Games of Multitude

[…] An analysis of the multitude’s relation to media after 2001 cannot, then, just applaud “indymedia.” Rather, it has to recognize what Matteo Pasquinelli (2006) describes as conditions of “immaterial civil war” (see also Lovink and Schneider 2003). New media such as Web 2.0 applications, social software, the blogosphere, and, of course, recent generations of virtual games are both the terrain and the prize of a pitched battle, fought twenty-four hours a day across innumerable digital devices and platforms, between two sides of the multitude’s collective subjectivity—creative dissidence and profitable compliance. On the one side are the prospects for what theorists such as Steve Best and Douglas Kellner (2004) and Henry Giroux (2006) term “interactive spectacle,” in which the participatory capacities of digital machines are captured to reinforce imperial power; on the other, the possibilities that Steven Duncomb (2007) identifies when he discusses opportunities for “ethical spectacles” that turn media dream-worlds to radical ends.

Tracking this ambivalence is the project of this book. So far we have focused on how virtual games reinforce actual Empire. Yet our analysis also revealed conflict, from the unauthorized creativity of the first game makers to the online denunciation of labor exploitation by EA Spouse, to Xbox hacking, to guerrilla war simulators, to MMO players’ transgressions and the controversies over the modding of GTA. Games and gamers get out of the control of their corporate military sponsors. Many of these lines of flight are recouped by game capital, and some are black holes of pointless or destructive energy, but all persuade us that it isn’t quite “game over” yet. Game culture is full of glibly promoted “empowerment” and slickly marketed “participation” that provide game capital free labor and expanded revenues. Yet it is also and simultaneously shot through with instances of player self-organization, from warez collectives to tactical game makers, which intersect with movements against Empire. Despite everything, as Hardt and Negri say, “the spectacle of imperial order is not an iron-clad world, but actually opens up the real possibility of its overturning” (2000, 324). Games of Empire are thus also games of multitude.

So we turn now to what Alexander Galloway dubs “counter gaming”: the prospect of playing against—and beyond—games of Empire (2006, 107–26). We survey six pathways of multitudinous activity that can be seen, sensed, or speculated on at the margins—and sometimes deep in the heart—of contemporary video game culture: counterplay, or acts of contestation within and against the ideologies of individual games of Empire; dissonant development, the emergence of critical content in a few mainstream games; tactical games designed by activists to disseminate radical social critique; polity simulators, associated with the educational and training projects of the “serious games” movement; the self-organized worlds of players producing game content independently of commercial studios, especially in MMOs; and finally software commons challenging restrictions on, and monopoly control over, game-related intellectual property. Not all these often-intersecting paths are as explicitly militant as the “street games” with which we started this chapter; many are tentative, and some, skeptics may think, trivial. But though gamers’ contribution to toppling the global power structures will, we suspect, be modest, it is not as irrelevant as some might suppose.

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Empire@Play: Virtual Games and Global Capitalism

Originally published in CTheory (2009).

Amidst the current convulsions, global capitalism has one consolation left for its increasingly desperate subjects: you may have lost your job (or will never be able to retire from it), you can’t afford to go out, but you can always stay home (if you still have one) and play a video game. As Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns and Merrill Lynch fell and General Motors, Ford and Chrysler reeled round the edge of their grave, North American sales of game hardware and software hit all-time highs in 2008. Forecasters claimed virtual play was recession-proof; a maturing audience of stay-at-home gamers would cocoon around the Wii, Xbox360 or PS3, or migrate to World of Warcraft or Second Life, to enjoy a diversion from economic disaster. Such estimates of game-business resilience may prove optimistic: by 2009 job losses were hitting industry behemoths such as Sony and Electronic Arts (EA). But this latest iteration of bread-and-circuses culture-theory nevertheless provides a timely entry for a discussion of digital games as exemplary media of contemporary Empire.

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‘EA Spouse’ and the Crisis of Video Game Labour: Enjoyment, Exclusion, Exploitation, Exodus

Originally published in Canadian Journal of Communication (2006).

The blog postings of “EA Spouse,” partner of an exhausted video game programmer, have catalyzed discussion of epidemic overwork in the digital play industry. This paper analyzes the crisis of labour in this glamorous new medium. After a brief overview of the industry and its production process, we discuss its labour conditions under four headings. “Enjoyment” examines the real pleasures game workers find at their jobs. “Exclusion” discusses the gendering of game work. “Exploitation” investigates the corporate processes that drive toward a work culture of extreme hours and the consequences game workers suffer. “Exodus” looks at current attempts by workers to escape this predicament – attempts including legal action, educational efforts, entrepreneurial flight, and union organizing.

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A Playful Multitude? Mobilising and Counter-Mobilising Immaterial Game Labour

This article is a preliminary portrait of work in the video and computer game development industry, a sector of creative, cognitive labour that exemplifies the allure of new media work. For millions of young men (and many aging ones, and some women) from Shanghai to Montréal, a job making virtual games seems employment nirvana – a promise of being paid to play. But just as game development studios typify the gloss of new media labour they also expose its dark side. Drawing on interviews we conducted with game developers in Canada, this article examines the conditions of digital game labour, this cultural industry’s “work as play” mantra, the pleasures and potentialities of game production, the blemishes that mar this attractive vista, and the new infractions these tensions provoke.

In addition to looking at how game labour is mobilised in commercial game development, we also consider in this article how game labour is counter-mobilised – dissident directions that are emerging in the subjectivities, organisation, and creations of this form of new media labour. From tactical games created in the context of political activism to experiments in open-source game development, there are promising signs of game designers and audiences creatively reorienting their playful dispositions and intellectual capacities toward the subversion of the very logics of expropriation, commodification, and corporatisation that sustain the digital play industry in particular and global capital in general.

read full article at Fibreculture Journal