Cultural Perspective On The Activision/Blizzard News

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I’ve been trying to think about how to approach this particular story, and whether I should address it at all. It doesn’t really affect me personally, and it’s dangerously close to Expressing A Political Opinion On The Internet. Which is basically an invitation for the world to come over here and yell angrily because there is only one correct opinion on everything and conformity must be enforced at all costs. Because yelling at people is historically proven to be the best way to change their views. And thus Reddit was born. Ahem. Anyway.

The Blizzard Incident Du Jour has made me think a bit about how views on employment highlight major differences in culture around the world. And who doesn’t love jumping right into the middle of a Culture War, amirite?

Most of the time, I think of everyone on the Internet as equals, with generally similar lives and routines. That was the Great Hope Of The Internet when it first started. It showed us that those people way over there in that foreign place are basically just like us. (Then the 90s ended and Utopia died, but that’s another subject.)

In the 80s, my generation started to learn from our music that the Soviets were real people with real lives, not just the faceless, godless communists portrayed by politicians and movies. Then in the 90s, Usenet and the Internet proved the reality of the Soviet people and the entire rest of the world by letting us talk directly with each other right from our homes. We learned that as people, most humans aren’t that different from one another.

But occasionally the Internet reveals to us that people in different countries and cultures, raised in different ways, are *very* different. It turns out that people tend to live in different countries for good reasons. People around the world have different ideas about how to live and work and structure their existences, and sometimes they aren’t compatible with others.

That brings me to the Activision/Blizzard news that 800 employees were laid off, almost 10% of the workforce, if we’re to believe the size of the company on their “About Us” web site page. The reactions I’ve seen to this news around the world have generally made me feel like other countries or even states within the U.S. contain alien species with no common ancestors to mine whatsoever.

I’m not saying I’m glad Blizzard laid off 800 employees. I hope they find new work quickly. I’m just a very pragmatic person, and from my cultural background, I don’t see firing people as a personal attack on basic civic freedoms.

I have no understanding of why people might think it’s immoral or even illegal for employers to fire employees. I’ve never been taught at any age that I have a basic human right to work where I want and get paid. I was taught that you only get an allowance from your parents when you’re a kid, if you’re lucky. I’ve always had an understanding that I need to be reasonably good at some skill or another to get paid in the adult world, and it’s my responsibility to “git gud” at those skills before I have any value to an employer. Otherwise the employer will probably find someone else to do the job. It seems as normal to me as driving on the right side of the road or reading the temperature in Fahrenheit.

I’m also an older member of Gen-X, which I believe is the first generation that has no expectation of working their whole career at one place and then retiring to live off of a pension, like our parents did at the factory after the war or whatever. I’ve always understood that even if I *did* get a job somewhere, there’s no guarantee that I’d be working there next year or next month or even next week. Decades of adult working experience has only verified this. My own life experience and observations of the world around me (watching business after business in my local areas close down, move, or get replaced) have taught me that, every day, one should be planning for losing their job, or else they’re living at risk of disaster. This is just part of “being an adult” for me.

I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s hard. Really, really hard. Especially for people like me who aren’t exactly extroverts who can schmooze their way into any job at any time.

Now admittedly my trajectory into the adult workforce was very unusual. I started out doing contract Amiga programming work. The first thing I made money from was writing a program, putting it on floppy disks, printing a manual, and carrying it to a local user group meeting to sell for $10 each or something. Later I formed a company with two others to write and sell Amiga software. I worked from home for most of my 20s. We started with a publisher, then took over publishing ourselves, then everything fell apart. I was let’s say dismissed from my own company, for reasons that still don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I got a “real job” doing something I hated in my 30s, because I was broke and couldn’t pay my mortgage and was running out of audio gear to sell. I was laid off because that little company didn’t have enough money to pay me anymore. I was kind of glad. I got another job as a Visual Basic developer at a small company. It was lucky, because I mostly fudged my way through the Visual Basic programming test, never having used VB before, but I hated that place. Everyone there did, actually. A headhunter found me a “contract-to-hire” sort of job doing C# development at a federal contractor, when .NET was new. That was lucky, too. Their hiring standards weren’t that strict, because they had money to burn. But I demonstrated my worth and stayed in federal contracting into my 40s, switching companies and titles repeatedly. It was a good gig. Contractors are usually paid well. But I stayed too long, unfortunately, because my programming skills got rusty. It’s easy to get complacent in government work. “Innovation” is not the motto there, it’s “mediocrity for stability.”

That was sort of a rambling sidetrack. The point is, I never felt like I was “owed” a job. I never felt like anyone else besides me was responsible for filling up my bank account.

Now don’t get me wrong, I would *love* to just sit in my house doing whatever I wanted while free money poured in so I could buy stuff and have fun. I would snap that up in a heartbeat. Normally people dream of that life in “retirement years.” But I can’t even imagine *planning* and *expecting* that to happen anywhere in the U.S. before old age (now I can’t imagine planning on a retirement at all). Yet for reasons I can’t comprehend, that seems to be exactly what a growing number of people expect. They expect to be taken care of. There’s even a term for it: “Basic income.” I’d never even heard of such a concept until about a year ago. Before that, I think it was called, “marrying a rich person.” (*rimshot!*)

This is why I’m utterly baffled at all of this outrage over Activision/Blizzard firing 800 employees. It sucks for those people who lost their jobs, and I really hope they get new jobs quickly, but it doesn’t sound “out-of-the-ordinary” to me at all. It doesn’t sound vindictive, or immoral. It sounds like a normal part of everyday adult life.

