Strike Two, But Not Out

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A lot of trade magazines that cover the entertainment industry are, perhaps unduly, focused on movies. In quite a few of them, the pending actor’s guild strike has been covered with the same gloom and doom that might befall a pending natural disaster. But while some sectors of the entertainment industry might be crippled by the lack of card-carrying guild member actors, computer games should do just fine.

The pending strike has a lot of complex issues behind it, but boils down to what every labor dispute these days is really about: people either wanting or deserving more money. Gone are the dangerous working environments described in books like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair where workers would fall into vats of boiling fat, only to be processed and sent out as pure lard. Any company operating a place like that today is going to be taken to the cleaners by the court system.

But long hours, low respect and low pay are still, unfortunately, mind numbingly common. Actors have every right to strike if they feel they are being treated unfairly.

It’s worth noting that although the big stars like Tom Cruise are supporting the strike – and in fact will be bound by it due to union regulations – that they are not the impetus. I mean, it’s not like we are supposed to feel sorry for Cruise because he wanted to make $12 million for his last movie and he only got $10 million. It’s actually the more run-of-the-mill actors doing television commercials and bit parts that feel they are not getting a big enough part of the pie.

But however one feels about the current situation, it is inevitable that the mainstream audience will feel the effects if the strike comes to pass. Series television shows will be the first to bite the dust, as weekly series shows won’t have a lot of extra materials to air once the actors stop work. It will be rerun city.

Movies will feel the pinch a bit later. Although it’s kind of being done secretly, many big budget movies are rushing to completion now (which some argue are leading to lower production values) so as not to be hindered by the pending strike, which could occur next year. Some movies are not being made right now either, because the production of them could extend beyond when the actors would go on strike, which would mean spending a lot of money for an incomplete project.

But all this gloom could actually be a boon for the computer entertainment industry. With nothing new on television and poor fare or nothing at all at the theatre, people will have to turn to something for entertainment. Computer games and their console cousins seem like the obvious choice.

Thankfully, actors are not needed to make a good computer game. And the computer-generated characters have yet to form a union of their own, so developers can exploit them at will. (Sorry Lara) Other than a few games, like the Command and Conquer series from Westwood, live actors are hardly ever used anymore. And voice actors don’t fall under the heavy hand of the screen actor’s guild. If worse comes to worse, almost anyone can read the parts of the characters in the games given enough takes.

The GiNdex – our own measure of the health of the game industry – could be in for a surprising surge next year if the strike actually happens. Companies with titles like the wildly popular "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and "The Sims" will be sitting pretty waiting for the deluge of mainstream folks to make their first forced foray into the game market. And hardcore titles might even benefit when the action-movie fans don’t get their blood and guts for a while.

And while nobody will be pleased with bad television and poor movie choices, the silver lining in this cloud will definitely favor the game industry. The industry is poised for another healthy year anyway as the "Console War" gets underway. Couple that with the strike and we might just see a situation where computer games become more popular than movies.

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