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Title:Creativity and its discontents: a case study of precarious playbour in the video game industry
Author(s):Bulut, Ergin
Director of Research:McCarthy, Cameron R.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):McCarthy, Cameron
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Chan, Anita S.; Christians, Clifford G.; de Peuter, Greig; Valdivia, Angharad
Department / Program:Inst of Communications Rsch
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):video game industry
production studies
immaterial labor
Abstract:Considered to be a blindspot until recently, labor has now become a popular research topic within media and communication studies. This dissertation is an attempt to contribute to the emergent scholarship on media labor, critically using the concepts of precarity and immaterial labor. The concept of precarity is useful not only to understand labor in the post-Fordist economy but also the experience of game developers who perform immaterial labor to earn their living, where leisure is indistinguishable from labor. Creating ephemeral images and experiences, these immaterial laborers work in a perpetual innovation machine within which producing a video game means also producing the life of a studio. In this respect, this dissertation is an ethnographic study that draws on the insights of political economy of culture and communication in order to illuminate how video game developers work, play, and live. Critically deploying the concept of immaterial labor, I document the transition of a game studio from its garage days to a corporate structure within which precarity does not disappear but rather changes form and intensifies. Tensions between autonomy and control regarding creative production are revealed and the attempts of the studio to cultivate communicative workers to labor in a flexible work environment are discussed through the lens of governmentality. I aim to contribute to the literature on immaterial labor by underlining the significance of the production of space and new materialities for sustaining the creative class, as well as point to the vitality of unpaid domestic labor for reproducing labor power. I show the stratified nature of immaterial laborers where precarity is multi-formed across different kinds of employees and layers within the organization of the labor process. Moreover, contrary to what some theorists have argued, I contend that the desire to collaborate and create attributed to the immaterial laborers does not necessarily lead to progressive modes of political organization for reasons of personal histories, lack of experience in organizing, and simply precarity. Ultimately, I make the argument that precarity is endemic to the game industry, where the line between waged and non-waged time has become blurred. Such precarious experience, the dissertation demonstrates, can even be seen in the flagship studio of a major publisher in the industry where criticism of work practices are articulated by developers, who seem to be indifferent towards alternative modes of working and living.
Issue Date:2014-09-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Ergin Bulut
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-09-16
Date Deposited:2014-08

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