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Scott Pilgrim vs. The Dilemma of Ethical Consumption


Buckle up. This is gonna be a long one and not a fun one, focusing on my complaints and especially my personal feelings.

If you're a big fan of the gaming industry or capitalism, just skip this one. You'll gain nothing by reading it. Also, spoilers for Scott Pilgrim and The Good Place.

I have been a fan of Scott Pilgrim, Bryan Lee O'Malley's hit indie comic, for years. It has some strong character work, lots of great humor, cool fight scenes, and while it certainly hasn't aged well in some regards, it has extremely good messages about self-improvement and, in fact, has some ideas about where the rich and sellouts can stick it. Scott Pilgrim is an indie comic, focused on an indie band. Granted, O'Malley happily sold the rights to major studios, but I'm not about to fault a man for making good money. Considering how horrific capitalism is as a system, I'm just happy the man got success when so many didn't; he made a good product, and while I'd prefer everyone got success, no matter the quality of their work, Scott Pilgrim deserves all the praise it got and I'm glad he's making money off it, not to mention his genuine idealism and years-long struggle to get Scott Pilgrim: The Video Game back on storefronts.

Now, as a Pilgrim fan, I was quite irate when I heard the game would be leaving digital storefronts before I could purchase it, and positively overjoyed when I realized it would be coming back, and coming to the Switch, my platform of choice. I even intended for my significant other to get it so we could play the game based on one of my favorite comics together.

So how'd this go from a big moment of triumph to the moment that broke my interest in corporate gaming? Let's dig fucking in.

My interest in "AAA" games has been lacking ever since around 2014, when I, in my younger years, though I'm still likely among the youngest Destructoid users, started to see the greed and scum for what it was. I fought to defend it for years, arguing against people who would defame the toys that entertained me by pointing out the countless problems in the industry. I looked across this dying industry, and I held out to defend it because it entertained me. Hell, I still defend the right of any customer to purchase anything they want, no matter the vile things behind it; capitalism on the whole is horrible, and the evil we know of is only the evil we know of. I lack doubt that even "good" companies are just as bad as "bad" ones.

You know how I said I hate capitalism early here? I fucking hate capitalism, or at least the way it stands now. The "free market" brand of capitalism throughout at least the United States has created an economy where nothing people do is ethical. You buy a Nestle candy to keep your kid happy on the ride home, an experience I was familiar with in my childhood due to my love for the bars? Yep, those are made with horrific labor practices. You bought a shiny new car that makes you happy with yourself? The machines that made that car stole workers' jobs. The way capitalism works is that it does morally abhorrent things, but makes everyone, even the customers with no involvement, take part in those abhorrent things. The thing you have to accept if you want to go any further with this post is that modern capitalism/neoliberalism is a horrific, greedy mindset that takes good things and sullies them, ensuring a brand of nihilism, or as I call it, nihilocapitalism, where people don't care about what's going behind the scenes because they just need their fix of whatever entertains them, and all industries, all corporations, are frankly fucking evil and don't deserve your respect, defense, or acknowledgment, but they've embedded themselves so handily in society that you can't defy them unless you wanna become a crazy mountain hermit.

In other words, "you hate society, yet you exist in society." Well, duh. It's impossible not to feed our capitalist overlords if you want to live a semblance of a normal life. They're everywhere. Dunkirk was made with prison labor. The Hobbit films were made with shoddy business practices.

One of the things I'm quick to think of when it comes to this topic is The Good Place, a top-notch sitcom which features in its later seasons a character who has adopted a completely absurd lifestyle in the hopes that by doing no wrong whatsoever he will get into Heaven, the "Good Place," if he does nothing morally gray in the slightest, ranging from living alone to letting a literal child treat him like garbage. The protagonists eventually discover that even he will be going to Hell, as morality is so muddy and the world is so harsh that even his attempts to be an absolute bastion of righteousness can't compare to the way the world works now.

