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Casual Games and the Work of Affect

Version of Record: Anable, Aubrey (2013) Causal Games and the Work of Affect. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.2doi:10.7264/N3ZW1HVD

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Casual games are stupid and they are taking over our lives. This is what a recent New York Times Magazine article concluded. Sam Anderson, the article’s author, writes, “Tetris and its offspring (Angry Birds, Bejeweled, Fruit Ninja, etc.) have colonized our pockets and our brains and shifted the entire economic model of the video-game industry. Today we are living, for better and worse, in a world of stupid games.” Anderson continues,

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Stupid games”¦are rarely occasions in themselves. They are designed to push their way through the cracks of other occasions. We play them incidentally, ambivalently, compulsively, almost accidentally. They’re less an activity in our day than a blank space in our day; less a pursuit than a distraction from other pursuits. You glance down to check your calendar and suddenly it’s 40 minutes later and there’s only one level left before you jump to the next stage, so you might as well just launch another bird. [1]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Disdain and hyperbole aside, Anderson has a point. The ubiquity of casual games, their cartoonish graphics, and simple repetitive mechanics do make them seem like the inarticulate (but friendly) cousin of time and labor-intensive console games and massively multi-player online games (MMOGs). Yet, Anderson’s representation of casual games as all-consuming, but also blank spaces neatly summarizes the way critics seem unable (or unwilling) to attach meaning to casual games beyond their popularity and impact on the video game industry. Similarly, Anderson is unable to come to any conclusion about how and why we play them. According to him, our play is both incidental and taking over our lives. Casual games simply seem too banal and too significant to analyze.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 With some notable exceptions, casual games are often figured like this in both popular and academic accounts.[2] Even the term “casual game” itself performs this distinction: designating, implicitly and by contrast, an aesthetic, narrative, and procedural formalism to other types of video games. Compounding the difficulty around making sense of casual games is the disagreement over the extent to which they are or are not largely played by women. This article begins from the premise that women play casual games more than they play other types of video games and that this shapes the cultural meanings and functions of casual games. The extent to which casual games either need to be rescued from being viewed as feminine or need to be preserved as a site where woman are actively playing video games is less important than the fact that both views position casual games, somewhat uncomfortably, in relation to gender.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Game theorist and designer Ian Bogost offers a brief but useful discussion about casual games that illustrates the gendered dimensions of taste and distinction in game studies. Asking if there is such a thing as “kitsch” in the video game world, Bogost concludes that casual games fit this description. Using Thomas Kinkade as an example, Bogost defines kitsch as “an art urging overt sentimentality, focused on the overt application of convention, without particular originality.”[3] Importantly, for Bogost kitsch functions as a relationship between the aesthetics of sentimentalism and their display as markers of class location and as aspirations of class mobility. It is the problem of display that troubles Bogost in his quest to identify the Kinkade equivalent in the video game world. While similar aesthetics can be found in games, we don’t display video games like we hang paintings on our living room walls. Bogost resolves this dilemma through a consideration of the casual game Diner Dash. In Diner Dash (GameLab/PlayFirst), players lead the protagonist Flo through a series of levels as she works her way up as a waitress/restaurant owner, seating guests, taking orders, serving food, and clearing tables. First released in 2003, it is one of the top-selling downloadable games of all time, spawning numerous sequels, and inspiring countless imitators. Diner Dash is kitsch, according to Bogost, not because it deploys the “naturalistic sentimentalism” of a Thomas Kinkade painting, but rather because it deploys “occupational sentimentalism” in its depiction of the virtue of hard work. In this way, he sees Diner Dash as the equivalent of the motivational poster hung in an office cubicle that validates the protestant work ethic. You cannot hang a video game on a wall, Bogost notes, but casual games like Diner Dash (and Farmville, Mafiawars, Words with Friends, etc.) are displayed all over the virtual walls of Facebook publically marking the players’ progress and rewards. Bogost writes, “by surrounding ourselves with posters, or games, that espouse ideals of control, the timeworn hope of pure will breeds the wistfulness that makes kitsch appealing.”[4]

