Book Talk speaker dispels myths about video game industry

March 10, 2022
Speaking at a Book Talk hosted by Northwestern Qatar’s Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South, Ergin Bulut, associate professor in the department of media and visual arts at Koç University, examined the impact of labor practices in the video game industry on young developers and others in its workforce.
Drawing from his book A Precarious Game: The Illusion of Dream Jobs in the Video Game Industry, Bulut explained that working in the game industry has long been motivated by a passion for gaming and an ability to find pleasure in work. “The video game industry’s labor practices look quite ephemeral and immaterial,” said Bulut. “Work doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun. It’s about love.”
But Bulut went on to note that the association of labor and love in the game industry is often a fantasy that disguises the racialized and gendered inequalities that thrive in the industry. “The video game workplace has become a place for self-exploitation and where emotional toxicity is imposed on workers,” said Bulut, pointing to a culture of overworking that excludes anyone who dissociates work and pleasure.
He proposes Ludopolitics – an analytical framework that is concerned with the political and social implications produced by technology and its cultures – as a method to examine the politics of work in the video game industry. According to Bulut, video game production should also be looked at through the lens of global capitalism and the global circuits of exploitative labor that support the gaming industry in the U.S. This will help, he said to “examine work [in the game industry] outside the formal boundaries of the workplace and connect it with the greater problems in the urban and domestic spaces.”
Amid growing recognition of exploitative labor practices and untenable working conditions, Bulut said unionization and universal basic income will help reconstruct the industry and lead to a post-work society where inequalities are addressed by collective action. “We are in this moment when jobs are scarce, but at the same time, you're supposed to love what you do,” said Bulut. By exposing its exploitive nature, Bulut demonstrated that work in the game industry is far from being “the dream job.”
Bulut’s talk was the second in a series hosted by the Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South at Northwestern Qatar (#IAS_NUQ). The inaugural #IAS_NUQ Book Talk featured Leah Jerop Komen in a conversation on her book Mobile Assemblages and Maendeleo in Rural Kenya.