2.v Game-Design Models and the Digital Economy

Beller, Jonathan. 2006. The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press.

Beller posits new media (including cinema, television, video, computers, and the Internet) as the dominant mode of production in global, postindustrial capitalism. He argues that new media function as deterritorialized factories wherein spectators engage in value-productive labour. Beller explains that the commodification of experience and leisure time emerges because the exchange value of a commodity increases the more the commodity image gets consumed. Furthermore, the spectator or consumer performs the labour of a worker, beyond normal working hours, because watching becomes a productive labour act for which the spectator is paid in enjoyment. Beller provides numerous examples to demonstrate how this process takes place in current capitalist environments.

—. 2006/07. “Paying Attention.” Cabinet 24: n.p. http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/24/beller.php.

Beller argues that attention is a commodity in the current neoliberal, global capitalist economy. In the twenty-first century media landscape, attention is constantly traded for information, whether in the form of media buyers in the advertising industry, in the entertainment economy (e.g., cinema, video games), or through content and information sharing in social networks. And attention is not only a commodity, but can be seen as productive labour, since attention produces capital. Using cinema as an example, Beller explains that the attention economy relies on the visual gaze and subsequent value production through the viewer; he describes this as a process wherein surplus value is extracted from spectators in deterritorialized factories that produce value for media companies. This process enables productive labour as well as the social cooperation necessary to maintain the capitalist hierarchy.

Bogost, Ian. 2007. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bogost discusses his theory that video games are an expressive media making arguments through procedural rhetoric—the practice of persuasion through processes, and, in Bogost’s case, computational processes in particular. According to Bogost, procedural computer representation differentiates itself from textual, visual, and plastic representation in that it is the only system in which process can be represented with process. He focuses on persuasive games, which he defines as “videogames that mount procedural rhetorics effectively” to influence players (46). Bogost reviews in detail the persuasive capabilities of video games in the realms of politics, advertising, and education from a theoretical and a game-design perspective.

—. 2012. Alien Phenomenology, or, What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bogost proposes a form of study that goes beyond the way objects relate to humans. Rather than considering ideas as more valuable than things and our sense of being as the only way of being, Bogost suggests that we should begin to look at things through relations between object and object. In objectoriented ontology (OOO), things are at the centre of being, everything exists equally, and nothing (including humans) has special status. As an alternative term to OOO, Bogost suggests “unit operations.” The term “unit” neither implies a subject nor requires materiality. Similarly, the term “operations” more accurately describes the processes in which all units behave and interact. Through the approaches of ontography (what reveals the object’s existence and relations) and metaphorism (using metaphor to speculate about the unknowable), the phenomenology of units (or things or objects) can be studied, described, and analyzed while recognizing that we as humans cannot actually know what it means to be a thing. An OOO approach suggests a new form of humanism that does not rely on the correlational system of humans.

Dyer-Witheford, Nick, and Greig de Peuter. 2009. Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter argue that video games are a media of Empire—Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s notion of a hypercapitalist sphere where the economic, cultural, and political issues of global capitalism take place in the same way as in the physical world. The authors’ political critique relies on the concept that video games used to be primarily fun or pleasureful media, and now have been revealed to include facets of labour, authority, and capital. Drawing from Hardt and Negri, autonomist Marxism, and poststructuralist radicalism, Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter note the capitalist domination in video games in the form of network power, with multiple institutional agencies shaping and participating in the video game space. Virtual games are examples of Empire that highlight its constitution and conflicts, maintaining it and, at times, offering the space to challenge and rebel against it.

Grimes, Sara M., and Andrew Feenberg. 2009. “Rationalizing Play: A Critical Theory of Digital Gaming.” The Information Society 25 (2): 105–18.  doi:10.1080/01972240802701643.

