Monday, November 19, 2012

Labor Practices in Video Game Design

Keywords: Video game, work conditions, Rockstar

In the article Gender and Labor in the Video Game Workplace by Nina B. Huntemann, she states that the work conditions of game development “challenge assumptions about digital labor and the ‘cool factor’ of creative production.”  The assumptions that she is referring too are the assumptions that a job in the creative industries, especially a job in video game development, are dream jobs, with relaxed dress code, open-space offices, flexible hours, and good pay, so who wouldn’t want a job like that?  In reality however, a job in creative production, specifically video game development, is not nearly this glamorous and laid back.  In the article, a group of wives whose husbands are employed by Rockstar, a video game developing company, complain about the working conditions that their significant others are subject to.  The wives complaints include “prolonged unpaid overtime (referred to in the industry as “crunch time”), declining morale and depression, physical and emotional suffering, lack of raises or cost of living increases despite record-breaking game sales, and the toll these working conditions take on the domestic life of employees, spouses and their children.”  Employees complain of dealing with inhumane deadlines and working hours, and the employees and their families are suffering because of it.

Subpar working conditions affect production in all industries in this Post-Fordist era, and it is definitely seen in the video game industry.  It’s an old saying that you do your best work when you are happy and enjoy what you’re doing, and from my previous experiences this saying is definitely true, so these working conditions are definitely affecting the production of the games.  If the employees designing and producing the games aren’t happy, then the production and design of videogames will suffer.  As a slight gamer myself, I have seen a bit of this lately.  Besides the franchise games like Call of Duty, Halo, FIFA, and Madden to name a few, no games have really been catching my eye like they used to.  It seems like the games are not nearly as creative as they used to be, and I believe this is a direct result of the unhappy employees in the video game industry.

This phenomenon in the video game industry as well as other creative industries is an example of the push towards casual work in today’s ‘symbolic economy’.  The employees are seeing more flexibility and creative control in their workplaces; however this relaxed atmosphere leads to intense periods of crunch time, which are periods of intense work that can have workers working up to 20 hours a day, in order to meet deadlines and such.  Because of these intense periods of work, which are getting longer and more frequent, the employees are suffering, and will continue to suffer unless they organize and fight for better work conditions.

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