E3: Putting Play in its Place Since 1995

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There’s so much wrong with the videogames industry, and there will always be important work to be done within it. But sometimes, in our attention to urgent matters, we can lose the forest for the trees. The entire enterprise deserves our critical attention. Events like #E32016 (and many other games conferences and events) should remind us that this business exists because it is lucrative to corporations and their subsidiaries & dependents — from media conglomerates to resource extraction firms to hardware manufacturers to startup dev teams and beyond.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, we should never forget that this industry, at almost every level, is fundamentally about capturing and holding our attention and playfulness so as to convert them into various forms of capital — and that the preponderance of that capital ends up in the hands of a relative few. Events like #E32016 continue the process of normalizing this kind of capture (and our willing surrender to it).

It’s a dark irony that this supposedly pro-play industry is ultimately about disciplining play, rather than liberating it, by putting play and players into their “proper place” as controllable and measurable commodities. It is about using play to turn a buck or build a brand. Sure, all play is transformative, and all play activities can be understood in one way or another through a lens of “use” — but not all transformation is for the better, and not all uses bear the same relations to justice and equity. If we really want to talk about play and democracy (and take action accordingly), we have to talk about what videogames are, and how, if at all, we might resist this uniquely subtle form of spectacle that seeks to chew up and “monetize” our will-to-play.

TL;DR – the Latin root of the word, “entertain” is “to hold.”