Socialism and Gaming


#1

This past April, Paolo Pedercini published an essay titled “Gaming under socialism” in which he lays out a vision of socialism in which “big game companies would be run cooperatively by workers. They would be confederated to allow the sharing of resources while maintaining a good deal of creative autonomy.” In addition, he posits that the “rise of independent development already gives us a glimpse of a socialist future in which game makers can define their own labor practices, share revenues more equitably, and be less subservient to publishers and marketers. What is still missing, especially in the United States, are structures to support independent efforts.”

Yesterday, Jacobin Magazine released an interview with Paolo, “Socialism at Play”.

Given that left leaning and the anti-capitalist sentiments that have been expressed on Waypoint in a variety of pieces and podcasts, I thought these two articles may be of interest to the forum. While I cannot offer any profound thoughts of my own I am keen to hear/read those of others.


#2

Oh gosh this is exactly the kind of thing I’m interested in, thank you!


#3

Thank you for posting this. I’m saving this for tomorrow because it’s very late right now on my side of the planet. But really looking forward to read both articles <3


#4

I’ve only read the “Gaming under Socialism” article so far. I don’t know as much about socialism as Pedercini, but I have some skepticism about a few of his points although I share most of his optimism.
I find the public funding of the arts part interesting. The idea of a institution of large-scale game-making that game-makers look up to the way scientifically oriented folks look up to NASA is a neat idea. It’s hard for me to imagine that having democratic support for funds though (probably because of the current attitudes toward public-funded arts in the United States right now).
His idea that we would end up with backwards-compatibility and a single platform seems unlikely and unappealing to me. I like that there is a diversity of platforms and the idea that designers and engineers can make platforms that vary in their balance of strengths. I don’t think there would be console-exclusives for profit reasons, but I could see a platform designed for simulation games and another designed weighted towards graphical fidelity. And having those strengths might depend on older games not being supported.
I speculate that the biggest difference would be in the diversity of people making games and a wider variety of motivations for making them. If medical-care, shelter, means, and leisure-time being provided is standard for everyone, the time-consumptive aspect of game-making would be less of an issue. I suspect that there would be many more small games made than enormous collective efforts, but maybe not since games might regularly make content production more accessible like in Second-Life.
I suspect that the public would allot labor to the necessary infrastructures hardware and software necessary for making, distributing, and playing games more than games themselves.
A lot of what Pedercini imagines is already present in fan-communities.

That was all pretty scattered. I’m practicing typing with proper finger-placement so my thoughts don’t flow at the pace I’m acclimated to.


#5

I’m at work so can’t reply fully but will read and absorb and maybe contribute later. Briefly though on how Canada approaches gaming with a semi-socialist/semi-capitalist approach.

There are a number of funding programs and tax incentives that exist both Federally and within each province that create and foster industries to varying degrees. To some degree this all needs to be looked at under the umbrella of the fact that we have a health care system and a semi-reasonable/okay support system of Welfare.

Some super quick notes.

  • What it allows to some extent is the ability to ‘fail’ without worrying about being unable to provide. It, arguably, encourages great exploration and experimentation in an environment where you can take larger risks knowing some basics are covered.
  • That said many of the funding programs have capitalist retrains/requirements put on them. The largest game funding program, “The Canadian Media Fund” requires a strong business case and takes percentages of profits. They ultimately only fund programs that will have a strong return on investment.
  • Many funding programs, however, create caveats for traditionally underserved and under represented groups. This includes Indigenous populations and minority language funds that can only be accessed by people who meet specific requirements.

That’s a super thin overview of a very small portion of what Canada does with games. My primary point being that a more socialist approach to governing can allow for greater experimentation, expression of non-capitalist ideas and under represented groups having a better chance at equality in access to capital and funding. In theory.


#6

Based on your description, The Canadian Media Fund sounds like state-capitalism rather than socialism. It doesn’t sound like something that would empower workers at all, they just changed where the initial investment comes from.


#7

I think that’s a fair description of it. CMF has socialist elements to it in the way it approaches non-traditional projects, but it ultimately is a capitalist program. That said there are a ton of smaller funds in many provinces and federally through programs like ‘The Canada Council’ that enable more experimental thought. That combined with more socialist policy around health, etc…can different creation environment.

