Crunch gets a lot of attention amongst the video game industry, but it doesn’t often enter the mainstream conversation about video games. That changed a little on the weekend with Netflix’s Patriot Act, a comedic current affairs show from comedian Hasan Minhaj, devoting an entire episode to labour practices in video games.
The episode runs for about 24 minutes and kicks off, as you’d expect, with the Fortnite World Cup Finals. But Minhaj quickly pivots from there to the success of the industry, individual titles (like Red Dead Redemption 2 earning $US725 million in its first weekend), and the impact of livestreaming.
But you can’t talk about all of that — or at least you shouldn’t — without recognising the human cost involved. And that’s where the latest episode of the Patriot Act spends most of its time, with the middle half of the episode explaining the idea of crunch, how contractors are often dismissed as soon as a game launches, and worker burnout.
The episode features a brief interview with former Telltale developer Emily Grace Buck, who recalls the day when the entire studio was laid off. Kotaku’s previous reporting is also featured later on — partially because Buck was the only developer who was willing to be interviewed on camera for the program — with Cecilia talking about the investigation into Riot Games, how it initially came about and the push for workers to unionise.
Perhaps the scariest part of the program was a number cited by Buck: the average career in video games is five years long, and less for women or people of colour. Some video games take at least that long to ship. That’s a lot of people who leave the industry before you’d really consider them experienced, and a lot of talent being lost.
We’re still a long, long way away before the mainstream conversation around video games starts to mature. In Australia, that may never be the case — see recent reporting on Fortnite. But as streaming services continue to gain prominence, and they continue to fund programs that are more targeted at certain demographics and interests, there’s a sliver of hope that when traditional media talks about video games, it won’t just be the usual incredulation, hyperbole and fear, but an acknowledgement of the hard work that goes into them, and what the human cost is.