Playful Multitude

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* Article: ‘A Playful Multitude?’ By Greig de Peuter and Nick Dyer-Witheford.The Fibreculture Journal (2005)


"Greig de Peuter and Nick Dyer-Witheford first introduced the term counterplay in an article published in The Fibreculture Journal, ‘A Playful Multitude?’ (2005). While part of a much larger and recently completed study of digital games (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009), this early piece of research introduced a framework for considering gaming as exemplary of the imperial form of power theorized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000). They established the relevance of using this approach for considering videogames through a number of important resonances: from the transnational organization of the gaming industry as expressive of ‘immaterial labour’ (Lazzarato 1996) to the themes of World of Warcraft (Blizzard 2004), the Grand Theft Auto series and Full Spectrum Warrior (Pandemic Studios 2004) as modulating the subjectivities congruent with the military, economic and political logic of Empire.

In Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter’s reading, counterplay was informed by the Italian autonomous Marxist premise that labour is always anterior to capital or modes of socio-political discipline and control. Significantly, they redeployed this assertion in terms of playful or ludic action to suggest that technological and capitalistic development in the games industry was primarily driven ‘from below’ by the unanticipated innovations that emerge in gaming cultures. Indeed, the history of digital games would certainly attend to this dynamic, especially considering the role of hobbyists and hackers in the now mythologized origins of games like Spacewar! (Russell et al., 1961), let alone the dynamic, networked and complex relations of incorporation and co-creative labour that define the contemporary architectures of gaming. The most interesting aspect of their model, however, was its reworking of simplistic binaries of resistance and exploitation. As de Peuter and Dyer-Witheford observed, counterplay exists as a potentiality, a preindividual dimension that flows into currents of critical play, tactical media and free and open-source software as readily as intellectual property regimes, governance strategies in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORPGs) and commercially ‘tethered devices’ (Zittrain 2008).

In this special issue of The Fibreculture Journal, we revisit counterplay by inviting responses to the concept that extend it outside the context of its capture. It is worth tracing some broader links and connections of ‘the counter’ to provide some background to this approach. These contexts move beyond games studies, but also inform how the idea might be understood within the field. We ask: if digital games are consolidated by rules (materially bound by both software and hardware), what disruptive ‘events’ transform the rhythms and patterns of play? How do radical actions emerge that reform the balance of agency in gaming?" (

More Information

  1. special issue on the concept of counterplay,
  2. Book by Alexander Galloway: Gaming, Essays on Algorithmic Culture