After a two month hiatus, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj has returned for Volume 4! For the first episode, Minhaj chose to draw his viewers’ attention toward what he stated was the “dark side,” of the world of gaming. Video games, Minhaj recollects, were a large part of his childhood. “Mario Kart, Smash Brothers, and my personal favorite, GoldenEye,” he lists excitedly. “You guys know the rules, right? License to kill, slappers only, no Oddjob.” Video games seemed to have changed since he was a kid though. Minhaj reports that recently at a tournament in Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, competitive gamer Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf won $3 million in a Fortnite competition. This, Minhaj explains, is because gaming culture has become the “social currency” in our world today. Believe it or not, the video game industry is bigger than the marijuana industry! It’s worth approximately $139 billion- “In terms of revenue, that’s bigger than worldwide box office, music streaming and album sales, the NFL, the NBA, MLB, and NHL combined,” Minhaj states. All of those industries combined add up to $99 billion a year. “Every sports league right now is terrified, except for the NHL- they’re like ‘Yay, we made the chart!’,” he says, laughing.
Hasan covers a lot of ground in this one. https://t.co/Kwe3xtyRfH
— Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (@patriotact) August 4, 2019
Live streaming, in particular, has made video gaming what it is. “Gamers stream themselves playing video games in real time, even during natural disasters,” Minhaj states, proving it with clips of gamers continuing YouTube videos that feature themselves live streaming through a recent, and serious, earthquake. The live streaming platform Twitch, which popularized games like Fortnite, League of Legends, and PUBG into events with prizes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, has 15 million users per day. One of my favorite lines from the episode was, “I swear, next year you’re going to see Jay-Z and Beyonce sitting court side watching a pasty 16-year-old kid play Fortnite”. This is because there are 2.4 billion people playing video games, and the talented players are treated like athletes.
It’s all fun and games until you see the labor behind some of the most well-liked tournaments, though. The “dark side” that Minhaj refers to truly is wrongful towards workers, and it’s incredibly clandestine. Labor exploitation runs deep in the industry and many people who have been cheated by the companies they worked for were too fearful of being blacklisted to even discuss the sins made against them. These wrongdoings include laying people off randomly, refusing to provide severance or an extension on health insurance and forcing people to work 14-16 hours a day (or more) sans overtime pay. Forcing workers to stay for an unimaginable amount of time like that is referred to as “crunch” in the industry and it has led to PTSD, memory loss and ulcers, which may cause those affected to cough up blood. One man even said that a privilege he had was “conjugal visits,” a scheduled period in which an inmate may see their spouse in private, every now and then. If employees simply refused to work the extra hours, they were let go immediately. Something I enjoy about this show is that Minhaj still manages to make such dark topics hilarious, such as when he states, “At most [these employees are] getting carpal tunnel and their nephew’s respect”.
Another issue is the microtransaction model of the video games, which is when a game is free to download, like Fortnite, but players will be tempted to add extra features which are not free. This creates more work for the laborers behind the game, who have to “crunch” to produce the extensions. Sometimes, after a “crunch” period, when the game is released the employees who worked so hard will be let go or fired. On the other hand, the original creators of the games become billionaires and live lavish lives without the fear of losing employment. Tim Sweeney, for example, doesn’t have to worry because he created Fortnite which has 250 million players worldwide, providing for the unnecessary luxuries, such as the mansion he lives in (alone) and the several cars he doesn’t need.
So thankful that Hasan is speaking to worker’s conditions for those making games, and hope this prompts a lagger conversation about labor in tech overall. https://t.co/HAHcN9ZXbd
— Anil Dash 🥭 (@anildash) August 4, 2019
Hasan shows a staged clip of two men working as video game testers, which involves a woman coming in and asking if they’re almost finished- Minhaj says the unrealistic part of that ad is that they respected their female supervisor. Gender discrimination is another issue in gaming, even though they make up a large portion of the rising creators behind the games. Riot Games, for example, has been sued for creating a bad work environment for female employees. The two women suing Riot say they were passed up for promotions, harassed and told not to bother adding diversity to the games because “gaming culture is the last remaining safe haven for white teen boys”. Minhaj interviewed Cecelia D’Anastasio, who investigated Riot and other gaming companies. She reported that she’s heard stories of women finding out they were included in lists of female workers that their bosses wanted to “sleep with,” and others that included women receiving inappropriate photos from leaders in the company. The COO of Riot was one of the men who sexually harassed women who worked for him and he was suspended for two months without pay. Ironically, Minhaj points out that “Riot punished him the way corporate America punishes women who give birth”.
— Cecilia D'Anastasio (@cecianasta) August 4, 2019
Recently, however, there has been a rallying cry as unionization has been proposed. Almost half a million Americans went on strike in 2018 and employees at video game companies were a large part of this, as were other white-collar workers such as journalists, digital media laborers and presidential campaign staff. Many people have no idea what’s happening in terms of the gaming industry right now and I love that Minhaj spoke about it this week. He even live-streamed himself gaming and discussing with other gamers the ramifications of the industry. The other players didn’t quite listen, and whether this live stream was real or fabricated, I’m not sure, but either way, it was entertaining. Volume 4 opened up strongly and I hope it continues a streak of excellence.
BIG day for us today – game workers unionisation movement hits the big time!💥
Head to @netflix NOW to see our organisers & other game devs featured in the latest episode of @patriotact w/ @hasanminhaj – ''Video Games & Labor''. Thanks so much for amplifying our voices!✊🏿✊🏽✊ https://t.co/1VdaXs2npc
— Game Workers Unite ✊🏿✊🏽✊🏾 (@GameWorkers) August 4, 2019
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj comes out every Sunday on Netflix and YouTube.
Featured Image via Shorty Awards