In university I’d spend lazy afternoons picking through videogame-related internet forums. It made me feel connected to a community of fellow enthusiasts: helped me digest the latest industry gossip, and develop with grave diligence all my best Videogame Opinions.
People there would often bemoan the presence of ‘bugs’ in the games they purchased. ‘How can the developers get away with this garbage?’ someone would exclaim in mock bewilderment. ‘Do they not bug test their games at all? It’s inexcusable! It’s as if they spent all their time on the graphics, which are shitty anyway,’ and so on. It’s become an undercurrent in videogameland: a wellspring of populist outrage, fit to spice up any review, Let’s Play or livestream.
Back then I would have typed up a furious, factual defence of the game developer I hoped one day to become: first filling up the little ‘quick reply’ box, then copying-and-pasting my growing manuscript into a full-blown Word document. Today, however, I’ve learned these posters’ questions were a sort of rhetorical Trojan Horse. In debating whether some otherwise-perfect game experience has been marred by a shifty behind-the-scenes computer programmer, I’d already accepted two bad assumptions: first that the ‘perfect game experience’ can objectively exist, second that I might purchase that experience in a store. And though the conversation always cloaked itself in fact—this particular game developer, that particular variety of computer glitch—it was never really about facts. Instead it was about feelings, and about status. It was about persuading people that they’d lost something (that, in fact, someone had stolen it from them) when in truth they’d never had it to begin with. It was about all the things advertisers manipulate when they transmute ‘wants’ into ‘needs’.
To understand why videogames contain so many bugs—and why people find this so upsetting—it helps to think about the gradual extermination of all life on the planet Earth.