Craft Games: Connecting the Head and Hand

Reading: Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing by Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford, and Greig De Peuter

Digital Play’s thought provoking exploration of the interaction of the technology, culture and marketing of digital games through the proposed theoretical model of three circuits—the circuits of technology, culture and marketing—embedded within the all-encompassing circuit of capital brought up questions and interests for me regarding a craft culture of digital games, particularly in the third “Critical Perspectives” section on “Workers and Warez: Labour and Piracy in the Global Game Market”. Last semester I took a class on the Rhetorics of Craft in which we had similar conversations of the effects of mass production and marketing and Fordist models of making on craft and craftsmanship. In this class we read (Centennial Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University) Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman—a cultural studies text that looks at how individuals and groups of people “make sense of material facts about where they live and the work they do”. His main argument is that craftsmanship—dedicated,  skilled, good work for its own sake (20)— focuses on achieving quality to standards set by a community (25) has come to be organized in three troubled ways (52):

  • attempts of institutions to motivate people to work well (issues of individual competition, charades of cooperation)
  • developing skill, a trained practice, in environments that deprive people of repetitive, hands on training (a separation of head and hand)
  • conflicting measures of quality in products – one based on correctness and the other on practical experience (pulled between tacit and explicit knowledge)

In that class I raised question of what was possible as an available means of production that reorients itself as craft in a time and global economy of automation and mass production beyond small enclaves of artisinal and craft counter-movements. I realize that it is complicated to equate handcraft products with digital games, but if some game are considered “art” or indie (to counter the mega and mass), and the work of coding can be described as “craftsman’s pride” (Digital Play, 200) and a “digital labour of love” (200), I am curious about how some of the labour and production issues raised in Digital Play might be resonate with similar matters of concern in the history of craft production in terms of issues of economy, gender, skill, exploitation, and technology. I am interested, and this seems to align with the cultural studies emphasis articulated in Digital Play, how digital games as craft (or deeper exploration of indie and its alignment with historical work on craft) could afford some nuance in looking at the design and production of games, the comparison of indie and big title games in consumer behaviors, and establishing an ethics of care/concern/consumption in gaming (the pride in local, small scale). My knowledge of indie games is limited, but I wonder what the rhetoric of production or craftsmanship is in the making of these games and if the communities that create them and grow from them can serve as a space to attend to their materials (their matter, their means of production) and material effect/affect.

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