Immaterial Labor: The Gamer Bourgeoisie and Proletariat

Services have begun to be incorporated into online gaming, cropping up to enhance game play, whether current or in production.  What has taken root is the notion that the gamer can become involved in the process of content creation if they transition their role from passive to active.  This process if found through guilds that “serve as online portfolios when negotiating deals with companies,”  (Zhang and Fung 7) in which memberships is contingent upon a gamer’s prior knowledge of game culture and mechanics.  In doing such they can search for game bugs, advertise event to new players or recruit new members.  This has given rise to immaterial labor, defined as “…labor that produces an immaterial good, such as a service, a cultural product, knowledge, or communication,”  and its power lies not within the game developers but the members that populate guilds and such (Zhang and Fung 4).

What does this mean for gamers and game play?  Should it be assumed that after playing gamers would become the newest employee in the ad-hoc department of “gamers turned developers?  For some online games this is the case, however it is important to look at the change in dynamic that this causes for gamers and game play.  Excitement and enjoyment used to be found through experiencing “flow”, which has been termed as optimal experience and optimal performance exhibited following mastery of the game’s mechanics (Voiskounsky et al. 263).  Is the fun no longer inhabiting “the virtual world” but “creating the virtual world?”

The expanded role of the gamer comes at a great cost to game developing companies.  Gamers turned developers will begin to find enjoyment in power and control, constantly looking towards capturing that feeling.  Pride of one’s work can go along way, and if the loyalty of a gamer is transferred from company to their own work, then development has shifted.  Game companies would be foolish to ignore the collective power of an increasing community of amateur gamers who have been trained to create games.  If gamers turned developers are dissatisfied with their treatment or the gaming industry then they need only rise up and revolt.  It may not be the epic tale of proletariat vs. bourgeoisie that Marx was talking about, but I think it will do.

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Voiskounsky, Alexander E., Olga V. Mitina, and Anastasiya A. Avetisova. “Playing Online Games: Flow Experience.” Psychnology Journal 2.3 (2004): 259-281.

Zhang, Lin, and Anthony YH Fung. “Working as playing? Consumer labor, guild and the secondary industry of online gaming in China.” New Media & Society(2013).

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