone forever. Get it?

Targeted Fantasy Violence


I don’t even want to go into too much detail on this one because it’s real filthy work. It also unfortunately evokes Gamergate. If you want to ruin your day, I’ll leave you to it in reading about the specifics of what was a pretty disgusting period of the worst kind of gamers doing their best to cement the worst parts of their hobby's reputation.

A dark stain on an already pitch-black garment was the development of games that emulated actual physical violence on one of the Gamergaters' chief targets. Any criticism of the games was met with accusations of someone being “triggered,” which in this case meant “genuinely disgusted by someone’s character.” The less said, the better, but just know that if anyone starts complaining that they shrunk Tifa’s boobs in the Final Fantasy remake, I’d exit the conversation sooner than later.

NBA 2K21 Mamba Forever Edition

Take-Two Interactive

This last one I dont see getting nearly as much side-eye as others, but I still cant see it without my brain emitting at least a small “oof.” This is the NBA2K franchises continuous, monetized “commemoration” of the life of Kobe Bryant. Now, the legacy of Kobe Bryant already contains some skeletons, no pun intended. Even without taking that into consideration, packages like the Mamba Forever edition seem to suggest that the best way to remember Kobe Bryant is to pay money for his gear in a video game (along with 40 MyTEAM Promo Packs, aka basketball lootboxes.) 

This lifted eyebrows when released as part of NBA 2K21, but it feels even grosser with the release of NBA 2K24, a number that just so happens to coincide with Bryant's jersey number in high school and the latter half of his professional career. The game’s developers, of course, saw an incredible opportunity for more honor. In fact, they were going to make so much honor! The whole game, from box to advertising, feels like one long memorial to the player, which would be nice if it didnt keep asking for your credit card information. They might as well say, “Skip ahead to a more exciting part of the eulogy for only 300 VC!” 

It doesn't help that 2K is already notorious for its relentless pay-to-win monetization, inside a game that still costs $70 off the rip. God, monopolies rule.

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