Working on and at Play. Perception and Visibility in Games


As media objects, video games are imbued with values held by their makers. This is done intentionally by serious games practitioners but also occurs independently of design goals. One of the more problematic manifestations of ‘values at play’ is playbour, a putting-to-work of play that recalls Agamben’s mourning the loss of ‘menuchah’, an inoperativity that is more than a means to prepare one for more work. But is there a way to rescue leisure from its subservience to labour? Or, if not, is there a way to make the work done through play operate against the logics of late capitalism? To make sense of the conversations around player, game, power, and labour, I articulate two concepts: visibility, or the degree to which a system can account for the actions of those operating within it, and perception, a measure of an actor’s understanding of the methods through which a system understands their movements. Through several gameplay examples, I use these concepts to lay the foundation for suggesting that play is a force for critique, for laying bare a game’s operational logics so that they may be subject to our scrutiny. To conclude, the concepts of glitch and queer failure are introduced to argue for a working on and at play that interrogates not only video game machines, but the larger machines of ideology that drive them.

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Preferred Citation
Scully-Blaker, Rainforest: Working on and at Play. Perception and Visibility in Games. In: Digital Culture & Society, Jg. 5 (2019), Nr. 2, S. 41-60. DOI:
 author = {Scully-Blaker, Rainforest},
 title = {Working on and at Play. Perception and Visibility in Games},
 year = 2019,
 doi = "\url{}",
 volume = 5,
 address = {Bielefeld},
 journal = {Digital Culture & Society},
 number = 2,
 pages = {41--60},
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