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Bogost’s Greenbergian dismissal of casual games as kitsch reproduces in game studies the familiar good versus bad object distinctions premised on dubious notions of serious aesthetic value versus sentimentalism. This view of casual games can be understood as continuing the long tradition of dismissing as insignificant cultural forms that are coded as feminine.[5] By comparing casual games to motivational posters, however, and aligning the form with “occupational sentimentalism,” Bogost, perhaps unconsciously, points to precisely what is significant about them: casual games are bound up with feelings about work and many are explicitly aimed at the working woman and tap into a perceived shared longing for a better working life. Casual games like Diner Dash and many others explicitly simulate occupations through their narratives and game mechanics. Beyond content, casual games as a form connote the bored office worker sitting in front of her computer with a game always in progress in the background of her desktop, behind the windows of “real” work for which she is being paid. As Anderson says in the quotation above, casual games “push their way through the cracks of other occasions.” But is there more to their gendered and interstitial qualities than just kitsch? This article argues that when we open up a casual game on our phone, tablet, desktop, or other digital device we are opening up an affective process or a form of relation, between player and game, user and machine, and, through social networks, between player and a wider community of players. Contrary to the tendencies of the popular gaming press, and even game studies, to dismiss casual games as insignificant, this article argues for understanding casual gaming as a site in digital media culture where we find the animation of affective processes that are partially informed by both representational practices and the less tangible experience of digital play.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 I am using affect here primarily according to the ways it has been discussed and applied in the work of Brain Massumi, Steven Shaviro, and Lauren Berlant. Not because these three necessarily agree about what affect is, but because each develop our understanding of affect in ways that can tell us something about its work in casual games. Succinctly, affect names the relational forces and intensities that circulate through culture and between subjects, but are not yet tied to or named by subjects. Once tied to subjects and named as love, fear, boredom, etc. affect becomes representable as emotion. The “affective turn” in critical theory gives us access to 1) the ways the senses are employed and make meaning through cultural texts beyond the scope (and the scopic limits) of “representation” 2) the ambient or immaterial intensities that escape discourse, but nonetheless interrupt or impinge upon subjects and form affinities based on shared feelings, and 3) the ways that the capturing, management, and commodification of these relational forces are increasingly tied to the 21st century laboring subject-citizen.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Affect, as a concept that names relational and ambient forces, sheds new light on a game form that seems to exist as both ambient media for the individual as well as a mediating force between individuals and other bodies (non-human included). Because affect is not tied to bodies, but rather flows between them and presses upon them, it evokes a cybernetic system of inputs and outputs. In this way, the concept of affect lends itself productively to the analysis of video games. Video games compel us to act (and to be acted upon) through the procedures of their algorithmic structure. In a very basic sense, we make choices and push buttons in games because of how games structure our feelings about those choices and actions. The gap between what is named as emotion and what is felt, but remains unarticulated, in casual games is my concern. The interstitial quality of casual games””that they are played during in-between times and spaces and that they constitute affective pathways between ourselves and others””are the central ideas explored here.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Casual Games and Work

