While at the start of the economic downturn many media outlets were claiming the video game industry to be “recession proof,” recent sales figures seem to indicate that even an industry often characterized as “escapist” seems not to be fully impervious to financial realities. A recent article in the New York Times reports that sales figures for the game industry were down in March from the previous year, leading the article to conclude that the economic downturn may finally be catching up to the almost astronomical success the gaming industry has enjoyed in recent years. Adding some additional fuel to the fire, many gaming analysts point to the abysmal opening day sales of Deca Sporta, one of Japan’s most popular gaming franchises as an additional indicator that tough times are ahead for the gaming industry as well. Within the social sciences, the relationship between consumption patterns and economic conditions has for some time been a hot topic of inquiry, and this most recent episode appears to be an ideal candidate for further analysis.
Thinking about this from a sociological standpoint, it seems that the popular “culture industries” approach many not be able to fully comprehend such a phenomenon. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the culture industries chiefly serve an ideological function, diverting society’s attention away from the oppressive material conditions that they are forced to endure. It would appear that from such an approach, the culture industries would become even more vital during economic downturns, lulling society into a slumber and thus preventing the masses from realizing the material circumstances at the center of the current economic woes. But if recent sales figures are to be believed, consumption of mass media forms such as gaming may be falling as well. How then does one make sense of this possible trend from a culture industry approach? If people are consuming less, how are they occupying their leisure time? Perhaps it is feasible to at least entertain the idea that during these economic woes, as consumption declines it may become possible for the “critical conscious” so heavily touted by Horkheimer and Adorno to emerge.
This critique is not intended to serve as a full-on assault against the culture industries approach. Rather, given the current economic condition and these possibly early indicators of a decline in consumption, it appears that now is perhaps one of the best times for scholars to apply such an approach to the “realities” on the ground so to speak