Content with the Knowledge Factory

The digital media industry, which has been expanding on the back of the video games sector is now wobbling after a string of layoffs and closures. So it’s asking for a tax break from the provincial government. Does the word “bailout” come to mind? I use the word purposely because video gaming, while laudably building a 21st century knowledge industry in just a few years, is still rooted in the 20th in terms of practices. Its product might be knowledge-based, but its operational style is industrial, much like the car companies back east asking for government help because foreign competition is eating into their once-mighty positions. Video game developers are the modern equivalent of manufacturing plants, where most jobs involve programming and other production-line tasks. I’m guessing that for every job involved in high-level creation, five or ten perform grunt work. In B.C., the industry has essentially used the China model: Become a centre for low-cost, efficient production that draws foreign companies trying to cut costs. We’ve seen from manufacturing and film where that road leads: Other jurisdictions, hungry for those jobs, provide tax breaks that make production even more cost effective. Soon, you’re in a race to the bottom. Now, I’m not saying the industry shouldn’t have done this originally. As in China, or other nations supplying low-cost manufacturing, it’s a way to kick start a new economic sector. But that doesn’t last forever, and eventually, you have to move up to the higher-value creation and design work. This is especially true in today’s high speed world. Here in B.C., we have to move up the food chain as well, taking control of the creative decision making at the top. As is often the case, however, we seem content to rest on our laurels, to take pride in the fact that we built an industry by using our natural (knowledge) resources and location. There is evidence of other thinking around, but overall, the industry appears to still be modern hewers of wood and drawers of water.