Grimes and Feenberg propose their theory of socially rationalized games through an analysis of World of Warcraft. They suggest that the societal forms of motivation developing systemically out of MMOGs progressively diminish the playfulness associated with the discovery-based motivation intrinsic to these environments. Like Deterding et al. (2011), Grimes and Feenberg acknowledge their dependence on Caillois’s distinction between ludus and paidia (1961) in developing their case for video games as systems of social rationality that change the experience of play through the forms of standardization that occur in their large-scale use.

Galloway, Alexander R. 2006. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Based on the argument that video games are actions, Galloway develops a four-part system that incorporates theoretical insights while treating video games as material objects, regarding them as an active and material medium. Following these assumptions, Galloway differentiates between machine actions (by the computer software and hardware) and operator actions (by the players). Furthermore, he recognizes that games are made up of diegetic space (the sphere of narrative action) and nondiegetic space (elements that are inside the game apparatus, but outside the distinct character and story world). Between these categories emerge four game actions that comprise Galloway’s system: the diegetic machine act, the nondiegetic operator act, the diegetic operator act, and the nondiegetic machine act. Building on this structure, the essays provide examples of video games and other media and look at gaming practices to analyze video games as a cultural form that is actively played rather than read or watched.

Hayles, N. Katherine. 2007. “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes.” Profession: 187–99.

Hayles examines the differences in cognitive styles between deep attention and hyper attention. Deep attention, common in the humanities, concentrates on a single object for an extended period and ignores other stimuli. Hyper attention switches the focus of attention rapidly and requires stimulation. Rather than advocating for one or the other cognitive mode, Hayles calls for a change in education systems that allows for both types of attention. Hayles notes that hyper attention can still be focused on single activities for long periods of time, e.g., in video games. Video games, however, offer high levels of stimulation through the escalating series of rewards that players experience, as well as feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This, Hayles suggests, offers important insights for educators, especially in consideration of the digital space and how technology can be used in pedagogical environments. Hayles offers examples of possible approaches to show that critical interpretation and practices common in the humanities can be taught to and applied by all students, whether they are more comfortable with hyper attention or deep attention, if presented in the right way.

McGonigal, Jane. 2011. Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin.

McGonigal frames her argument under a bold statement that reality is broken, especially when compared to games. Drawing upon her own experiences as an independent game designer (see worldwithoutoil.org) and building on definitions of games and utopia from the work of Bernard Suits, McGonigal argues that the global ascendance of video games as a cultural form signals a purposeful escape from established societal structures. In McGonigal’s view, video games are fulfilling genuine intrinsic human needs—teaching, inspiring, engaging, and building communities—in ways that reality is no longer able to. Games and game design are not just a pastime and a craft, but instead offer current ways of thinking and leading in order to effect real changes in the world. McGonigal contends that as reality is broken, video game designers must set out to recreate it.

Nakamura, Lisa. 2009. “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 26 (2): 128–44. doi:10.1080/15295030902860252.

Nakamura analyzes the racialization of informational labor in MMOs generally and World of Warcraft specifically. Chinese player workers, discriminatingly called “Chinese gold farmers” in the player community, are racialized and dehumanized by other World of Warcraft players. Analyzing examples of machinama that negatively present and attach Chinese player workers, such as the well-known machinama Ni Hao, Nakamura points out the many ways in which these user-generated videos produce racist narratives that rely on the game world and thus distance themselves from “real world” racism. Gold farming as a labour practice, Nakamura argues, reveals the reality of the exploitative digital economy and informationalized capitalism. Immaterial labour that often gets treated as play in fact becomes pure, real work for gold farmers who work 12-hour shifts in factory-like settings for incredibly low wages. These worker players do not have the opportunity to play the game that they are experts in. While other players have the opportunity to fully engage in the games as a leisure activity and even produce additional game-related content—such as the racist, dehumanizing machinama that Nakamura analyzes—for fun, player workers do not have the opportunity to engage with the game in such a way. Instead, they become disliked, racialized, discriminated non-player characters.

—. 2013. “‘Words With Friends’: Socially Networked Reading on Goodreads.” PMLA 128 (1): 238–43. https://lnakamur.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/nakamura-22words-with-friends22-pmla.pdf.

