Red Dead Redemption 2 and the problems with creative work


I think this article offers an interesting insight to the discussion around RDR2 but also how we societally view work in “creative” fields. Choice excerpts include:

But if we want to understand work today, it helps to know how we got here. One reason the video game industry gets away with “crunch” is that we tend to have a higher tolerance for long hours in creative industries because we believe that its workers are doing what they love (and given the number of stories we have about the sacrifices art supposedly demands, we may even expect it). But, like so many things in culture industries, these are simply exaggerated versions of broader phenomena: namely the expectation that we should find “meaning” in our work.

The other, more sobering side of the story is that many of us now expect to find work we love, and that, for those of us lucky enough to have found it, we will work ourselves half to death. (That goes for games journalists and academics too, by the way). In a sense, by demanding meaningful work, we got exactly what we asked for — just not, perhaps, what we really desired.

“What crunch in places like Rockstar reveals is that the labor-capital relationship is pretty much the same,” explains Daniel Joesph, a political economist a the University of Toronto. “Whether it’s migrant workers in Shenzen or Rockstar employees in Brooklyn, there is a throughline for workers in both hardware and software, skilled and ‘unskilled’, to see the deep exploitation that both sets of workers experience.”
From designers seeking “meaningful” work in New York, to skilled but underpaid animation artists in Shanghai, to migrant workers toiling under some of the most horrific working conditions ever devised by humankind, the game industry adapts to the changing material and subjective conditions across the world to exploit workers in the most complete form it can.


That’s a really insightful article, thanks for sharing it! I love how it zooms out from the immediate issues with Rockstar to consider the state of labor on a global scale, and in turn showing the inherent privilege of who gets to pursue what they love. I had the unique perspective of growing up as an immigrant kid in a community of upper-middle class, native-born Americans. How we differed in our views of labor was something I thought a lot about, even if I lacked the vocabulary to express it at the time.

As a child, my parents would tell me that “fun” jobs (i.e. writing about or making video games) were for white people, and my brown ass better be doing something “useful” like medicine, accounting, engineering, or law. I would resent my peers who talked about picking college majors because it sounded interesting, whereas I had to pick based on ROI and earning potential. In retrospect, it was a mentality that served me well in a Great Recession world, and it pre-emptively took me out of the exploitation brought about from doing something I liked. Instead, I was able to do the bare minimum in engineering, knowing from day one I was in it for the paycheck alone.

But even then I have privilege, as there were millions of people back in my parents’ home country doing the rote outsourced labor that lets me sit at a desk all day making several times the salary that they do. And so the exploitation of capitalism goes round and round, simultaneously enriching and impoverishing us all (well, maybe not impoverishing the 1%).

I can’t help but empathize a little with the people saying, in response to the Rockstar labor issues, that we are all compromised, so why not just spend our hard earned dollars for what is expected to be truly a feat of game design? It’s so exhausting to think about this system, day-in, day-out, but it’s also important to talk about it, and make small decisions each day to make the system more equitable. I don’t know, I’m not going to judge the people that buy RDR2, especially when the primary reason that I’m not going to buy it is because I’m burnt out on Rockstar’s approach to open world design. But at least we can talk about this stuff, and that’s a start.


growing up has meant coming to realize that the phrase “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” effectively implies that if your work is so fun/cool that it takes you past some undefined ‘joy threshold’, you are actually elevated above and beyond capitalism, and will live outside of that economic construct entirely, as in some kind of fucking moneyless happiness pocket dimension


I just played through Tacoma for the first time Saturday, so that last quote about the labor-capital relationship is seriously resonating with me. Gonna spoil the general premise, but not any story beats, for Tacoma for anyone that’s concerned with that: The player character is a subcontractor, and so is the entire crew of the Tacoma - a crew of engineers and doctors, who know how to fucking run a space station. They’re extremely skilled, but they’re on yearly contracts. It’s unbelievable. But we’re not really that far off, are we?