‘I played Oblivion, I tell ya, it probably saved my life’.
These words were mentioned in Bethesda’s E3 conference this year, specifically during a testimonial short where many people discussed the personal impact of Bethesda’s games.
Upbeat plinky plonky music, the kind heard in Oscar bait movies where adversity will be overcome through the power of hope, played in the background.
And while I’ve no reason to doubt the sincerity of these people, the existence of this type of testimonial within a trade show made my fucking skin crawl.
Viewers cried ‘fake’ in Youtube chat, as if the video was entirely scripted. However I absolutely believe the people in the video were sincere and can imagine hundreds of similar fans volunteering if Bethesda threw out a call to arms for such testimonials.
But what is the message that Bethesda is sending here? I assume it is to broadcast the massive impact their games have had on people’s lives. But why? I’m being dead serious here when I ask the question. Because if it IS to showcase the impact they have, then why do they feel they should get points for it?
What I’m getting at is; if a product has become the one saving grace in a person’s life then I can assure you it isn’t because the product was lovingly crafted to contain life saving properties, but rather the specific person probably had very little else to cling to at the time.
Video games were likely all they had – the one thread that they could grasp – when there was nothing else.
But that’s also true of drug addicts, people with eating disorders, alcoholics and so on. People with addictive behaviours used as forms of escapism because life has otherwise become unbearable.
I also believe that whatever a person clings to in this situation is probably much better than the alternative. Heroin may be keeping a person from jumping off a bridge. Alcohol may keep another from hurting themselves or others. And so on. While these are more impactful and have way more obvious negative effects than gaming, the mechanics are very similar. Clinging to a symptom/behaviour to escape a much bigger life problem.
Bethesda’s celebration of this made my blood boil. Especially if you consider how people would respond if a pharmaceutical, food, or alcohol company tried something so brazen. Imagine an obese person fondly recounting how food saved his life, and states that ‘food is life’ in a similar way people state ‘gaming is life’. And this large, red, diabetic face fades out with a smile and a big yellow Mcdonalds ‘M’ appears.
Or a person describing how their life fell apart after the wife and kids left, and how the next drink gave him hope. As the screen fades on this pale faced hungover man, the iconic Heineken ‘H’ appears with ‘Drink responsibly’ underneath.
I want to stress that I have absolutely no ill will to those in the situation – they are trying to survive as best they know how. My ill will goes to Bethesda and their use of vulnerable people to market their products. Like a pharmaceutical company publicly celebrating people’s addiction to Xanax.
Bethesda made some great games. Some of which were my favorite (Fallout 3 and Oblivion). But these games were not made to save anyone’s life. That was a side effect and not something done out of the goodness of Bethesda’s heart. But that’s what this video is implying. That ‘we make people better’. ‘We give people hope’.
Bethesda, a company that said ‘that’s good enough!’ and released Fallout 76. A company that saw the great communities and fun around modding and decided ‘we own that now’. A company that, since their successes, have injected infamous predatory practices of chance mechanics and microtransactions into their games that often prey on the very same vulnerable people that cling to their products.
The ‘one thing’ that keeps a person feeling safe in this world also keeps them safe ‘from’ the world. Disconnected from it and the people who can help the healing process. That ‘one thing’ isn’t healing but medicates. While that’s better than a potentially fatal alternative, there are plenty out there that want to keep people in that state. Improvement is not as lucrative as dependency.