Inside Job: Why Crunch is Awesome

Inside Job: Why Crunch is Awesome

So as long as there is an annual cycle, and as long as there is heavy competition, not to mention shifting publisher demand, there is going to be a turbulent cocktail of events coming between game developers and the noble attempt to have a reasonable family life.

But these are exterior challenges. On top of them, beneath them, around them, is a deeper problem:

Crunch is addictive.

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This really was an interesting read. While not a developer, I am a writer and, most likely to the horror of my future employers (why they hired me is beyond any Earth found knowledge), at the interview I told them that I work best under pressure and that while I may not look like I'm working hard during the week, when it comes to deadline you can guarantee there'll be amazing output and on time.

Also, the way you've written this piece actually gave me a little adrenalin rush. Thank you for an insightful post! (I also bookmarked all those wonderful links as well, excellent secondary reading seldom comes in such large proportions)

Go figure. In cases of stress, I sometimes find my brain locking itself, as a self defense against just a mass of parasitic noise and agression and I just want to fuck it all.

Other times, I realize that I'm hyper productive and I churn out plenty of stuff when I'm very nervous (I type on keyboard with my left hand, I click on the mouse with my right hand, and I bite the nails of my third hand).

But this only work when everything around is fine (family, friend, sleep, sex, fun, etc.).

So pressure within the right context, yes, it can work. A little bit.
But again, that's not an excuse for abuse, and I'm sure some may have already made a leap of logic here.


Superb writing as usual.

This is actually something I've been thinking about a lot lately as I write up the dissertation. I've actually been thinking a lot about this particular aspect of game development. The inter-relation of desire/drive/instrumental play/etc. Of course the social-theoretical bits get pretty academic-ie (I have to please the committee first, then I can come back and write the book), but there is something about the pursuit of something creative that drives people differently.

== An excerpt is below, it's not quite worked out, but coming along... ==

"Why do we always wind up at ea_spouse*1*? It has become work/play pornography. I suppose in part because of its accessibility. We haven't had much opportunity to observe these occurrences in the flesh, because field site access is so limited, and a LiveJournal site is so much more redly accessible to the social scientist. Just like porn on the internet. That is not to say that it hasn't been an important index, or an important galvanizing point for game industry workers. It most certainly is that. But our fixation on it draws our attention away from the broader issue, why and how does work/play have such a propensity for damage?

*1*For more information on the LiveJournal blog which sparked renewed discussion of Quality of Life (QoL) issues in the video game industry, please see: (ea_spouse 2004). Recently GameDeveloper magazine published a follow up article examining the success and failure of QoL efforts in the game industry (Hyman 2007).

However, the fixation on ea_spouse, even in positive ways, draws our attention from the reality that the situation is much more difficult than we first thought. The desire game, "I want, and will pursue" strikes so clearly at the issues faced by video game developers. What is it precisely that drives them to do what they do, and to do it so intensely in many cases? Most troubling in all of this is the collapse of desire, work, and play into AutoPlay, which "marks the point at which the varied, complex forms of interactivity and productivity that have become the trademark of the 'digital age' loop into recursive forms of disengagement ... Players cease to be desiring subjects" (Schüll 2005, p. 78).
But, if that were the case then why do we find similar characteristics amongst people working for free? Sure there is soft coercion and co-optation, these are corporations. But it doesn't make any sense, because despite these conditions, and beyond simply the "cool" factor of it all, people are driven by their jobs. There is something about the intellectual, visual, collaborative aspect of it that hits at something deeper.

"Hackers describe this mode of labor as "deep-hack mode," a cavernous state of mental and often physical isolation in which one reaches such a pure state of concentration that basic biological drives like sleeping and eating are put on hold during the hours or days that pass." (Coleman 2005, p. 233)

Deep-hack mode doesn't hit just hackers. It hits artists, designers, graduate students, and many others. Work/play has tapped into something which when allowed to drive to its own beat, does become "mystified" exploitation.

Just as the military industrial complex once forced the free rhythms of labor into the measured beat of work, so now its successors oblige the free rhythms of play to become equally productive. Alan Liu: "Increasingly, knowledge work has no true recreational outside."* The time and space of the topological world is organized around the maintenance of boredom, nurturing it yet distracting it just enough to prevent its implosion in on itself, from which alone might arise the counter power to the game. (Wark 2007, p. 172)

Sounds like fun. This is a different set of desires, the "phenomenology of the zone." I wonder however if all of these games are worth playing? What is the payout? What is being pursued and often at such risks? Why then do my informants keep doing it?


I prefer to take my time when programming, though that moment of nerdvana - the prograsm, some have called it - is a rare treat. Even though I've only been programming for a very few years, however, I've already observed firsthand that the "crunch" the author describes isn't something that can be forced. That alone sets it outside of reality, since in actual development projects, crunch is forced by definition.

A good read, though!


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