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The industry classification of “casual games” encompasses several genres””online puzzle, word, and card games such as Bejeweled, Scrabulous, or Solitaire, and also simulation, time management, and social games such as Guitar Hero, Diner Dash and Farmville. The basic similarities that align these games are their cartoonish graphics, simple mechanics, often free or minimal cost, and, importantly, short levels. Casual games are designed to be played in short bursts of 5-10 minutes on a computer, mobile device, or gaming console and then set aside. Often, these games have multiple iterations across several platforms. The online social network Facebook has turned casual games into ludic mediators and interludes within one’s virtual community. [6] These types of games have become one of the most important global business and game design models in the industry, precisely because they reach beyond the usual game industry demographic of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. In North America, the industry identifies the casual games audience as primarily women over the age of thirty-five.[7] The casual game market in India and China has exploded in recent years as an affordable gaming model for youth in these countries that seek out games for their mobile devices.  As the market for labor-intensive console games and MMOGs has plateaued while the budgets for their production continue to soar, the industry’s response has been to reach new players through casual games.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Casual games are bound up with work, generally, and with working women, in particular, in a number of ways. Casual games are designed to be interruptible because they are understood to be played in the context of work done while sitting in front of a computer or played on a mobile phone that might at any moment receive a call.  Jesper Juul notes that, “[d]ownloadable casual game design allows the player to enter and leave a game very quickly, making it possible to play a game while at work, for example, or while waiting for a phone call.”[8] The relationship between casual games and the white-collar work environment is widely acknowledged by the industry. In a 2007 report titled, “Survey: Tens of Millions of White Collar Workers Play Casual Video Games,” PopCap Games, one of the major developers and distributors of casual games, found that one quarter of “white collar” workers play video games at work.[9] Due to the stigma of self-reporting this behavior, we can assume that this number is significantly higher. But casual games are not solely associated with the white-collar workplace nor exclusively with the white (or pink) collar worker. Wherever and whenever people are waiting for something else to happen (a commute on the bus or subway to end, a movie or doctor’s appointment to begin, etc.) casual games are played. Many of these players are women who do not play any other video games and would never identify as gamers.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Casual games often represent work, particularly working women. The “occupational sentimentalism” of Bogost’s example, Diner Dash, can be found in scores of other casual games. The Dash series and spin-offs include: Hotel Dash, Garden Dash, Cooking Dash, Wedding Dash, Dairy Dash, Diaper Dash, Pet Shop Hop, Dress Shop Hop, Teddy Factory, Betty’s Beer Bar, Nanny Mania, Dr. Daisy Pet Vet, Magic Farm, Airport Mania, Sally’s Spa, Ranch Rush, Hospital Hustle, Wendy’s Wellness, and even Grave Mania (where you play as a zombie undertaker). As the titles indicate, the Dash games tend to focus on careers, activities, and interests that are coded as feminine. Some of the titles also speak to occupations that are popularly represented as “dream jobs” like owning a spa or wellness centre, being a veterinarian, or working on a magic farm. Perhaps more than anything, though, these titles speak to the games’ time management structures. These games are organized around a mad rush, dash, hustle, or hop to complete repetitive tasks in a limited amount of time. However, as the titles also indicate, if these are indeed dream jobs, playing at these occupations is not entirely a sentimental endeavor, but also a mania.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The most common stereotype about casual games is that they are played during stolen moments, as a break (or distraction) from work that the player should otherwise be doing. Some of the earliest games for personal computers, for example, came with a “boss key” that, when activated, masked the current game on the screen behind fake spreadsheets designed to give the impression work, rather then play, was being done on the computer. There is a temporal and spatial ambiguity in casual games in terms of where and when we play them. (Are they played at work, at home, on the commute? Are we on our boss’s time or our own time?) Michel de Certeau’s example of la perruque offers us a way to think of playing casual games as a tactical response to our conditions of labor. Literally meaning “wig”, la perruque is the worker’s own work disguised as work for his employer. De Certeau writes, “La perruque may be as simple as a secretary’s writing a love letter on “˜company time’ or as complex as a cabinetmaker’s “˜borrowing’ a lathe to make a piece of furniture for his living room.”[10] De Certeau’s problematically gendered distinction between the simple and complex still understands both practices as antagonistic to capitalism’s uses of the worker and as a way that workers preserve a portion of their labor value for themselves. It is tempting to see casual games in this way””as separate from the work we do for an employer. Yet casual games are entirely embedded in work culture. Recently, with the gamification of education, work, public health, and other areas of everyday life once hostile to video games, the stereotype of casual games as an activity that distracts from productivity has receded. Whether played surreptitiously at work, or as part of official job training, or on one’s “own time,” say on the commute between work and home, casual games are intrinsically about the organization, rhythm, habits, and management of time devoted to labor. What we need to ask, then, is what constitutes the worker’s own work in the context of casual games and the 24-hour digital workplace? Perhaps it is more useful to consider la perruque of casual games as actually work disguised from ourselves. Casual games stage the affective work of being a worker (what it feels like) as well as the work of being a subject who longs to feel differently in relation to work.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Interruptability and Flo(w)

