Aleena Chia is a PhD candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University where she is currently writing her dissertation, “Just Add Work: Emergence, Compensation, and Productivity in Participatory Game Worlds.” This research draws from a year and a half of ethnographic fieldwork with player organizations of digital and live-action role-playing games, and investigates the cultural politics of fantasy and collectivity, ideologies of productivism, and systems of social compensation, as they interplay in branded game worlds. Her research fields include digital media, game studies, and consumer culture. Her writing has been published in American Behavioral Scientist and Antenna, a media studies blog.
Magic Nerd Money: Work and Compensation in/of Ludic Bureaucracies
This study draws from 18 months of ethnographic research with online collectivities formed around World of Darkness and EVE Online - gaming properties managed by CCP Games. Reconstructing two transformative clashes between game players and producers, I suggest how contrastive communicative scales, structures, and understandings of laborious contributions to a transmedial commons may account for different modes of collective action in gaming communities and publics. The bureaucratic community structure of World of Darkness may have facilitated collective legal action (countersue for copyright infringement) against producers that transgressed the contractual frame between players and producers. Conversely, the network enterprise structure of the EVE Online public may have facilitated collective ludic action (in-game protest and rage-quits) contained within and arguably absorbed by the contractual frame, through discursive mechanisms of community management. In contrast to the voluntary, modular, flexible, and creative work that make up consumer publics, consumer bureaucracies are maintained by obligatory work that is often tedious, feminized, and undervalued. In other words, unlike unpaid digital labor of fans and gamers, the labor in consumer bureaucracies feels unmistakably like work. Unlike unpaid digital labor that can be compensated by informal reputation systems, bureaucratic work demands compensation with ludic rewards in highly codified systems that anchor and perpetuate player investment. This compensation system highlights the strengths and weaknesses of consumer bureaucracies - non-portable investments of labor facilitate enhanced motivations for collective action; however, coordination capacities limit its operational complexity and scale. This study suggests that bureaucratic labors of community maintenance are key to facilitating collective action that exceeds ludic and corporate frames of consumer engagement, and proposes non-monetary compensation systems as models for enhancing recognition and remuneration. Furthermore, in place of hybrid neologisms such as playbor and prosumerism, this analysis proposes the concept of hobbies which has historically emphasized the integration of labor and leisure.