Ergin Bulut is currently an assistant professor at the Department of Media and Visual Arts at koc University, Istanbul, Turkey. His research interests cover political economy of media and media labor, critical/cultural studies, game studies, and philosophy of technology. He teaches in the following areas: globalization of culture and communication; sociology of communication and information; political economy of information. His writings have appeared in TV and New Media; Globalization, Societies and Education; and Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies. He is the co-editor of Cognitive Capitalism, Education, and Digital Labor (Peter Lang, 2011).
The Trade Off Between Financial Security and Autonomy in the Video Game Industry: A Discussion on Corporatization, Financialization, and Precarization
Discussions on digital labor have mostly been dominated by either a myth focusing on the novelties and friction-free nature of 21st century or the lack of a capacity to creatively organize alternative modes of being and work. Drawing on insights of autonomous Marxism and findings from my 2.5-year ethnographic work in a medium-sized video game studio (pseudonym Super Mario) in the USA, this presentation/conference paper highlights the ways in which life and work even in Super Mario – the flagship studio of a major publisher (pseudonym Digital Creatives) – is precarious due to financialization.
How do we qualify precarity in this studio, then? I argue that as an “affective way of life” (Berlant, 2011), precarity is experienced independently of the performance of digital laborers since the future of the game developers are intricately linked to Digital Creatives through processes of financialization. In this process, performance of stock prices, assets and investments of Digital Creatives highly matter as far as the working lives of the game developers are concerned. Furthermore, financialization entails lack of information from the parent company, which is crucial to the vitality and playfulness of digital laborers in the studio.
Ultimately, while financialization and precarization create dissent across different sections of the workforce, risk is handled individually (Neff, 2012). While most of the game developers have a libertarian attitude towards work, first-hand experience of precarity has also brought about issues of reflexivity with respect to whether creative labor is immune from processes of proletarianization especially among the more vulnerable sections of the studio.