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Priceless Play - September 8th 2018

Workers of the world, unite (and play)

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In the United States, the first Monday in September is Labor Day — a day to celebrate workers, and all the strides that working unions have made. Like many other Americans, I work on Labor Day. Freelancers work on Labour Day. Those in the service industry work on Labor Day. And though there are many calls to “remove politics from games,” (I honestly have no idea how that would be done) I spent the week thinking about how work — or the refusal of work — has been portrayed in video games.

Here is a small selection of free games — some new and some not so new — which consider the implications of existing in a working society. But, you know. In a fun way.

Spotlightor’s Yet Another Exhausting Day

[Click play on the gifs to make ’em go]

Who among us has not rolled around on the floor in defeat after a long day, equated our productivity with our self worth, and smashed our heads into several potted plants? Yet Another Exhausting Day is a prototype from Bejiing studio Spotlightor, and uses the titular exhaustion as mechanic. I love a good physics game as much as the next person, and I may love a commentary on the oppressive work day even more!

Writer and academic Ann Cvetkovich writes about the feeling of depression and its relationship to creative output in her 2012 book, Depression: A Public Feeling, and I can’t help but think about it while playing Spotlightor’s exhaustion puzzle platformer game. It’s not an intentional comparison from the game, but as an academic it is my job to think too much about things. If you’ve ever felt the weight of a day and carried on, Yet Another Exhausting Day and I both salute you.

COOLMATHGAMES.ORG.UK’S Lemonade Stand

Before there was Cookie Clicker or FarmVille there was Lemonade Stand. I can’t be the only kid who learned about The Economy from websites like Cool Math Games in one iteration or another. For me, it was on the multicolored iMac G3s which populated the corner of my grade school classroom. When it wasn’t The Oregon Trail, it was Lemonade Stands. Or Lemonade Tycoon, if your school had the licence. Now, you can take your pick of virtual lemonade stands — this column has mentioned Lemonade Stand Extreme, for example.

I get competitive with Tycoon games, and I have an addictive personality. It’s a bad mix. This is why I should never be permitted to get involved with the stock market. Thankfully, the only time I would have thought I would have excelled as a broker was when I was excelling at Lemonade Stand at the age of ten. And there’s something comforting about returning to junk food games like these when you’re old enough to know that you’re not going to run off and try to start a brokerage firm.

La Molleindustria’s A Prison Strike

Paolo Pedercini of Molleindustria put together this Bitsy game in solidarity with incarcerated workers, who were striking across the United States from the 21st of August to the 9th of September. The U.S. has a fraught history with incarceration and labour, to say the least. I cannot begin to pretend to write a sufficiently comprehensive overview of this relationship here, but I can suggest giving Pedercini’s game a look.

This is not Molleindustria’s first foray into the political implications of games and gameplay — one might say it’s their whole deal. Perhaps you remember McDonald’s Video Game? Or Pedercini’s talk about games and late capitalism at Indiecade in 2014? This Bitsy poem sits comfortably amongst Molleindustria’s release record, though it carries a rawness often left out of their more satirical projects. To learn more about the prison strike, follow the links on the game page.

Everest Pipkin’s bodies.html//’perfectly emulated human #1’

My friend Everest Pipkin has made a lot of incredible work. Recently, and to acclaim, they put together a Twitter bot which automatically tweets “Information on 212 prison and detention facilities permanently holding immigrants to the United States, and the communities that host them.”

Pipkin, an artist out of Pittsburgh, often uses machine learning, bots, and games to reconsider organic concepts: bodies, flowers, landscapes. Another of their works, inforescence.city (a joint project with frequent collaborator Loren Schmidt) is a good example: it’s a two-part look at the city as a procedurally generated and infinite landscape. The cities have a public library, a lost and found, and gardens. My favourite of theirs remains bodies.html.

In bodies.html there is little of the obfuscating digital markers which can abstract some of their computational work. It is so simple — a body persisting in the console. The body breathes, it produces glucose, it sees. Sometimes I leave it running while I’m doing other tasks — there is something comforting about the way this perfectly emulated body carries on.

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Who am I?

Kat Brewster

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Kat Brewster is a sometimes writer, sometimes game designer, and most-of-the-time academic based out of the University of California, Irvine. Kat's research focuses on play, the future of digital work, and queer archives. You can reach out on Twitter @katbamkapow.

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