My son messed up the other day.
He logged on to our Playstation, opened a game and deliberately went into the store section of the game, and bought something called 600 R6 Credits for a game called Rainbow Six Siege. By doing that, he used credit on my PS4 account, which he was not allowed to do, and thought he could get away with it.
Well, of course, I get an email notification whenever somebody uses my credit, and he was caught, red-handed. I got really pissed off, not because of what he had bought – it really cost only 5€ – but it’s more about the trust, and so forth and so forth – you know the drill. He promised not to do it again, I took away his gaming rights for two weeks and he’ll have to get the money back, and now that’s settled.
He’s a good kid, I’m actually pretty convinced he’ll never do that again.
And in the end, it’s my mistake. The game is rated for 18 years old plus, and my son should have no business playing the thing in the first place. I’m a too lenient father, I know that.
But that does bring me to the wider issue of games these days. The truth is, games these days, they are all just big fucking ruses, meticulously created to fool kids way too young to understand anything about money into spending hundreds of euros to absolute nothing: skins, game credit, special guns, in-game clothes and all that. Every game has some kind of a sneaky scheme going on and parents are either too uninterested or technically debile to really be able to look after where the kid actually uses money, why and what he/she gets out of it.
Back when I was young, I used what little money I had to toy soldiers, action figures and later on, to RPG books and figures and so forth. Stuff I was able to bring home, which my parents saw, they might have disagreed with (my dad’s a notorious pacifist so he wasn’t too crazy about the soldiers, and banned all toy guns in the house) but at least they were pretty much aware of what I was buying. But with the games, the parents have absolutely no grasp of how the kids use their money. All they do is buy prepaid PS4 cards to their kids, completely harmless-looking plastic things, but they have no idea, or even control on how the actual credit is spent – and how much of it! It might be that in addition for purchasing a videogame of 70€, your kid sends additional 250€ of your money to the company, and absolutely nothing of any real value has been gained.
One way to look at it, of course, is that instead of spending money on plastic that ends up into a dumpster sooner than later, none of that is created, and that’s a big, good, green thing, which I support wholeheartedly. But the issue is more in consumer culture. The earlier our kids are hooked to the reckless consuming online, where assets exchange ownership and value is gained only by the ones who run the big picture, the deeper in capitalist hell we all end up.
Instead, we need to start teaching kids consuming in schools. I’m not saying we are any better ourselves at consuming, but we come from the world where we experienced at least a bit of the transition from physical to digital, but the next generation, our kids, will spend more and more time shopping online, putting value on entirely digital elements, elements which worth is harder and harder to determine, which leaves a huge, gaping opening for cons, schemes and consumer control by outside entities. Our whole culture is completely hooked up to consuming and it’s gotten badly out of hands and the ever-hungry money-munching machine wants our kids’ souls as soon as they can type in their login-ID.
Having said all that, there’s really nothing wrong with the game industry making money with their products; as an independent filmmaker, I only wish our industry had some of that business thinking at our disposal. The problem is, games are by definition made to hook you on to them: one more round, one more mission… you know how it goes. Your brain feeds on the dopamine bursts the micro successes result in, which in turn creates an ideal environment for very invasive and near-addiction-based business models.
Casinos and gas stations with slot machines come with very strict regulations, one being, you need to be at least 18 to play them. I don’t see why the same approach wouldn’t apply with video games? Why not make it illegal to put in-game purchase mechanisms for games that are available for kids under 18, how about that?