The games industry has a tumultuous relationship with labor, passion, and organization around these issues. The largest organization of game developers worldwide, the IGDA, has declined to take a stance on whether or not the organization supports unionization efforts in the industry, despite mountains of evidence suggesting that doing so would lead to better conditions for workers.Video games have, by and large, avoided or brushed past the question of labor rights for years, yet somehow, 2018 was the year where the nucleus of change began to form. Between strikes like those at Eugen Systems, the formation of labor organizations like Game Workers Unite, and with discussions of game developer labor abuse making headlines on mainstream gaming websites, we saw the smallest cracks in the armor of gaming’s behemoth structures—the same institutions that saw any challenge to their labor practices as deadly to the medium itself. This idea is, of course, false.
It had long been considered that organization for game developers was an unattainable dream.
And, of course, the spectre looming over all of this year was the grand western spectacle of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2, the game where studio lead Dan Houser spoke of working 100-hour weeks on in preparation of launch. Rockstar, a studio with a history of overwork and crunch that dates back to the launch of the first Red Dead Redemption, is no stranger to the “passion” argument. Even in a clarification offered to Kotaku, Houser reiterated that those hours were indicative of a few key higher-up employees choosing to work those hours because they are “very passionate” about their work.Passion is a strange thing. It’s venerable, understandable, to be passionate about something that you care about—to work on it too much, to spend time thinking about it, to care about its future success or failure. But the passion of laboring over one’s own work is a very different passion than that of the zealous employee, whose livelihood may depend on how “passionate” they can appear to higher-up management. The balance is not even.So when we look back on this year in 2019 (or 2025 or 2040), I would hope that we look back on it and see the seeds of a better world germinating. I would hope that when we think about 2018, we think about our setbacks just as much as much as our unrelenting hope for an industry that cares about its workers as much as it fawns over their work.At the very least, I hope that when we look back at this year, we can remember twelve angry months of not shutting up about a dream of a more equitable games industry, and that’s something that can never be taken away from us.
The balance is not even.