That's bitingly accurate. Almost nobody who buys any product, (But here we're talking video games) is a bad person for it. They just want entertanment. Unfortunately, their money almost invariably goes to evil people who will use it for their cruel ends. Corporations are greedy, inherently so, and the money funnels to the top of them, meaning that their avarice prevents anyone in the world from being good. This is a fact of life I have come to accept. They don't give a shit if a game "bombs," they're safe for life. They just want moreThat is why microtransactions are added in, that is why games are going up to $70. Not for any good reason. Some rich person wants more money, so consumers have to pay for it. With the money games make, they can definitely fund a billion more, but they have chosen to push the envelope constantly not for artistic value, but for greed. While the envelope is being pushed no matter the motive, it's worth nothing except the massive bonuses that everyone involved is gonna get.

"Ethical consumption" is impossible. There is no such thing. Don't give your money to one corporation that's evil? You're invariably giving it to another one. Even if you somehow find a way to not do that, you've created a tiny sliver in a thick fucking tree trunk. Everyone else is still paying.

To quote Ubisoft themselves in Watch_Dogs 2, from the mouth of its protagonists: "They don't even feel it. Just... numb." That is what this world has done. You don't even think about the morality of what you're doing because there's no point to it. Even if you don't do it, someone else will. So why not do it? It makes sense to me. No ethical consumption, don't worry about morality. So, let's get back to Scott Pilgrim!

One of the strongest scenes in Scott Pilgrim's film adaptation is a scene in which Scott and his band, Sex Bob-Omb, are confronted with a potential contract with the sleazy and evil Gideon "G-Man" Graves. While I don't love how the film treats the genuinely horrifying Gideon of the comic as a douchey joke, Scott refuses, due to admittedly personal reasons, whereas his band's actual leader Stephen Stills immediately signs on. While they're miserable due to it, Stephen ultimately made essentially the right call. Sure, the band compromises its ethics and independent image, and is now working for a sleazy bastard, but Stephen's going to make sure they never have to worry about money again, and that they'll achieve their dream of hitting it big, not that they were too hard-up for cash in the first place. It's so good because it's real, like much of SP. Despite the fantastical perspective, when you dice the video game elements out, Stephen just made the same call indie writer O'Malley did-- he sold out to people who're against what he stands for because he wanted to achieve his dream and make money.

This isn't a condemnation of O'Malley. Again, I'm happy for the guy. I'm a writer myself, and I can safely say through my years of examining the industry, not every writer that deserves to hit it big does. O'Malley won out, and the first thing he did was ally himself with corporations like Ubisoft and Paramount, who would help his dream come to fruition. The man doubtlessly believes in his art; he's fought very, very hard to get the game back to storefronts. He's a complete hypocrite to be sure, but that doesn't matter because everyone is a hypocrite in the industry. In place of O'Malley? I would have done the same damn thing and more. It's not a problem with O'Malley, it's a problem with the world.

Unlike the comic, though, there's no dorky manchild to come in, gain the power of self-respect, and kick the asses of the real Gideon Graveses out there; the people heading every corporation may as well be the same. Capitalism as it stands is a nihilistic philosophy. Why worry about anything? You'll never win, you can't win. Even Jim Sterling, a man who, say what you will of him, is a genuine, grade-A believer in his ideals, has to work with companies like Patreon to accomplish his goals, which no doubt have problems behind closed doors. Even the best of us are not unable to falter in the face of a world that doesn't care and would rather just consume.

Now, as you may know, it was revealed recently that Ubisoft has a history of protecting abusive employees. Every company does; even my personal favorite Obsidian turned out to have had Chris Avellone, a man who publicly committed sexual offenses and the man who used to be my favorite writer, among their ranks. No company big enough is without its evil vices. Still, we know about Ubisoft, and how did Ubisoft respond?

They took Scott Pilgrim, a property goddamn special to me, and it serves as their smokescreen. It's okay, they said! Sure, they sheltered horrible people and continue to shelter them, but Scott Pilgrim is back so who cares about the people behind it? The worst part is, for two months, they had me. I figured it would never do anything if I didn't buy it, because Scott Pilgrim's artificial scarcity means it's gonna sell like hotcakes. I may as well buy it!

But I got more and more into the debacle, and I realized... holy shit, I don't like any corporations, especially gaming ones. Ubisoft was using SP, a work which defined my teenage years and continues to have qualities I care about today, to defend themselves from the simple truth that they, like every corporation, are openly serpentine in nature. A work which specifically says things about the moral gray areas of selling out and the qualities that define people in the world as it is, and they used it to try and make everyone forget how awful they are. By all counts, they were successful.