Reactions around the Internet seem to indicate it sounds otherwise to people from other countries. To put it mildly. Around the world it seems like it’s viewed as a human rights crisis, as if the people who were fired are helpless penguins rolling around in an oil slick, unable to feed themselves anymore. Those poor defenseless innocent employees, little more than toddlers really, who apparently can’t survive without the safety and comfort of a mighty Big Brother to watch over them. I just can’t wrap my mind around that attitude. (There *are* people who need to be taken care of, don’t get me wrong… but I don’t understand why anyone thinks they work at Activision/Blizzard.)

I was particularly baffled and actually a bit alarmed when I saw some talk on Twitter drawing a moral and legal comparison between Activision/Blizzard firing employees and turn-of-the-last-century child labor laws. I don’t get how anyone thinks getting fired from a cubicle job at Blizzard has any equivalence to kids being exploited in coal mines. In one case there’s a moral imperative for government intervention and/or unionization, in the other, there isn’t.

I can understand government stepping in to regulate hiring and firing practices based on socioeconomic factors like class, race, and gender. That makes sense to me. It has a clear societal benefit, particularly in a democratic country allegedly built on protecting the rights of the weak. But regulating how a business does or doesn’t spend its money in salaries rubs the wrong way. That sounds pretty intrusive.

Now the other collective outrage here seems to center around how much the CEO of Activision/Blizzard makes compared to the salaries of those 800 employees who lost their jobs. I agree it’s pretty obscene how much of a disparity there is between the salaries of CEOs and workers. I don’t particularly care for it. I’d happily take some of that money. But it doesn’t trouble me as I go about my daily life, because how much any CEO makes in any company anywhere has no effect on my own personal earning power or daily life. The money that goes to pay CEOs is a different pile from the money that goes to pay salaries, due to budgets and departments and all manner of economic and accounting chicanery that is far beyond my understanding.

I feel like there’s a worldwide collective misunderstanding of how money works in the year 2019. There seems to be a general belief that governments and businesses operate their finances the same way that we operate our wallets or checkbooks. It’s a common refrain in politics. “I can balance my checkbook, why can’t the government balance the budget?!?” But those two things are entirely different. One is keeping track of one number in one account, the other is keeping track of a billion numbers in a billion accounts.

In Blizzard’s case, the refrain is, “Why can’t they just deduct money from the CEO’s paycheck to pay the salaries of those 800 employees?!? There can’t be any other reason except they’re monsters, and that CEO is a monster!”

Well, maybe. Maybe they are, and maybe he or she is. I have no idea. I don’t even know who the CEO of Activision/Blizzard is. But as I said, I’m a fairly pragmatic person. What I *do* know is that the pool of money that pays CEOs is probably different from the pool of money that pays salaries. And the CEO might be paid in stocks or gold bullion or jets or god-knows-what-else. And there are probably a thousand strategic business decisions behind the scenes that we don’t even know about. Not to mention all the stock implications that are way beyond my meager comprehension. You might think that Blizzard’s main job is is to make Warcraft-based games for you, the gamer, to enjoy. But the reality is their primary objective is to make money for investors and shareholders. If they don’t do that, they go out of business, and they probably break some laws, too, because there are a lot of laws regulating public companies.

Pragmatically speaking, I would think those 800 fired people would have little trouble getting new jobs, because putting Activision/Blizzard on their resume is probably a huge boon in the games industry. Not to mention the job placement help Activision/Blizzard is offering, something that very few other games companies would be large enough to do.

I would hope those 800 people learn from this and get jobs outside the games industry though. I’ve said this before, since the 1990s in fact, but nobody should ever work in the games industry for job security. The games industry is for people who enjoy risk (aka. entrepreneurs), people who have savings, or people who have secondary household incomes. Balancing risk and reward is also a concept that is taught us here in the U.S., not necessarily by schools, but by our parents and our culture, through simple observation of everyday life.

There *is* something consumers can do to influence these game companies, by the way: If it’s agreed that the problem is U.S. employment laws which allow companies to fire employees, then stop buying games made by U.S. companies with U.S. employees. Games are made in other countries. There are a lot of international gamers. Only buy games made in countries with employment laws that you agree with. People always seem to think they are powerless in the face of these big, evil corporations, forcing them to buy these completely unnecessary luxury items by telling us how cool they are. But stop buying from them and see what happens. Ask Best Buy or Sears or Barnes and Noble. It won’t be a slow demise, either, because companies tend to live on a bubble that could burst any time creditors get nervous. Trion disappeared pretty fast. Ask Daybreak how much they are enjoying everyone spending their money on Fortnite instead of H1Z1.

Incidentally, there *is* a place one can work in the U.S. if one wants to be completely protected from getting fired: It’s called “the government.” Government employees at the state and federal level enjoy unbelievable (to me) amounts of protections and benefits. Assuming, you know, nobody decides to shut down the government. But that only happens now, ahem, you know, maybe once or twice a year, tops.

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