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.

The Smart Machine: Man, Machine, or Man-Machine?

In many cases, machinery was used to re­place humans in supplying the motive power for various subprocesses of production. In most trades, though, labor-saving machinery developed slowly, and many factors inhibited its progress. Sometimes the new machinery, in amplifying the capacity of the human body to perform a given operation and thus increasing output, could also intensify the human participation that was required and thus exacerbate the prob­lems of physical depletion” (39). I can recall tours and visits to my dad’s plant, huge loud machinery. But there were people alongside the machines at different stages of process, people working and repairing the machines, the machines as extensions of people to build.

Proponents of scientific management believed that observing and ex­plicating workers’ activity was nothing less than scientific research. Their goal was to slice to the core of an action, preserving what was necessary and discarding the rest as the sedimentation of tradition or, worse, artifice spawned by laziness” (42). The cushy position of the auto worker is something that is talked about with disdain by some outside of the auto industry; these unskilled laborers are given wages and benefits that their work doesn’t justify. Then I think of the layoffs, the forced shutdowns, the worrying of my mom and dad on and off again that they would be replaced or released in the name of efficiency, production, cost-effectiveness, and progress.

Reading Shoshana Zuboff this week I couldn’t help but think of my family – my mom, dad, and brother all work in auto factories back home in Michigan. My mom and brother work in warehouses and pick parts to be shipped to assembly plants, while my dad is a Tool and Process Engineer (by training in an apprenticeship) in an engine plant; he moves from the office working on the phone/computer to find machines and parts needed for production to the floor of the factory to work on machines and with the people who run the machines. They have each told me stories that illustrate the tension examined by Zuboff in the know-how of the body (implicit) vs. the scientification of work as logically constructed they are subjected to by supervisiors.

My mom and my brother’s work is done by their bodies mostly – that is they hand pick parts (from small washers to much larger components of a car) – they bend, twist, lift, pinch, grab, pull. Recently, my mom was chosen to try a new cart/container design (she drives a buggy with a container attached to the front to put parts she picks in) by supervision that was created to make picking more efficient and safe in the workplace. The cart/container was moved to the back of the machine so that the buggy was towing it like a trailer. She reported that she didn’t like the design because it changed the way that she picked parts, and added extra movement and strain to be turning behind herself all the time. Supervision implemented the new cart design because it, on paper/design, was more efficient for work. Productivity went down in the warehouse because of the change in how my mom and other pickers worked; this turned into a larger and more complicated exchange between workers and supervision that took Union involvement to reconcile.

My dad’s plant was one severely impacted by the auto industry crisis in Michigan/Metro Detroit. Because of this, the number of Tool and Process Engineers my dad used to work with/amongst was greatly reduced. Workers were brought in as replacements for the more skilled labor of the Engineers, but it wasn’t an equal exchange, even though on paper it was. While the workers know how to work with their machines well to do work, they do not know the machines.

I realize this are very specific examples and are limited to auto manufacturing. But I couldn’t ignore the connection Zuboff made not only to the auto industry, but to plants and factories I know well (they’re by my house, my friends and family and neighbors have worked in them, they form the landscape/the architecture of the city(s)) because of growing up around them and through them with my family’s work and the absolute prevalence of the auto manufacturing industry in and around the Motor City. Reading Zuboff sparked a curiosity to find old film footage from around the time automation was becoming the standard in manufacturing. I’m sure there are better examples, but I found two old films that depict automation in ways that echo Zuboff’s argument and the experience of the workers in her research.

(particularly first 1:40 and last 1:00)

(particularly first 1:25 and last 30 seconds)

I’m left questioning automation. It is obvious to me the ways in which it can remove human agency that used to be present in work as a means of translation, but it is equally obvious that machines function as extension. And again, with a personal example, my brother was (and I hope is soon again) going to school to design programs and systems that orchestrate manufacturing processes. Where is craft? What is craft? Is it, in this context, diminished? Translated? Extended? Invented?

And Latour! What of Latour? Is this a matter of either-or? Or can it be a matter of with?

The Craftsman: Material Consciousness and The Hand

While I have been enjoying reading Sennett as a whole, I was excited to read this section of the book given my own area of interest, but found that in this moment of thinking through, I have what I can best call “material scraps” of thoughts.

Material Scraps:

I couldn’t help but think about this Gorillaz song (the track layers masterful hip hop beats with audio of what sounds like someone practicing playing the violin – in the process of learning) in reading Richard Sennett’s chapter on “The Hand”. Sennett describes the Suzuki Method for teaching children to play music – habit as ingrained accuracy (and in the method, applying forms to the children’s fingers in order to get the feel of playing):

“What exactly did I do? How can I do it again? Instead of the fingertip acting as a mere servant, this kind of touching moves backward from sensation to procedure. The principle here is reasoning backward from consequence to cause” (157).

Left Hand Suzuki Method Lyrics

“The most important thing, is listening the recording of the music.
It makes them get um musical sense – and, uh – this is the point of the… fast progress!

“And also, everyday, every lesson
We have to make sure
They’re not lying about tunization!”

In recognizing the name Suzuki, I looked up Shin’ichi Suzuki and the Suzuki method and was surprised at the parallels between the philosophy of the method and the description of the guild apprenticeships Sennett describes in “The Workshop”.