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 To develop this analysis I examine Bogost’s example of Diner Dash in more detail. While the game may set itself up as an escape from work, it is also clearly about working at the same time. Diner Dash‘s introductory manga-style sequence begins with the text “Somewhere in a dreary office.” Below this text sits Flo at her desk in front of a computer saying “These spreadsheets are driving me crazy.” Over the next two frames, faceless co-workers shove more and more work onto Flo’s desk as she angrily simmers, finally erupting in the fourth frame, running screaming past cubicles and out onto the streets. Her co-workers chase her calling after her, “Flo! Flo!” Exhausted, panting, and leaning against a building, Flo exclaims, “Man! There’s GOT to be something better than THIS!!” Over the next two frames, she stumbles upon a run down restaurant that is for sale, decides to quit her stressful office job, and opens her own restaurant.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Through this opening sequence we can see how the narrative and tone of Diner Dash both represents the working woman and represents dissatisfaction with the “dreary office.” Flo’s escape from the office mirrors the player’s own presumed escape from work into the game. The game as digital process reinforces this effect on a procedural level. When the game loads, it automatically takes over the entire screen, completely obscuring any non-game digital processes for which the device might be used. The opening of Diner Dash also sets up the game as akin to the daydream. How often has one had a job from which they have imagined a dramatic exit, perhaps running out of the office screaming, or just simply spent work time fantasizing about an entirely different occupation?

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 The introduction’s theme of escape from work is brief, however. After clicking “let’s play”, the game leads the player through a tutorial level where, as Flo, she learns the ropes of being a restaurant owner that, in the perverse logic of the game, means learning to be a waitress. The tutorial level also serves as an introduction to the mechanics of the game: the clicking, dragging, and clicking again to achieve the stated goals of quick, efficient, and friendly service. As customers arrive in the restaurant, the player must click and drag to move them to a table. Then the player must guide Flo through a series of actions, also achieved through simple clicks: taking the order, posting the order for the chef, serving the food, delivering the check, and clearing the dishes. Each successful action earns the player points, and bonus points are earned by performing the same action in a chain to increase efficiency. As Flo earns more money, she opens new restaurants, each one another step up from the diner.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 In Shira Chess’s smart analysis of the Diner Dash series she discusses the importance of the time management mechanics for the representation of work in the games. Time management games structure play through a series of simple actions that must be quickly completed over timed intervals. The pacing of the game and the difficulty of the tasks increase as the player progresses through the game. Thus, Chess argues that Diner Dash, “At its core”¦is a conflation of work and play that resonates throughout the game. While the game is intended for play/leisure time, thematically it involves work spaces that bear a great deal of similarity to work in the non-game world.”[11] Even the name of the game’s protagonist, Flo, speaks to the perceived goals of time management games and to the flow of efficient labor that she (and the player) is meant to embody. Chess understands this conflation of work and play as part of the appeal of time management games for women. Citing the work of Arlie Russell Hochschild on working women and time management, Chess points out that games like Diner Dash might appeal to women who already feel the pressures of juggling multiple “shifts,” at work and at home.[12] Time management games, according to Chess, do not “save” time for the busy working woman, but they convert leisure time into time management “training.”[13]

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Building on Chess’s analysis, I propose that casual games like Diner Dash offer more than just more work disguised as play, but also a rhythm and a habit that speak to the desire for flow in a digital landscape defined by interruption. Rather than seeing games played on digital devices as either separate from or entirely conflated with work activities, we might consider casual games as rhythmic interludes that mediate the gaps, pauses, and glitches that are part of everyday digital work rhythms. The timing and rhythm of the games interrupts our workflow in precisely the way that interruptability, fragmentation, and piece-work have come to be the common conditions of labor in the digital age. The digital worker is constantly asked to move from one task to another, to juggle multiple and varied tasks simultaneously, and to interrupt her career and retrain for another sometimes multiple times in her life. Even within a single workday in front of a computer, we move from one window to another, negotiating the different languages, rules, and logics of the different software programs that we are using. Cathy Davidson describes the conditions of digital work well,

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 [W]orkflow in the digital age is a constant unsorted bombardment that defies old divisions of labor. We receive urgent memos at a rate never imagined before”¦. And we receive those on the same computer that delivers us banana bread recipes from Aunt Bessie and “lolcats”. We may work in a cubicle (although even that is changing) but all the world’s diversions exist at our fingertips, one mouse click away.[14]

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 The digital landscape is not only about the easy flow of the hyperlink or seamless touch navigation, but it is also about constant procedural and ergonomic shifts between windows, programs, devices, interfaces, and lexicons. The everyday experience of digital media is equally, if not more, an experience of pauses, breaks, ruptures, and glitches as it is an experience of flow.[15]

