by ibull

“Games under Capitalism” – an #indiE3 presentation 

[Part 1 begins at 01:35:00] [ Part 2 ends at 00:33:00 ]

games under capitalism

Warning: not to be read by someone expecting complete ideas or full sentences. Literally, this is just stuff I worked out of my head. It’s not entirely complete because I was also texting myself thoughts during the same time period, which I may transcribe at a later date.

my notes for the talk, which were jotted down over the course of a week leading up to the project on a Google doc (but that were never really explicitly talked about, but that foregrounded my contributions to the conversation):

videogames under capitalism

what to do with this notion? this idea? this configuration?


what purpose serves thinking through the dimensions of capitalism and videogames?

to cast off the shackles? to be anti-capitalist? what is that?

there’s something very clever and provocative about the title for this panel; but, the relationship that it draws between games and capitalism is a misnomer. because, in some sense, there are art projects and then there are blockbuster AAA titles, and I know that the cost of making those games is not the only thing that creates difference between those two projects.

when we talk about capitalism i don’t think we’re just talking about a thing out there, yes, somewhere over there. it’s not a person, but maybe it infects a reasonable person and recodes them into someone that acts like a jerk. but it’s more than that, too. capitalism can’t exist without a place, and so we have this derivative term “capitalist economy” or “capitalist society” to refer to a space wherein capitalism lives.


is a world in and of itself. it is multidimensional.

it is a coded language;

it manifests a particular kind of space;

it conditions particular body types.


what are the ways in which we are co-opted into simulating/constituting/validating capitalism

under what conditions does capitalism mutate, and then what does it mutate into (if anything)

if we are unsatisfied with the way capitalism reifies systematic inequalities in the production, distribution, etc. etc. of videogames, what, then, do we actually want. is the only hurdle that we want to jump over this problem with representation in games, or, are we more interested in a reconfiguration of our economic system that…


to subsume: include or absorb (something) in something else.

indie games are always, necessarily, subsumed within a capitalist ecosystem. not in order to survive—because, arguably, once they’ve been made they are no less in danger of being forgotten—but so that they can be assessed and repurposed, if kept. represented and organized within a system that then values them. when an indie game is critiqued, are we doing so to hold on to those pieces that are valuable within the current capitalist ecosystem?

how to emulate* not-capitalism? (*simulation is, perhaps, irretrievably colonized by object-oriented ontologies that constitute the rational—limited dimensions. write that critique, though. i am on twitter…. )  

different language, geography/space, subjectivities/bodies

Steam, as a community, does the work of carving out space.

We can do the work of crafting a new language.

Someone or somebody needs to do the work of excavating subjectivity from capitalism and creating new types of bodies or forms of embodiment that decenter imperatives dictated by capitalism.

what might that look like? i have no fucking idea, really, because i think the easy answers to this question irrevocably either reify or subvert capitalism. there are horizontal moves: unions and philanthropy, or a completely “new” world order, (whatever that is, i think it’s called anti-capitalism). i saw Mattie Brice’s call for a labor movement the other day—that’s do-able; that’s clearly valuable.

one way to think about people and companies differently is to see them both as actants, but where people use language, companies create geographies. but those things by themselves won’t create different subjectivities that are not-capitalist. we are collectively going to have to do the work of creating a world that doesn’t position a person’s ability to survive in a direct relationship with their ability to create capital. that relationship needs to be decentered; decoupled; or simply put on a shelf somewhere else.

the really hard, but perhaps more “rewarding” (haha) answer is a multidimensional re-thinking of communication that isn’t predicated on value—especially those systems of value that are hierarchical. the risk, of course, in this is that we may find ourselves unable to speak in the language we’re using for “criticism” that we’re using today. i’m of the opinion, though: fuck it—i don’t feel like i have anything to lose that i haven’t already lost.

completely obliterates the value of representation in a virtual world configuration.

capitalism (n.)

origin story begins in 1854; “condition of having capital;” from

capital (n.1) + -ism.

meaning “political/economic system which encourages capitalists” is recorded from 1872.


making sense of capitalism’s relationship with game making, game reviewing, and game purchasing can seem like a problem built on the foundations of systematic inequality and vertical hierarchies.

within a vertically hierarchical network “nodes” that are flexible are vulnerable, micro networks are fragile

it’s amazing that we live in and interface with environments all the time that can be strong and durable when tasked with holding a pattern, and yet held hostage so easily by the actions of one single person. in terms of capitalism and videogames, it’s not enough to work as independent, faithful liberal subjects. Our subjectivities must be thoroughly questioned before seriously asking “ourselves” how we are complicit in capitalism.

someone could, and probably should hold my presentation hostage by virtue of speaking up. shouting loudly over me as I try to finish this mumbly-jumbly soap-box moment.


so, what do i actually want to talk about?

central idea: …

“games under capitalism” …hmmm

3 general observations:

1) Games are not separate from capitalism. Games are tools players/producers/critics use in a lot of different ways within an environment of capitalism. And, I get that there are more formal definitions out there for what capitalism is. I think for me, though, capitalism is a networked, multi-dimensional solution for human survival. There are ways in which, as a logic, capitalism conditions our bodies, our spaces, and our language, and maybe today I just want to talk about the ways in which capitalism conditions me and my relationship to …well, whatever I think a “game” “is.” But I feel like before I can even talk about that, I should probably ask myself why asking that question is meaningful in the first place? Why is the formal definition of a game important? I think it’s because that there are many recurring systems, ways of thinking about knowledge and information, that require the naming of what a game is before it can technically exist. Capitalism is a kind of organism that then extracts value from that object, both in terms of process and product. So in this way, there is no such thing as a game that is “under” capitalism, it’s perhaps more acute to think of games as always within capitalism.

2) So, where are indie games within a capitalist ecosystem? I think they are always displaced games. They are sometimes reclaimed—like a capitalist might reclaim recycled cardboard—but, fundamentally, our language, our syntax, reifies the subordinate relationship “indie” games will always have to “non-indie” games. this syntax is a description of a particular geography that we cannot seem to decenter—we could call this relationship something else, but it wouldn’t quite matter, would it? a rose is a rose by any other name.

So, if there are any definable characteristics that we can universally inscribe to indie games, one might be that they are always, necessarily, subsumed within a capitalist ecosystem, so that they can be assessed and repurposed, if kept at all. Everyone here, I think, knows that capitalism also requires that game makers are always in a vulnerable position; represented and organized within a system that then values them. when an indie game is critiqued, are we doing so to hold on to those pieces that are valuable within the current capitalist ecosystem?

3) How does a game maker decenter survival-ability from game-making?

Capitalism really only makes it so that a person can already be wealthy, a person can make horizontal moves within capitalism by forming/joining a labor union, or a person can not make games. So if these are the walls of the paper bag, so to speak, how does one walk out disassemble the bag just on t…..