I don't blame those who plan to buy Scott Pilgrim. I was too. But as I realized I hated all of the "AAA" market, even if I loved their products... I decided not to. It means nothing in the end. Scott Pilgrim will sell excellently at its $15 asking price, Ubisoft execs will roll in their fucking Scrooge McDuck money pools which is what they probably do with everything we fork over to them, the abused employees will still be abused, and the world will keep spinning as it would if I paid for Scott Pilgrim.

December 15 is the date of my final "AAA" purchase for what might be forever. That is the "Vergil DLC" from Devil May Cry 5. I will not deny my hypocrisy; I have spoken out against the Vergil DLC and the lack of Special Edition on PC before, but in the end I will still buy it. After that? I intend to stick solely to indies. To the people who need and actually benefit from my financial support. Scott Pilgrim was the straw that broke the camel's back for me, a piece of art that I absolutely loved, a game I never got to experience, and if I stick to my guns never will. I am not the one suffering here. I never have been, but this whole thing revealed things about myself I thought I'd never know.

But one thing I'm not and never have been is a nihilist. I am a believer that anything can be changed, and that those who refuse to admit that are the ones keeping the world from changing so they can get what they want. I am responsible for hundreds of Nestle bars purchased. I have bought countless Ubisoft games, Bethesda Games, EA Games. Somehow, it took SP to make me give a shit, because I guess that's the sort of man I am.

I live by a different philosophy from most men. My philosophy is something I call "moral hedonism." It is a variation of hedonism, with the idea behind it being that happiness and satisfaction have the most value in the world. I am no Marquis de Sade, mind; the moral part of moral hedonism stands strong as well. I believe that happiness and satisfaction have the world's greatest value provided they do not hurt anyone else. In the end, sometimes you have to let that happiness and satisfaction go to help others. It's a sad, conflicted sort of philosophy, but it is the one I intend to carry to my grave.

There is a way to change things. Well, there's two. The first is simple but nigh-impossible: Convince the world to stop. Convince everyone to vote with their wallets and stop buying the product that they want. It's not going to happen, and it shouldn't. It should not be the responsibility of customers to take their corporate masters to task; the entire system places blame on those who consume and experience products. "If you don't like cruel labor practices, why did you by Nestle bars? If you don't like sexual harassment, why do you have 500 hours in Fallout: New Vegas?" The answer, of course, is that I didn't think at the time that I was doing anything. It is a victim-blaming process to say that the customers are the ones who should take responsibility for the evil deeds of the corporations, not to mention that even if we were to successfully boycott, say, Scott Pilgrim, all Ubisoft would do would be lay off a bunch of employees and the money would still roll in. It's a self-sustaining system that rewards those up top no matter what happens.

The second is the practical one, but it's the one I despise. I'm not a politician or a logistical man; numbers have never clicked with my mind, so I've only got general ideas about solutions. Still, even I have come to see the truth:

We need government intervention. Now, I hate the idea of the government coming in and fiddling with any form of art; fitting with moral hedonism, I consider art to be the purest thing on Earth. However, video games, like all industries, need regulation. We need a government strong enough to end it, but unfortunately, that will hurt the governments as well. It's not a completely fruitless crusade, mind you. We could get government regulation progressively throughout the years, and there is still time to save the world from oppressive nihilocapitalism in every regard, from a humanitarian level to an environmental one. I blame nobody who purchases things that harm others through their acquisition, provided they are willing to stand up and fight for government regulation when the time comes. The governments of the world are the only bodies with the power to end these things, and though it is an evil with certainty, I have come to believe it a necessary one. Hopefully, they would not interfere with the art we hold dear, a different cause we would also likely have to fight for. Still, the world is not hopeless in its entirety. This is a fight that can still be won, and maybe, maybe one day, I could look at the ideas Scott Pilgrim presents about the gray area of selling out, and finally say that it's wrong.

Until the moment when those with more power than I finally put an end to it, fuck nihilocapitalism, fuck its defenders and those who rule on high from the modern-day dystopia they have carved... and above all others, fuck Scott Pilgrim.

- Congratulations on getting down here.

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About Riley1sSpookone of us since 6:57 PM on 02.03.2019