Video games are a disaster for the workplace: A review of Jason Schreier’s “Press Reset”

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Unfortunately, the skepticism could be justified. Right now, it’s hard to imagine a guild of video game workers accumulating the power and influence of Hollywood guilds. If Hollywood had emerged as an economic and cultural force at another point in American history, it’s hard to imagine writers, actors, and technicians with the power and solidarity to become actors there too. dominant. As historian Michael Denning argues in The cultural front, the growth of the guilds and the successful collective bargaining deals with the studios took place against the backdrop of the “work of American culture” – this was a time when a nationwide mass left anti-fascist political movement coincided. with the industrialization of certain “creative” industries and the emergence of a new “plebeian” generation of artists. As the IATSE dates back to the theater of the 19th century, Creative Guilds (SAG and WGA) were organized and seized power, during a period of mass unionization, spurred by a new intellectual energy around the organization of professionals. and changes in the law that made such organization possible. “It was the union organizing meadow fire sparked by Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, with his declaration of labor rights to representatives of his choosing.” Denning writes, “Which revived unionism in the cultural industry”. SAG was formed in 1933 and the Screen Writers Guild won an election to the National Labor Relations Board in 1938.

The nostalgia for this time is understandable but probably unnecessary. The power of the Hollywood guilds shows us a past to remember, but difficult to reproduce. Even in heavily unionized Hollywood, there are worrying trends: While IATSE is an international union, big studio productions now routinely escape high Hollywood labor costs (and the strong US dollar) by filming. abroad. And the movie industry hasn’t completely shied away from the problems of the game industry. Because the period in which computer graphics became an essential component of filmmaking occurred long after the era. From union radicalism described by Denning, Hollywood special effects studios have never developed a strong union. (Instead, they formed a professional trade association.)

And now special effects houses are being treated remarkably like video game studios, supposed to do their highly technical and complex work under difficult deadlines. The results are not as catastrophic as in video games, but the lack of the kind of labor regulation that, for example, makeup and costume artist-workers enjoy, thanks to their union, manifests itself in the same way. in big budget movies. it’s in the games. The film adaptation of the musical by Tom Hooper Cats was released in 2019. It was a critical and financial bomb, in large part because of the grotesque conception of the partly computer-animated cat-actor hybrids, and the fact that the film came out with glitchy and incomplete computer effects. In this regard, Cats looks like an early vision of a world in which Hollywood’s business practices come to resemble those of video games, instead of the other way around: incomplete versions of films, released with glaring technical flaws resulting from poor management of non-unionized workplaces. This was possibly the first tentpole movie that would have been patched on day one.


As measured in the polls, Americans feel more supportive of unions now than they have in years. Given the few Americans who belong to it, the problem remains to translate this generic support into public pressure. Stories in Tap Reset suggest an argument: Labor advocates could harness the incredible online energy of angry gamers by arguing that a new era of mass organizing wouldn’t just be good for video game makers, it would be good for them. games themselves.

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