One-Dimensional Creativity: A Marcusean Critique of Work and Play in the Video Game Industry

Bulut, Ergin
ommunication, Capitalism & Critique: Journal for a Global Sustainable Society

Creativity is at the heart of the video game industry. Industry professionals, especially those producing blockbuster games for the triple-A market, speak fondly of their creative labour practices, flexible work schedules, and playful workplaces. However, a cursory glance at major triple-A franchises reveals the persistence of sequel game production and a homogeneity in genres and narratives. Herbert Marcuse’s critique of one-dimensionality may help to account for this discrepancy between the workers’ creative aspirations and the dominant homogeneity in game aesthetics. What I call ‘one-dimensional creativity’ defines the essence of triple-A game production. In the name of extolling the pleasure principle at work, one-dimensional creativity eliminates the reality principle, but only superficially. One-dimensional creativity gives game developers the opportunity to express themselves, but it is still framed by a particular technological rationality that prioritises profits over experimental art. One-dimensional creativity negates potential forms of creativity that might emerge outside the industry’s hit-driven logics. Conceptually, ‘one-dimensional creativity’ renders visible the instrumentalisation of play and the conservative design principles of triple-A game production – a production that is heavily structured with technological performance, better graphics, interactivity, and speed. Multi-dimensional video game production and aesthetics, the opposite of one-dimensional creativity, is emerging from the DIY game production scene, which is more invested in game narratives and aesthetics outside the dominant logics of one-dimensionality in triple-A game production.