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 In light of this, casual games can be productively linked to other types of mass media geared towards women. In Tania Modleski’s 1970s study of soap operas and women viewers, for example, she argues that the conditions of reception for soap operas correlate with the rhythms of women’s work in the home.  She partly argues against another type of “flow,” Raymond Williams’ idea that TV programs are parts of a whole and that shifts from one programming type to another should not be seen as interruptions, but rather as continuous. For Modleski, the flow within soaps as well as between soaps and other daytime programming units, like game shows, “reinforces the very principle of interruptability crucial to the proper functioning of women in the home.”[16] Similarly, we might think of casual games as punctuating and providing a rhythm and timing to work, whether in the home, at work, or during the commute in between these spaces””mediating shifts between different tasks, different emotional tones, different people, and attention and inattention. Since Modleski conducted her study, television soap operas have all but disappeared and video games have become a dominant form of mass media. Perhaps casual games are filling in for and significantly revising at least one of the cultural functions once performed by the daytime soap. The interruptability of casual games, their relative simplicity and short levels, offers the player a type of pleasure that speaks to the way her work time is already structured. While the experience of rhythm and flow within the games’ fictions and mechanics speak to the desire for a smoother path across the multiple shifts of the day and even a smoother path across the troubled contemporary work landscape.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 In Chess’s analysis of the Dash games she links their time management structure to the management of emotions. In Diner Dash, for example, Flo’s performance as a waitress is measured by the happiness levels of her customers (indicated by heart icons). Citing Hochschild again, Chess links these representations in the game to the ways women are called upon to do emotional labor in the workplace and at home.[17] Chess writes, “if the Dash games construct a complicated relationship between work and play””then the games, too, have the potential to become a form of emotional labor.”¦ [E]motional play becomes retuned into a kind of emotional labor. And just as emotional labor takes a toll on many women, so might emotional play.”[18] By focusing on affect I am interested in how the representation of emotional labor in casual games is only a trace of the affective processes that get called up into representation. It is true that emotional labor is one of the types of work often represented in casual games and Chess is correct to critique their feminist potential along these lines. However, by shifting attention slightly away from emotions and onto affect, I want to pry open a space for the ways these games mediate affective processes that cannot be pinned to any subject or representational practice. About the difference between affect and emotion, Steven Shaviro writes, “Emotion is representable and representative; but it also points beyond itself to an affect that works transpersonally and transversally”¦and that is irreducible to any sort of representation.”[19] In this way, the rhythms of casual games””a quality that exceeds both their narrative and mechanical processes””are felt, not as emotions tied to subjects or digital objects, but rather as affect passing between them.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Affect and Play

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Bogost’s characterization of casual games as deploying “occupational sentimentalism” is correct to the degree that the games appeal to a player’s feeling of pleasure gained through the accomplishment of simple tasks in an otherwise difficult and unfair world. These games seem like fantasy workspaces, where tasks are clearly defined, easy to accomplish, and always rewarded. They offer fantasies of wholeness and satisfaction in a work landscape that usually offers little in that regard.  It would be incorrect, however, to see these games as simply self-soothing activities for the contemporary worker or only emotional labor. Their relative easiness compared to hardcore games is deceptive. In these games, the more work we do””or times we click””the more complicated, sped up, and vast our tasks become. Thus, their appeal to players cannot be reduced to any simple notion of pleasure, or feeling good by making others feel good.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Again, consider Diner Dash. At the end of the game, after Flo has completed all the tasks of becoming the head of a restaurant empire, she is transported above the clouds where a Hindu Goddess challenges her to ten waitressing trials inside her own restaurant. To complete the trials, the goddess endows Flo with four arms allowing her to carry twice the amount she could before.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Diner Dash‘s ending is a gentle critique of it’s own “endless work” procedural rhetoric. After Flo has worked her way up and has built a restaurant empire, her reward is extra appendages with which to more efficiently serve. In this way, the game begins by creating an affective relation between player and game based on reward for the completion of small, simple tasks, but as it develops, this affective relationship is transformed by the game’s operational logic that, in order to proceed, the player must take on more and more tasks and must accomplish them faster and faster. Almost all video games follow this same trajectory, from easy to more difficult as the player invests more time, but in Diner Dash this video game convention combined with its representational strategies and the context of its presumed use form a procedural expression that speaks to the conditions of modern labor and an unarticulated longing for something else.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Rather than dismissing casual games as kitsch, stupid, or blank spaces in our daily lives, we might view them as important contemporary sites of what Lauren Berlant calls “the unfinished business of sentimentality in American culture.”[20] Looking at mass mediated women’s culture mostly in the form of mid-twentieth century film and literature, Berlant identifies the female complaint genre as films and books that, “foreground witnessing and explaining women’s disappointment in the tenuous relation of romantic fantasy to lived intimacy.”[21] Berlant writes,