I’m not meaning to come off as a big Canada booster by any means. We’re ultimately a capitalist country functioning in a capitalist global market. But there are some supports worth highlighting here that are reflected in the articles posted.


#8

As a #Socialist and a #Gamer I feel obliged to weigh in here. I thought Pedercini’s piece was interesting, if a lil on the descriptive-basic side, but the interview was great. Really broke down some of the more ideological questions I had about the original piece.

At this stage, I’m far more interested in how games can forward a communalist &/or socialist vision of the future than anything else. To be frank, I’m not sure exactly how much games can ‘affect the discourse’ other than to present alternative futures and alternative imaginations- but they can surely do that.

There’s a push-and-pull going on in games, I think, that has to do with the way that they are sort of inherently individualistic since there’s only one human actor (in singleplayer games at least), but you can tell a socialist story even with individualist mechanics. A lot of that, I think, comes down to character & dialogue writing quality.

Night In The Woods comes to mind here. It’s a pretty clearly anticapitalist game, at least in my opinion, and I think it did a good job of critiquing our dominant systems of capitalist society while also showing that there’s a way to take them down. It wasn’t super explanatory of a possible other system exactly, but it definitely had an agenda going for it which I thought was rad.

Anyway, lots of disjointed thoughts up there, but basically I’m v excited about the future of Leftist Games


#9

This is a really interesting thought experiment. (That’s not meant as an insult, it’s how it is framed.)

It’s been 20 years since I took political theory, and I’m not going to pretend I’m anywhere near the expert Paolo is. Still, I have a few thoughts.

{Where I’m coming from: I’m about the most left-leaning person I know in real life. I support the socialism of health care, internet access, food and water production, and just about anything one could consider a necessity. I support Universal Basic Income.

Also, I find the Chapo-fueled socialist Twitter to be the most smug, insufferable thing in existence. Sooooo many white male millenials willing to let other people suffer because the only thing that matters is that they maintain their ideologically purity. It’s Randian Progressivism. Rant over, and I fully expect to be chastised by the mods for taking this thread off the rails.}

  • on the most basic level, I appreciate that this isn’t just “neoliberalism is bad, therefore socialism is perfect,” which is about the depth the argument typically reaches on social media.

  • he makes a good point about the socialization of distribution and decommoditization of games. One thing I don’t often see addressed when people talk about seizing the means of production is what’s to stop socially-owned productions from being just as exploitative of consumers as capitalist owned ones (except that greed is somehow magically abolished under socialism).

  • I did think it was a little weird that he compared a socialist game industry to management sims, since in management sims you essentially play as a carpet bagging robber baron.

  • Like other commenters, I thought the console-less future was a weird and out-of-place idea for an article like this.

  • “Naturally, we shouldn’t expect a hobbyist cosplayer to be paid to dress up at a convention, that’s exactly the kind of pursuit that should be decommodified.” Whaaa?


#10

This is a really interesting observation and one I had never really thought too hard about, the notion that despite even the best sort of scripting and character development most games revolve around an individual agent, the player. I mean it’s obvious in one sense but, yeah, I really appreciate the way you broke it down.

I really liked your piece. Do you publish your thoughts on gaming regularly somewhere?


#12

Thanks! I don’t have a regular blog, but I’m going to be blogging regularly at Paste twice a week for the coming future. Lots of stuff will go up there.


#13

I think this depends on who you talk to. The Democratic Socialists seem to want to increase the level of control the community and the workers have over how things are produced. Some visions of socialism include a market to determine what is produced, but try to reduce externalization and accumulation of capital. Ideally there would still be competing products, but not the devaluation of labor. I think an idea of what this might look like is the pay-what-you-want games on itch.io or GameJolt. That market is based more on the accessibility of mimicking techniques rather than what sells for more than what it takes to make the product.
I often wonder about this in less incentived production though. A worker-owned co-op competing with other worker-owned co-ops will still try to gain more of a profit-margin by cutting corners.


#14

Congratulations, that’s awesome and I am looking forward to future pieces!