A disturbing number of online games already come bundled with spyware – a trend which is becoming increasingly common in the industry as publishers look to exploit as much money from players as possible.
With Tencent incorporating facial recognition technology and Riot Games offering a beta program to record and analyze the voice comms of players in their games, soon gamers will have no place to hide from intrusive surveillance.
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
Tech conglomerate Tencent announced last year that it was introducing facial recognition technology in games released in China to comply with the country's latest directives. China has labeled games as "spiritual opium", and this move was supposed to represent an effort to hinder "addiction" and reduce screen time for minors.
True and hidden intentions aside, the state forcing biometric monitoring and controls on citizens is, without a doubt, invasive, especially if we consider the privacy of underage gamers. This, however, is not an isolated case of a video game company tracking its players. As we speak, video games from all over the world are modeling and installing instruments for surveillance and control.
Riot Games released a report presenting its current anti-toxicity measures for Valorant, as well as the announcement of a future beta program – meant to record and analyze the voice chats of players with previous abusive behavior. Supposedly, the program would record only the previously reported players with records of toxic communication with others. Other than that, the report provided little info, but Riot's terms of service were updated last year to accommodate the launch of this new tracking system.
Every excuse is good if it works
While, of course, we have nothing against mechanisms to promote a safer and more pleasant environment for gamers, especially the youngest among them, we fear the creators' true intentions are not as noble as they claim. Unfortunately, the discouraging truth is that gaming (and other tech) corporations rarely implement these features to benefit the end user.
Not only do they record and sell your hand and eye movements, but also your fears, passions, and habits. Undoubtedly, games are super-rich resources for understanding users' psychology and cognition. From these, game designers can gain insight into what players like, what, how, and when they prefer something and, ultimately, what they would spend money on. They gather this data to solicit the right kinds of emotions from players and create truly targeted advertisements.
Guidance instead of surveillance
All these data harvesting and promotional tools could affect not only your spending habits (and savings) but also your emotions further down the line. If you think about it, it's all just an endless circle of gaming companies using surveillance systems to create seductive content, and then selling you that same spyware with the pretense it can help control the very same addiction it originated.
On top of this, we have governments happy to exploit these mechanisms to aid in their mass-surveillance interests. I, personally, believe there are better ways to learn what our children are doing online, without governments and large corporations monitoring their every move as well. In fact, I've listed some of them below.