Well Played: Play Per View

This combination of buzzing sociality in the chat with the chaotic bell-ringing of the streamer’s commercial celebrations turns a “successful” stream into a kind of riotous digital party. Participation in the stream is not merely a question of passive watching or even chatting but also making micropayments to maintain the stream as both a means of subsistence for the streamer and as a lively, interactive place for other viewers. Live streaming thus ends up being a constant performance of crowdfunding as entertainment, like a low-rent telethon

Well Played: Imagined Homeland

In the context of such bleak, broad global political trends, it’s hard to consider gaming communities worthy of much attention. But these communities have established themselves as quasi safe spaces in which fascist ideology can hide in plain sight as it spreads.

Game Boys

Deep forms of play — autonomous, chaotic, queer, and anti-hierarchical — threaten the systems of profit, work, and exploitation. Calls for increased play, joy, and an end to boredom were common slogans and demands among the radical wings of the movements of the 1960s, graffitied on the walls of Paris in May ’68 and broadcast over the radio by the anti-work workers’ movements in Italy. Video games, as designed today, overwhelmingly work to harness and co-opt that energy, to discipline the desire for play into the work ethic, to transform the freedom of creativity, exploration, and questioning into the diligent following of rules and learning of systems.

All Work and All Play

The way major video games are made — by a crew of thousands under exploitative labor conditions, with a dehumanizing division of labor emphasizing small, repetitive tasks — is reflected in the kind of games you get: massive open-world adventures full of thousands of discrete things to do, objects to collect, tasks to complete, and so on, held together by character and design and perhaps a narrative.

Well Played: Store Credit

As paywalls and privileges proliferate around more and more of the things we consume, and as the possibility of sharing the things we buy decreases through digital rights management and other technological shifts, our ownership of even these impoverished commodities becomes less reliable and total. Video games make this logic seem immanent, reasonable, even fun.

Well Played: Battle Royale

Games, like all mass culture, are administered ideology, but to have effective force they must not be too dogmatic or stale — the widespread recognition of vulgar state-produced propaganda as such masks the more insidious but no less propagandistic functioning of culture markets. But to achieve that cover, they tend to appropriate the vitality of emergent culture. When games steal this popular energy, the ideology they convey becomes potentially unreliable.

Well Played: Passive Attack

Video games are not more interactive or creative than previous medium; if anything, they are arguably less. Each video game involves a mastery of a series of digital gestures, controls, contextual clues, or modes of seeing and knowing. While the best games offer space for improvisation, reflection, storytelling, and of course fun, the relation between gamer and game is most commonly one of disciplining the gamer to a set of systematized interactions.

Well Played

Well Played is a monthly column about video games and how they both reflect and shape capitalism’s development. What role do they play in reproducing society, transforming ideology, and sustaining capital’s pool of labor? The answers suggested here are meant as openings rather than conclusive statements; exceptions to some claims may be obvious, but these don’t nullify the general trends, which must be met with social resistance. This series is offered as a contribution to a map of the territory for those who would join that conflict.