In reading, I found myself trying to think of all the metaphors we use that focus on the hands as a means of making meaning. Hands allow us to learn “hands on”, to “get a grip”, to “get a feel” of things we’re doing. These metaphors then broadened to think of procedural metaphors for learning/obtaining knowledge or a skill – “we learn by doing”. These metaphors show a connection between head and hand, which is then absent in metaphors of rote learning, repetition, and mechanization in learning. I wonder if these were only possible after process and procedure changed with Fordist means of production that distanced/expanded the relationship between hand and head as the process of making something in total.

Gathering Materials

Last week I purchased my materials to begin screen printing, $100 easily (but excitedly) spent. At The Art Store I purchased:

  • a squeegee
  • 4 jars acrylic ink (not for cloth) in green, black, red, and turquoise
  • a screen with base (need to measure its dimensions | 124 mesh)
  • a combination back of screen filler and drawing liquid
  • 3 pieces of poster board (red, black, white)
  • a bottle of screen cleaner

I brought the materials home to set up my (temporary: something to return to – the concept of a stationary workshop) workspace on the kitchen table. I had the idea to buy a really thick, lined plastic tablecloth to cover the table, but happened upon a spare shower curtain liner to use instead. Other materials I am considering acquiring: through by dad (an all around handyman) an incandescent worklight (or two), a collection of variously sized paintbrushes (I only have two), different types/sizes/colors of paper, fabric ink, found fabrics (on the cheap), something (unsure as to what yet) to dry prints on horizontally that doesn’t appear to be a place for two cats to nap, and some kind of lift to elevate the screen when working on the kitchen table surface (while standing), which stands at under 2.5 feet.

To write about my making process, I would like to make use of the fieldnote method of James Spradley (utilized in participant observation) described in Nicholas H. Wolfinger’s “On Writing Fieldnotes: Collection Strategies and Background Expectancies” which takes note of:

Space: the physical place or places

Actor: the people involved

Activity: a set of related acts people do

Object: the physical things that are present

Act: single actions that people do

Event: a set of related activities that people carry out

Time: the sequencing that takes place over time

Goal: the things people are trying to accomplish

Feeling: the emotions felt and expressed

Along with taking photographs and short video samples to make visible the process of production, products, problems, and byproducts.


Reading Aristotle (ashamed to admit that it’s really my first textual encounter), I was stuck on this articulation of art as production, as making, under the guidance of right reason – a direct and natural response of a person to the sight of the beautiful. And although right reason is described as a natural response, it is made clear that art, or rather the productions of art, are not things that come into being as nature because they originate without a person. While it make sense to me that the productions are not things that exist within nature, I wondered in what ways nature, as a state of mind, could be a material – maybe beyond influence/inspiration that complicates right reason. I don’t just mean nature as materials like wood, stone, clay, but the structures of nature – honeycomb, natural arches, sedimentary rock – that craft craft/art. Then I saw a book I picked up before I visited my friend in Japan (and dragged him to traditional craft centers) and began skimming for relationships to right reason, products as good, and nature in the description of craft:

Folk Arts and Crafts of Japan by Kageo Muraoka and Kichiemon Okamura

“The Hidden Beauty of Common Objects” (“Zakki no Bi”):

The Craftsman and His Craft

“Although the Japanese folk artisan is poor and uneducated, he is a fervent devotee of his craft…Unconsciously, he is motivated by his belief in kami (the spirit of nature) and seized by its indomitable force…Because he was not self conscious about what he was doing, the man who made this dish had not planned the final outcome of his creative effort…What is beauty?…We cannot expect him to be prepared with clear-cut answers to such questions, but even though he may not have thought-out knowledge, his hands move rapidly at his work And we could perhaps say that just as the voice that speaks the Buddhas name is not actually the man’s voice but is that of the Buddha, so too the hands of the potter are not his own but those of nature”.

Soetsu Yanagi

And another thread:

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 10.33.15 PMDr. Tobias Hoffman

And another – Aristotle:

“now Making and Doing are two different things (as we show in the exoteric treatise), and so that state of mind, conjoined with Reason, which is apt to Do, is distinct from that also conjoined with Reason, which is apt to Make: and for this reason they are not included one by the other, that is, Doing is not Making, nor Making Doing. Now as Architecture is an Art, and is the same as “a certain state of mind, conjoined with Reason, which is apt to Make,” and as there is no Art which is not such a state, nor any such state which is not an Art, Art, in its strict and proper sense, must be “a state of mind, conjoined with true Reason, apt to Make.”

“And, so neither things which exist or come into being necessarily, nor things in the way of nature, come under the province of Art, because these are self-originating. And since Making and Doing are distinct, Art must be concerned with the former and not the latter.”

*exoteric: of or relating to the outside; external

I feel like in trying to unpack Aristotle, I’m not making much progress…I suppose what I’m getting at is reason’s relationship to utility (or maybe use) in craft? Whether or not art and craft are one in the same and what connotations this has on aesthetic/fine art (especially distinctions between knowledge, wisdom, intuition, science and art)? And ways of considering nature’s relation to craft aside from inspiration as beauty alone? (or perhaps I’m not fully grasping this notion of beauty or nature either). This might all be lingering and densely packed confusions about tensions of the terms nature/natural and culture in other philosophy texts I’ve encountered.

And I suppose I want to pause on objects and things in the manner in which Aristotle uses them – what relationship do objects/things/matter have? To man? To nature? And in thinking about the ethics of things, can it be the thing itself considered?