I Wanna Be Literated #217

I Wanna Be Literated #217

Monday, 20 April 2020

Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle
by Jamie Woodcock

It’s strange for me to think just how engrossed I was in the gamer lifestyle when I was a kid. I think it might have been because I was an unmotivated, unimaginative kid, but I was deeply tuned into video games for as long as I could remember. My brother was into them, so he got me started, and I just upped the ante. I would read magazines, carefully weigh the pros and cons of a game if I was going to spend my hard-earned allowance on it, and wait it out when the new console season would happen to pick a winner. I had and Atari 2600, Atari 7800, NES, Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Playstation, & PS2. Then, I realized that I was keeping up with news for a hobby I no longer had. I just stopped playing video games seriously. Maybe because I didn’t have the time, or thought they were a huge waste of my time. It was hard to do, but I had to stop my Electronic Gaming Monthly subscription. I’ve been happy watching video game culture from the sidelines, probably because it’s been embedded in myDNA. I can feel Super Mario Bothers 3, Street Fighter II, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Final Fantasy 7 coursing through my veins. They’re part of me.

For someone who paid so much attention to video games as a kid, it’s funny how I never considered just what went into making my video games. That’s something Jamie Woodcock explores in his book Marx at the Arcade. I don’t think it’s news to anyone that video games and consoles aren’t exactly assembled in the US, and that’s not because other countries do it better, but because there’s some exploitation at play. The games might be designed and programmed here, but as you can imagine, they’re done within the current capitalist corporate framework, and as such, are subject to all the benefits and setbacks that come with it.

Marx at the Arcade follows a trajectory that’s efficient and easy to follow. First, Woodcock argues the importance of understanding how video games are made, because they are big business these days. Then, the company making video games lures in workers by associating the pleasure of playing a game with making one. Of course, they are two very different things: the company is simply trying to own the creativity needed to make games for people who like to play games for real money. Playing a game (a good one, at least), can be freeing, use creativity, or be mindless fun, while making a game involves a goals-based corporate structure, a hierarchy of roles, and long hours to the point of almost sacrificing your entire social life. At least that’s the case when you’re working for a bigger game developer. And this is an immense process, involving programmers, coders, designers, artists, engineers, testers and other talents numbering up to the hundreds. Each person’s task is boiled down to a deliverable, abstracted from the whole. Sometimes even the end product is deceptive, like with many first person shooters, which associate winning a war or battle with the actions of one soldier. A perfect advertisement for the army. Then, the game is assembled by low wage earning workers in sweatshop-like working conditions.

In the end, Woodcock argues that understanding how video games are made is important because it helps us further understand how capitalism works. It’s an important read for gamers and shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with how capitalism works on a grand scale in a corporation. This is a fresh angle on an old favorite.

Get it from Haymarket books.

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