Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Digital Capitalism’s War on Leisure" (Gaming and Much More)

As a former* subscriber to The Journal of Leisure Studies...(see below).

On a more serious note, although we are not gamers, the subculture is worth keeping an eye on.
For example, Gamergate was a foreshadowing of Harvey Weinstein, Senator Franken and the whole #MeToo movement.

And the dopamine (and other neurotransmitter reward cascades) tie-ins with "Techlash". (253 hits)

And then there''s NVIDIA. Have I ever told you about NVIDIA?
(Yes, yes we have. A Google site search returns 1800 hits with most of them as the stock was running from $20 to $120: " NVIDIA")

So we pay attention to leisure, although not as intensely as previously.

From Democracy Journal:

Market forces are invading the space for leisure. Defending it will require nothing less than a return to robust twentieth-century social democracy.
Last July, a paper by Mark Aguiar et al. made waves by attributing 23-46 percent of the 12 percent decline in work hours among predominantly low-skill males aged 21-30 to improvements in video-gaming technology. That hypothesis offended the sensibilities of anyone who believes that all those who are able to work should do so. But what if it misses a larger point about the changing patterns of work and leisure?

Start with the story of recreational gaming in recent years, which is also a story about the commodification of free time. Where once video gaming offered individual or cooperative escapes from the workaday world (after the initial cost of purchase), it has now increasingly been pressed into the service of the market. As a result, gaming has come to privilege haves over have-nots, work and passive consumption over leisure, and the economic over the social. It represents a cautionary tale for what can happen to any social and leisure activity, particularly in the digital economy.

The market capture of gaming has taken at least three forms. First, gaming has, in many ways, been transformed from an ordinary leisure activity into a consumer luxury good. According to the Entertainment Software Association, “software, including in-game purchases and subscriptions,” accounted for $29.1 billion of the industry’s revenue in 2017, whereas “hardware, including peripherals,” accounted for a relatively meager $6.9 billion. And in 2016, mobile-gaming apps made up 75 percent of all Apple App Store revenues and 90 percent of Google Play Store revenues.
More to the point, the makeup of the gaming industry’s revenue—which grew by almost 20 percent in 2016 alone—suggests that it is catering not just to those who are working less, but also to a leisure class with higher levels of disposable income. Much of the industry’s growth is the product of a widely adopted “freemium” model, whereby users get a game for free, but are pressured to make credit-card purchases in order to experience it in full (hence the portmanteau of “free” and “premium”).

Accordingly, many of the highest-grossing games create a sunk-cost dilemma, in that users must continuously make new purchases to keep up with each software version update. In what becomes a vicious cycle, a player who has spent $50 to get a leg up over other players easily succumbs to the temptation to spend just $5 more to keep things that way. Similarly, many games use addictive “gacha” or “loot boxes” that deliver randomly generated, exclusive rewards. This increasingly common ploy functions so much like a slot machine that it has prompted new anti-gambling legislation in six U.S. states. Far from being just an inexpensive escape for idlers, then, modern gaming has become an outlet for people with money to burn—or, worse, for those gambling on credit.

Meanwhile, this trend has been accompanied by the rise to a growing precariat of semi-professional “content creators” publishing videos on YouTube and streaming their gameplay on Twitch. This growing informal labor force may constitute a healthy share of the 4 percent of young men who report spending six or more hours per day on computers, while neither working nor looking for work.
In fact, Twitch boasts 1.5 million “broadcasters” worldwide, some of whom log 60-hour weeks and make six figures from viewer donations, ad revenues, and sponsorships, notes Taylor Clark of The New Yorker. Still, most grind away in Twitch’s online gig economy without ever achieving that level of success. And all the while, the entire experience is saturated in advertising and direct solicitations to the site’s 100 million monthly visitors.

A third form of market mediation is not far off. Many machine-learning applications rely on vast stores of human-produced data, and digital gaming is an especially data-rich activity. Already, the “Grand Theft Auto” series is being used to teach autonomous vehicles to recognize street signs and other obstacles. Presumably, it is only a matter of time before developers start designing games with the goal of collecting even more human behavioral data. Such financial concerns will inevitably affect the content of games, optimizing them for machine learning alongside—or instead of—quality of experience.

Although the commodification of leisure is not new, it is also not something to be complacent about. In industrial and post-industrial societies, work tends to be necessarily hierarchical. But leisure has always held out the promise of equality. Under ideal conditions, one need not belong to the same socioeconomic class to belong to the same book club, or, for that matter, to the same “Clash of Clans” clan (a private in-game community formed by players who set the qualifications for membership). Video games, at their best, offer everyone an equal chance to overcome the same challenges on an equal playing field. “Pac-Man,” after all, didn’t let you add extra quarters to purchase immunity from the ghosts. And, like leisure generally, games provide a space for the formation of social relations that can stand apart from economic ones.

But as Harvard University philosopher Michael Sandel has demonstrated in great detail, the introduction of market forces can shatter the ideal of equality in a variety of spheres. Markets bring extraneous competition, even envy, which, as Bertrand Russell once observed, “consists in seeing things never in themselves but only in their relations.”

Thus, in the “freemium” economy, one’s expendable income really does determine whether one can join certain “Clash” clans, because many only accept members who have advanced to a level that can only be achieved through the in-app purchase of “gems.” On Twitch, income divides social communities into haves and have-nots who must constantly hustle for the former’s patronage. And in an AI-driven setting – as on social media – one can never be too sure where the fun stops and the exploitation begins. In any case, a potential realm of equal opportunity has been replaced by a congeries of unequal, transactional power relations.

To be sure, any discussion of recreational gaming, and the community it has created, is largely a discussion about a narrow cohort of men and boys born after 1980. But the market’s wholesale colonization of this domain is of a piece with broader trends across health care, education, media, and even public spaces such as U.S. national parks—areas where a strict economic logic is often incompatible with the public good. What’s more, this process has been accompanied by a larger cultural shift toward market prerogatives, one that is reflected in most gamers’ passive acceptance of the full-bore commodification of their chosen free-time activity. (Now that the Supreme Court has granted an imprimatur for state governments to legalize sports betting, the culture of athletic “fantasy” leagues – and fandom more generally – will likely continue even further down this path.)

Reversing the cultural acceptance of market infiltrations into leisure will require nothing less than a return to traditional twentieth-century social democracy. Under today’s state-sanctioned system of per capita GDP-anchored utilitarianism (or “neoliberalism”), the social and environmental costs of unfettered GDP growth are considered not just incidental, but justified for the greater good. Within this prevailing economic model, the social-democratic impulse is to redress the externalities of growth through labor-market and social-insurance policies.

But such policies are merely the “apps” of social democracy. The operating system is something larger. It might best be understood as a political dispensation for preserving that which should be separate from markets, be it the environment, organic social networks, or public goods such as education and basic research....

*June 2012
Work and Leisure
Guess who gets to write off their subscription to The Journal of Leisure Studies?

From FT Alphaville:
On abundance, post-scarcity and leisure
Robert and Edward Skidelsky, emeritus professor of political economy at the University of Warwick and lecturer on moral and political philosophy at the University of Exeter respectively, have penned what FT Alphaville feels is a must read essay on the impact of abundance and post-scarcity dynamics on price stability and the nature of labour, and work itself.

Entitled “In Praise of Leisure“, it picks up beautifully from where our own “Beyond Scarcity” series left off, echoing many of the same points....MORE
Thanks Izzy.