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Julian Kucklich:

"If we assume that play is distinct from "ordinary life" (Huizinga), and that it constitutes an "occasion of pure waste" (Caillois), then playbour is the re-entry of ordinary life into play, with a concomitant valorization of play activities. Insofar as life (bios) is always productive, and be it only in the sense that it produces waste, the extraction of value from play can be seen as a form of waste management; and insofar as play can be seen as a waste of time, the logic of playbour demands that time be wasted efficiently. In this sense we could also call playbour the Taylorization of leisure. Like other forms of affective or immaterial labour, playbour is not productive in the sense of resulting in a product, but it is the process itself that generates value. The means of production are the players themselves, but insofar as they only exist within play environments by virtue of their representations, and their representations are usually owned by the providers of these environments, the players cannot be said to be fully in control of these means. Playbour is suffused with an ideology of play, which effectively masks labour as play, and disguises the process of self-expropriation as self-expression. However, exploitation and empowerment, subjectification and objectification, wastefulness and efficiency coexist in the ambiguous "third space" of playbour, where these binary oppositions break down, and thus open up new possibilities of intersubjectification." (idc mailing list June 2009)


Christian Fuchs:

"Herbert Marcuse in "Eros and Civilization" connected Marx's notions of necessary labour and surplus labour/value to the Freudian drive structure of humans and argued that necessary labour on the level of drives corresponds to necessary suppression and surplus labour to surplus-repression. This means that in order to exist a society needs a certain amount of necessary labour (measured in hours of work) and hence a certain corresponding amount of suppression of the pleasure principle (also measured in hours). The exploitation of surplus value (labour that is performed for free and generates profit) would mean not only that workers are forced to work for free for capital to a certain extent, but also that the pleasure principle (play) must be additionally suppressed. Marcuse argues that the performance principle means that Thanatos governs humans and society and that alienation unleashes aggressive drives within humans (repressive desublimation) that result in an overall violent and aggressive society. Due to the high productivity reached in late-modern society, a historical alternative would in principle become possible (if class relations were sublated): The elimination of the repressive reality principle, the reduction of necessary working time to a minimum and the maximization of free time, an eroticization of society and the body, the shaping of society and humans by Eros, the emergence of libidinous social relations. Such a development would be a historical possibility -- but one incompatible with capitalism and patriarchy.

Gilles Deleuze has pointed out that in contemporary capitalism disciplines are transformed in such a way that humans increasingly discipline themselves without direct external violence. He terms this situation the society of (self-)control. It can for example be observed in the strategies of participatory management. This method promotes the use incentives and the integration of play into labour. It argues that work should be fun, workers should permanently develop new ideas, realize their creativity, enjoy free time within the factory, etc. The boundaries between work time and spare time, labour and play, become fuzzy. Work tends to acquire qualities of play, and entertainment in spare time tends to become labour-like. Working time and spare time become inseparable. At the same time work-related stress intensifies and property relations remain unchanged.

The exploitation of Internet users is an aspect of this transformation. It signifies that private Internet usage, which is motivated by play, entertainment, fun, and joy -- aspects of Eros -- has become subsumed under labour. It produces surplus value for capital and is exploited by the latter so that Internet corporations accumulate profit. Play and labour are today indistinguishable. Eros has become fully subsumed under the repressive reality principle. Play is largely commodified, there is no longer free time or spaces that are not exploited by capital. Play is today productive, surplus value generating labour that is exploited by capital. All human activities and therefore also all play tends under the contemporary conditions to become subsumed under and exploited by capital. Play as an expression of Eros is thereby destroyed, human freedom and human capacities are crippled.

Non-surplus generating and non-exploitative free time seems to be minimized in contemporary capitalism, free time becomes productive time that is exploited by capital, consumers become producers, play becomes work, work becomes play, free time becomes labour time and permanent surplus repression. We live in a monstrous exploitative system with almost no outside.

Marcuse argued that we are at the sime time objectively (productive forces) as close to socialism as never before and subjectively as far away as never before. The Internet age signifies a high productive society, the objective foundation of the realm of freedom, but human subjectivity, its labour power, tends to be exploited to the maximum by capital and resistance is only faint. The situation Marcuse described can also be found today in informational, hyperindustrial, financial capitalism/new imperialism." ( October, 3, 2009)

More Information

  1. Essay: precarious playbour. modders and the digital games industry. fibreculture, 3.5. By julian r. kücklich
  2. Conference presentation: precarious playbour. modders and the digital games industry, paper presented at the creative gamers seminar, hypermedia lab, university of tampere.