The videogame business is broken. That’s not news, of course. From the constant cycle of crunch and layoffs, to the rampant sexism and misconduct at studios like Riot Games and others, to the fundamentally broken and nonsensical business plans enacted by so many publishers, the videogame industry regularly exploits and abuses its workers. It’s a bad business desperately in need of major reform.
It can be hard to get people to care about these issues, though. Working in games is still pitched as a dream job, something cool and fun and almost impossible to land. That’s a huge reason why companies can exploit their employees so readily: they prey on people’s desire to work in a business they’ve loved all their lives and that promises an exciting alternative to a typical office job. Why should somebody putting up with a job they hate, or a kid who’s never had to work yet, feel bad about the faceless people who make the games they play for escapism?
Well, last night Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj explained why. Again: it’s because game companies work their employees for dozens of hours a week before firing them with no warning and usually no severance. It’s because the games we play are usually the result of a modern form of indentured servitude, demanding everything from the people who make them and then discarding them as soon as they have no need for them. That all sounds better coming out of the mouth of a pro comedian with his own Netflix show, of course.
Minhaj provides a deep dive into the subject, summarizing the general culture of crunch and layoffs, and specifically discussing the death of Telltale Games and the misconduct at Riot. (He talks to Kotaku reporter Cecilia D’Anastasio about the latter, and she does a great job of helping break down that situation with facts and humor.) He also brings up Game Workers Unite, an organization devoted to helping game developers unionize, and ties it into a larger trend of increasing union activity over the last few years. It’s not a short segment—the entire episode was devoted to this one topic—but it’s worth watching, especially if you’re interested in learning how the games you play are made. Check it out below, and watch the full episode on Netflix.