Always Online; Always Privileged

[Content Note: Classism; regionalism.]

So, recently there have been rumors that the next generation Xbox is going to be released with an always-online requirement, meaning that even to play a single-player game, users are going to have to maintain an internet connection for the console to be usable. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, although it's almost certainly part of the increasing strategy to discourage secondhand game sales and game-sharing, because media creators still haven't learned that throwing up barricades between users doesn't actually increase sales.

They also apparently still aren't paying attention to the fact that internet companies aren't interested in helping them make money, and the wide practice of throttling will complicate this endeavor, by way of massive understatement.

Which itself is an issue that only affects those of us with access to high-speed internet.

Many people have noted that an always-online requirement presumes, wrongly, that everyone who is a gamer has access to high-speed internet. Naturally, people who are poor (and we are not going to get into a discussion here of poor people who spend money on gaming consoles, which of course can be purchased second-hand or gifted, because I'm not going to entertain debates that police how people allocate limited resources) and people who live outside of urban centers are the most likely to lack access to reliable high-speed internet.

A couple of days ago, Microsoft Studio's creative director, Adam Orth, took to Twitter to address these concerns. His tweets, which were screen-capped before he protected his account, were a disgorgement of ignorant privilege, wondering "why on earth" he would live in a rural area, telling critics to "deal with it," and sniffing: "Those people should definitely get with the times and get the internet. It's awesome."

"Those people" is certainly an interesting turn of phrase, given that there is a significant digital divide among racial lines. Which should not be a surprise to anyone with the most cursory familiarity with the intersection of class and race.

Microsoft eventually issued a terrific non-apology regarding Orth's tweets: They're "sorry if this offended anyone."

Anyway. One of my favorite gaming commentators, boogie2988, posted a video response detailing some of the issues with the always-online concept, which Microsoft will neither confirm or deny at this point (the video should start playing, and the transcript begins, at 1:58):

boogie2988, a young fat white man with short-cropped dark hair and beard, wearing glasses and a black shirt: So, when rumors begin to circulate about the fact that the next generation of Xbox is gonna require an always-online internet connection, even just to play single-player games, it's obvious that I need to start making a list of why that's not going to work.

But the bottom line is this: If you and I have perfect internet, in a perfect word, the reality of it is you shouldn't have to be connected to the internet in order to play your game. It's as simple as that. It's never going to be beneficial for you or I as consumers. It's not gonna bring down costs; it's not gonna make things free; it's not gonna make things easier or better for you—therefore, that is anti-consumerist.

But we don't live in a perfect world, do we? In fact, in the world that we do live in, 40% of Americans do not have access to high-speed internet in their homes. Forty percent! That means some of them don't even have internet access; some of them only have internet access through their phones; and some that do have landlines running into their house, it's spotty and crappy. That means 40% of Americans won't be able to use that service.

Many of us live in rural areas where we don't have consistent and good internet. Hell, some of us still use satellite. Some of us still use dial-up. And I cannot imagine that your service is gonna work very good on dial-up!

Not to mention, the time that I most want to play a single-player console game is when my internet access is out. I can't surf the internet; I can't play an online game; what else am I gonna do? It's time to play some single-player Halo campaign!

But in a perfect world where I always have internet access, what about your internet access? What if your server farm goes down? What if you have to patch? God forbid, what if you got hacked like the PlayStation network did, and you have to be offline for thirty days? My console becomes a brick for thirty days. That's [absurd].

But the one that really upsets me, that really kind of breaks my heart, is the fact that there are a lot of gamers in the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines—a lot of our servicemen and servicewomen, after a long hard day of defending our country, like to sit down and play their Xbox or play their PlayStation. But the one thing they don't have [in the war theater] is internet access. And if they don't have internet access, they're not gonna be able to use your console. And that breaks my heart, because that's something they deserve.

But the bottom line is, there's a huge list of reasons this is wrong. There are no reasons that this is right. This does not help the consumer; this does not help the gamer; this does not need to happen.

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