Douglas Lain recently posted this video to his Zero Books Youtube channel, https://youtu.be/ueHiAfeksd0. For some context, Zero Books is a leftist publisher that puts out books concerning the culture and philosophy of the Marxist left, including one ya’ll may be familiar with, Kill All Normies.
Anyway, I found this video incredibly interesting. When we think about how we not only consume video games as a medium but also how we discuss the machinations of the companies who make them, we often get lost in insider talk that, once stepped away from, is incredibly concerned with furthering capitalism. Not only the content of games but the culture that game journalists and developers are often steeped in is incredibly capitalistic. Often in games we are mechanically maximizing profit or externalizing our risks much like the corporations many of us on the left have come to abhor, we kill the brown terrorist, we silence the dissenter.
This video explores how the mechanics of video games can often seem right wing, but then Douglas takes an interesting “left” turn in which Douglas makes the argument that play itself can lead to more egalitarian views, that play is truly the basis of revolutionary culture, and sites the Situationist International for their belief that the aims of Socialism should be directed towards a life in which most of society is afforded an ample amount of play, in this way he is able to make the argument that playing games can be, in itself, a radical act. When we play games we do not produce for the ruling class, when we play games we often come together in collective agreement and in complete spontaneity, to achieve a singular goal.
I think most of us can relate to this. When we discuss Socialism we often discuss how the means of production need to be afforded back to the working class and how we need to wrest political power from the capitalists who seek to destroy us, but we rarely discuss what we will do once our aims have been met. The idea is that we will be free to do as wish, we will have true autonomy and therefore we will be able to pursue our more intrinsically expressive selves. For many of us reading the Waypoint forums I believe that means that we would be playing, developing, and discussing more video games.
Let me know what you think about my take on this video or simply the video itself. I think Zero Books is doing excellent work with their podcasts, video series and publishing so I thought I would bring this to ya’ll and see what kind of discussion we could have on it.
i disagree that we dont often talk about what we do after the work is done – i mean, the “fully automated luxury communism” thing is uhhh, pretty prevalent, despite being super shaky ethically
honestly my problem both with What Happens After Socialism and What If This Capitalist Thing Was Socialist, Actually is that ultimately i’m a materialist and this is just… completely pointless to me, bc its not about existing material conditions.
The problem with the “what happens AFTER?” thing is that i think it skips too much to sell people the dream of life getting much much easier under socialism. the reality is that even if The Revolution happened tomorrow there would be so much work to do to mitigate, for example, climate change, the exploitation of the global south, etc etc. “to each according to his need” means very little without “from each according to his ability”, right?
w the second thing arguing that videogames Can Actually Be Socialist! seems very much about like the media object as a world unto itself without referring to the conditions it was made under. like… probably you could make a socialist videogame? but how socialist is it if its produced by a corporation? unless it’s from a worker-owned co-operative then i’m skeptical how “collectivist” it truly is
like this kind of “oh what if” scenario skips over so much work that has to be done right now it’s hard not to see it less about imagining a socialist future and more about testing out ways in which we can paint our existing capitalist reality as Socialist, Actually
this was my huge sticking point with the video. games are a medium of creative work, and in a vacuum any art is not inherently anything, but there is no vacuum in real life. it seems kind of self-evident that any medium can be revolutionary by design, under the right circumstances, none of which exist for us at present. zero books has always struck me as a bit shortsighted in their analysis of pop culture and how it intersects with politics and this video didn’t do much to change that
honestly i was trying to bite my tongue about zero books itself because i have Such Intense Beef w them for kill all normies, new fav of the people who are like at most one “please stop misgendering me” from going full nazi
I’m confused by this; I haven’t read the Kill All Normies but I thought it was a book ostensibly against right wing politics? I don’t really have any strong feelings about Zer0 Books currently so I’m wondering
Regardless, I kind of identify with critiques laid out here in this thread. As for what hasn’t been said, I think the video itself isn’t very good, even by the metrics of other Zer0 Books videos. It’s kind of unclear about its message, and doesn’t really seem to make any concrete point about games or politics. Talking about how Pac Man can be an allegory for capitalist consumption seems like a huge stretch. I was hoping this video would have meaningfully addressed the consumerism culture within games culture, or actually get into the way games use systems and images to convey ideology.
I think what Lain was trying to get at (albeit somewhat opaquely) was how production and participation in capitalism is “gamified”, which is where the examples of Carpenter’s democratic Pong came in. Games can contextualize our actions with systems and usually reward desired play. Similarly, capitalism can develop systems in which our actions are systematized and we can be rewarded for desired behavior. That’s at least the vibe I was getting from the video, but again, it’s not very well explained.
long story short, nagle’s book seeks to examine the links between the alt-right and the online communities that helped create it in the first place, but it doesnt draw any meaningful conclusions that anyone who cares about the topic probably didn’t already intuit from simply being online. she also ends up revealing a great deal about her own reactionary ideations. this review i found does a good job of summing up the issues i have with the book
I don’t see much discussion about the inherent qualities of politics in the video game sphere pretty much ever. Not in any meaningful way to distinguish any one game from another based upon their politics or how they engage said politics with their players. Even Waypoint often says “this thing has bad politics” when something is blatantly trying to fuck around with reactionary identity politics and that’s about as far as they go. For instance, Frostpunk was able to vividly portray an attempt at collectivism through struggle and basically Waypoint went as far as to say “the politics are interesting”.
I also am unclear on your point that ideazing and figuring out how a communist society would work is somehow counter productive. It seems to me to be the entire socialist project at this point is to use thought experiments and political and cultural critique to find where will land as a society upon the failing of capitalism. Having ideas about one portion of the timeline shouldn’t preclude one from thinking about how we get there.
I do agree that materially there are more IMPORTANT questions but I don’t see those being discussed in media either.
I don’t think zero books has a firm grasp on cultural critique at all but I also don’t see critique in this vein for the video game medium happening anywhere else to any degree of sophistication. I’d like to be pointed there if it is happening out there. Zizek’s work seems to be the only thing I can really find but then again I hadn’t found anywhere really that has been a home to the leftism which I espouse until very recently.
Those kinds of discussions are definitely happening around video games in academia; there are a quite a few journals nowadays solely devoted to video games. But critiques that go that far in depth take a lot of time and work, and there are a lot of video games coming out, which makes it a tougher proposition, I think. It seems to me that there are plenty of discussions about the politics of video games happening on these very forums, though. And I always thought the Waypoint crew did a better job of acknowledging that element of games than most.