April 24th

It seems that class politics’ time has come in games criticism, with labor issues at the forefront of analyses of both the industry and its products this week.

Creators

Working conditions and practices have been a major topic of discussion, with a particular focus on crunch and overwork.

“In the goals/unlocks paradigm, the user grew a plant to unlock a variety. With a F2P model, the user would purchase a seedling to grow a plant. The task ? goal directionality is reversed. Instead of treating gardening like a job you do for some external reward, it treats it like a thing worth investing in for its own sake. Now, the onerous task is the unlock, and the earned reward is the ability to care for and slowly nurture the plant. The game is making a fundamentally different claim about what is a cost and what is valuable. Before, your time spent on Viridi was a cost, and the thing you got in return was some bullshit digital unlock—not the claim we wanted to make.”

Crunch

” It is not medically reasonable to expect an employee to work beyond their functional capacity and still perform to their best standard. Providing an environment where employees are reasonably challenged but not overworked, with enough resources to satisfactorily do their job without having to work overtime, is essential in maintaining a positive psychological climate and subsequently increasing productivity. The more burned out you get, the less you are able to recognise how burned out you are (16).”

Luddites

The harsh working conditions of the high-tech age are enough to make you want to go back to a simpler time, which is something plenty of people in games have been doing lately.

” Throughout the entirety of Shadow of the Colossus you will not encounter a single dead body, skeleton, or corpse. You will never follow a blood trail, or find signs of a struggle splattered across the walls of some dark corridor. Despite this, death is everywhere. It lies on open wastelands stripped bare by the wind, among the piled stones of distant shrines, and concealed in the darkest corners of long forgotten edifices. It’s one of the many design decisions that makes the game a true rarity.”

Laborers

The subject of structured play itself as a form of work arises this week with regard to grinding as well as how the rise of multiplayer modes effectively has players replacing the work that used to be done by AI programmers.

“Many words have been written about why people play the games they do, and the lure of a grind is one of the clearest places to see those motivations at work. Why, exactly, would someone suffer such monotony? We also call going to work “a grind,” after all.”

Sidekicks

Writing on representation has this week addressed the question of not just who is being portrayed, but who is being given agency.

“The game of trolling was a simple way to teach these new users how to conduct themselves online by rewarding those who quickly adapted to the preferred communicative modes and punishing (and often driving away) those who did not.”

Ghosts

Agency also comes to light in writing about the different roles the player can take on, from modder to director to participant in history.

“by removing player agency at critical moments, Haunting Ground commits to Fiona’s subjectivity. The formal elements of the game—sound, image, control—bend to her psychological state, rather than offering clarity to the player. This expressionism reflects the murkier ideas of violation, transgression, and bodily autonomy running through the narrative.”

Homemakers

The work and play of creating a space is addressed through writing on art installations, survivalism, and sausages.

“If you’re determined enough to see that process through, the experience can be euphoric. It’s doubtful you’ll ever have had such an emotional response to a perfectly cooked sausage.”

Warriors

Different titles present different ways of being a friend and a fighter. These three pieces read two games against each other to better understand how mechanics and aesthetics relate to the dynamics of belonging to an army, a society or a friendship group.

“Not only are aspects of gender present, but generational constructs are as well. Grandparents, parents, and children are all bodies experiencing war in varied ways, challenging the normative perceptions of what war is, what war means, what war does, and who survives war.”

Companions

Discussions on the gendered (and species-dependent) division of emotional labor emerge in writing on relationships in game narratives.

“The solution here is to aim at a different set of emotions entirely.  Traditional narratives typically aim at basic emotions like fear, sadness, or happiness, but do so by empathy.  The happy audience member is happy because the heroes are happy.  Interactive fiction best aims at second-order emotions like guilt, pride, or guardianship.  These emotions share a social component in that they are reactions to society’s assumed reaction to one’s own actions.  For the interactive author their social basis is less important than their origin in one’s own actions.  “

Dark Souls 3

The multiplayer modes of Dark Souls 3 bring up more specific questions about what kind of work we do for each other in games.

“You don’t often feel like a hero in Dark Souls. Even after taking down a tough boss, the feeling is exasperation and relief. But you get to play that part when summoned to another world.”

Narrators

Finally, further writing focusing on narrative in games explores the work of the storyteller, be that a character in the story, the authors themselves, or the players.

“Homunculus essentially stands as a proxy for the game designer, feeding you convenient hints for how to approach the improbable solutions to each of your deaths. “Why not try the library?” it suggests. “Oops! I guess it’s the art museum now…” Until now, you have been assuming that these hints are the only way to approach the problem, and that once addressed there is nothing else for you to see or do. In effect, you have given up your personal agency in the service of this digital creation. “Upon the creatures we have made,/ We are, ourselves, at last dependent.”


And with that, I’ll be clocking out for the day. As always, you can support Critical Distance with financial contributions (Patreon, Paypal) or link recommendations (twitter, email).