Nakamura considers the cultural shift  toward electronic literature, noting the move from p-books (print books) to e-books, and asks how reading changes in digital environments. Rather than relying primarily on the hardware contexts of digital environments, digital reading follows social media in claiming a more service-based nature. Nakamura points out that books have always promoted forms of social networking, and she predicts a continuation of such social behavior in the current digital generation. Goodreads provides a highly developed example of what a social, digital reading environment can look like: it contains social networking elements (e.g., inbox, notifications, status ticker), links to other social networks, invitation generators to add friends, and an option to be used in the format of different apps. Bookshelves are public and reading data is shared, allowing for a variety of social forms of engagement. However, Nakamura notes that this also turns users into collectable objects; by participating in an environment like Goodreads, users share their data and become items in a database. Thus the reader becomes a labourer by engaging in activities that combine play and labour. Although Goodreads positions itself as a passive conduit that facilitates folksonomic creation and individual contribution, Nakamura argues that reading is a social, economic, and cultural activity that is never passive.

Schenold, Terry. 2011. “The ‘Rattomorphism’ of Gamification.” Critical Gaming Project. https://depts.washington.edu/critgame/wordpress/2011/11/the-rattomorphism-of-gamification/.

Schenold offers a strong critique of gamification, using the notion of “rattomorphism” (as termed by Arthur Koestler and applied by Alfie Kohn) to describe the common rewardsand incentive-driven conditioning of users. While such an approach may be effective in the short term, Schenold likens it to “digital meth,” arguing that the incentivized activities of gamification quickly become corrosive, and any form of attentiveness or creativity that the user may have been engaged in falls apart quickly. Finally, Schenold points out that there is no game layer, because games cannot merely be stripped down to assemblages of techniques. Instead, there are reward layers or feedback layers that may draw inspiration from games, but merely “address our inner rat, not our inner ‘gamer’” (n.p.).

Scholz, Trebor, ed. 2013. Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge.

This collection of essays examines the current digital space as a labour site or factory, and what implications this structure—dominated by profit-driven, oligarchic owners—has on the digital worker today. The authors recognize a continuation of traditional economies in the digital space, which enables free labour that may not seem like labour at all. While the social web may appear free, users pay through their participation and with their data, ultimately being sold as the product that they also consume. This raises a question about the difference between work and play online: digital activities often cloud the differentiation between nonproductive leisure activity and productive work activity. Playbor (play/labor) is an aspect of the gift economy, where users perform labour for fun. Notably, in his essay “Considerations on a Hacker Manifesto” (69–75), McKenzie Wark cautions against the rhetoric of gamification, arguing that it is a simulation of the gift economy, since it extracts labour in the form of play within a reciprocal structure that is not driven by the players but instead by business requirements.

Suits, Bernard. 2005. The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. Introduction by Thomas Hurka. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

This philosophical dialogue, originally published in 1978, has been recognized as among the underrated philosophical works of the twentieth century. The book suggests that philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s conception of games as sharing certain family resemblances is insufficiently clear. Suits conceives of playing a game as a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. A game is comprised of a goal, means of achieving that goal, rules, and what Suits calls the “lusory attitude,” or the acceptance by players of inefficient rules for reaching the goal.

Wark, McKenzie. 2007. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wark engages in a theoretical discourse about our everyday lives by discussing concepts of meaning, space, nuanced thinking, the work/play dichotomy, subjectivity, and resistance or social change through examples of video games. He regards the “real world” as divided into games, thus deeming it a gamespace that exists everywhere. Because of this spread of the gamespace, play has become work and work has become play. In order to engage in a critical theory of action, Wark presses for play from within the game against gamespace. Wark encourages an active approach to theory that overcomes social binaries such as work/play by engaging in gamer subjectivity in order to delve deeply into gamespace. Overall, Wark encourages a form of play in and against gamespace that engenders new concepts.