Tag Archives: Economics

Quick Thoughts on the Video Games Industry and the Notion of Collective Work

Just a quick aside.  On the internet, I ran across an image someone had posted:


The degree to which the notion of individual work permeates our consciousness actually prevents us from having a rational discussion about acts of group work.  You don’t just see this in video game journalism, you see it in film theory, literary theory, sociology, anthopology, politics, history, even in the way that biologists try to understand animal behavior (many use a simplified form of game theory that presumes a selfishness that, while accurate to a degree, often fails to even consider mutually beneficial arrangements that police transgressions).  When revolutionary Enlightenment ideals emerged from millennia of variations on monarchism, they kept the tendency to attribute the work of many to the work of one (I mean, we still speak of Khafre’s Pyramid, not the Pyramid of a Fuckton of Slaves and Many Engineers That Was Built on the Instructions of One Guy).  Some might even argue that the cultural willingness to attribute work to oneself is a good working definition of class consciousness–it’s definitely true that we see, for example, second-wave feminism beginning to organize around an awareness of “women’s work.”  Recognizing the efforts of the ‘lower’ workers entails not only seeing that they put in a great deal of work, usually just as much or more than the figure who serves as the cultural referent, but also that their lives are likewise determined by the success or failure of the project, even if they get no say in the project’s management.  Except, of course, in the hopefully rare cases where the management is so abusive that even when the workers have created a successful project, their lives are still jeopardized within the ordinary course of doing business; see my earlier post on the VFX industry and specifically the Life of Pi incident.


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In early 1940s Germany, the Reichsbank was faced with some degree of difficulty in finding a way to liquidate the embarrassing amounts of personal valuables that were being deposited with them. They ended up pawning an inordinate number of such goods, particularly the streams of gold fillings mysteriously flowing in from locations like Auschwitz. At Nuremberg, the bankers claimed not to know the source of the deposits.

(adapted from Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich)


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Thoughts on the Video Effects Industry

While this blog has mainly served as a site for impromptu essays on various subjects, I want to take a moment to just draw attention to something that’s been going on lately.  Chances are that a lot of people are already aware of this, but the general consensus seems to be that the video effects industry is finally reaching breaking point for the workers.  Rather than summarize someone else’s points, I’ll just encourage you to read this analysis.

It seems clear to me that at this point the video effects industry needs to unionize.  This will have a few effects.  Aside from the clearly positive effect of reducing working hours and improving working condition, it will therefore drive up the cost of CGI in films.  This means less CGI-sploitation–stuff like what the Asylum has been doing (NOTE: I am not saying that the Asylum exploits their workers, or that they do not, just that they represent a certain type of film that relies on cheap CGI).  While I will lament the future lack of movies where Sherlock Holmes fights a T-rex, overall this could be a positive change because it also means that a lot of the more egregious CGI that we’ve been seeing in major movies lately will have to be curtailed, either replaced with miniatures, animatronics, or more creative ways of filming scenes.  More seriously, it means a lack of demand for VFX artists as the demand for CGI goes down.  This means that there will probably be a generation of artists who fall through the gap, as it were, between the factory-style production now, and a future unionized production with better conditions and fewer workers.  This is unfortunate, but could possibly be offset by the potential for competitive freelancing, or numerous smaller studios that could do simple, cheaper work–cheaper in the sense of taking less time, so that the actual cost of the product should be reflected in either its length or quality.

Either way, the chief problem here is that for a lot of young artists, things are going to suck.  These are often young, creative, motivated individuals, who enter the field out of a love of the art form and find themselves cruelly forced into medial production by economic necessity.  They stay longer in the field than the average person would because of their love of the art, and that is one of the things that is being exploited.  Either things will continue as they are, which will mean overworking and unstable careers, or we will see unionization soon (given the model of most other creative elements of Hollywood, this seems the more likely to me) which will mean a lot of unemployed young effects artists–a big problem in an industry run off a constantly changing technological basis, since even a couple years out of work could lead to a knowledge gap that will leave them passed up for hiring in favor of less experienced but more technically proficient candidates.  As I have a number of friends in this position, I sincerely hope things work out well, but the situation is admittedly grim at the moment.

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“In the first stone which the savage flings at the wild animal he pursues, in the first stick that he seizes to strike down the fruit which hangs above his reach, we see the appropriation of one article for the purpose of aiding in the acquisition of another, and thus discover the origin of capital.”

-R. Torrens, An Essay on the Production of Wealth, etc as quoted in Marx, Capital Vol. 1

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