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Over more than a century and a half of publication and circulation, the motivating engine of this scene has been the aesthetically expressed desire to be somebody in a world where the default is being nobody, or worse, being presumptively all wrong: the intimate public legitimates qualities, ways of being, and entire lives that have otherwise been deemed puny or discarded. It creates situations where those qualities can appear as luminous.[22]

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 The casual games I have discussed can be productively added to the female complaint genre, yet here the complaint is not only about women’s disappointment over lived intimacy, but also a complaint that expresses a whole range of disappointment, not the least of which is the ways work culture and labor conditions in the 21st century seem to exacerbate gender inequality while at the same time universalize women’s precarious status as workers to massive segments of the population, regardless of gender. Casual games open up the possibility of affective relations that call into question the myths and failures of the digital workplace, the constantly increasing bleed of work into our private lives, and the role of emotional labor in the 21st century.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Clicking and Connection

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 As affective processes, casual games serve as interfaces (as points of entry or proxy systems) between different spatial and temporal registers, but also as interfaces between bodies and machines and between the individual player and a community of players. We can see the first type of interface through the mechanics of clicking in casual games. In games like Diner Dash, where work is both the subject and presumed context of play, our physical relationship to the machines of our labor is momentarily transformed through the game’s expressive proceduralism.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Time management games are also sometimes referred to as “click management” games, connecting the player’s manipulation of the interface (clicking) with the goals of the game. The player clicks on various tasks to complete them (by touching her cell phone screen or clicking her mouse), always juggling multiple tasks and making decisions about order and rhythm in order to complete the tasks effectively. Video game genres are often classified by game mechanics (i.e. first person shooters, platform games, racing, fighting, etc.). As Juul puts it, game genres are named “after what you do as a player, rather than after the fiction.”[23] This fact is often used to demonstrate or to shore up ludological claims in game studies that game mechanics are more significant to the player’s experience than any of the more obvious signifying units””narrative, graphics, sound, etc. What casual games make clear, however, are both that game mechanics are intimately tied to the representational practices of games and that game mechanics are themselves kinds of fictions.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 The obvious fictions of click management games are about particular occupations””restaurateur, waitress, farmer, real estate agent, zombie undertaker, etc.””but the actual experience of labor in these games is absurdly easy. The act of harvesting a crop or working an eight-hour shift on your feet is reduced to a series of clicks of the mouse or taps of the touchscreen. What can seem like a discontinuity between the banal activity of clicking or tapping our digital device and the nightmarish representation of increasingly difficult and endless work is actually a transformation of our relationship to the digital device. The physical act of touching a touchscreen or maneuvering a mouse are detached from their usual search and selection functions and replaced with the abstract though quite material repetitive labor of click management. The supposed labor-saving digital device, and the way we feel it and feel about it, is momentarily transformed through play. The maniacal and rapid tapping and clicking of the player to complete a timed task is a highly visible form of work on smooth machines that are designed to conceal our labor. In this way, our actions in the game make the time and work of digital devices visible in ways that reflect on how these same aspects of our everyday digital experiences are often submerged beneath the rhetoric of ease, efficiency, and flow.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 What we do in a game, the actions, is shaped by the game’s representational fictions, and the player’s actions are themselves signifying practices that create meaning. Indeed, we experience video games as digital procedures, but our very access to their procedural expression is necessarily couched in and framed by the visual, aural, and narrative dimensions of the game.[24] The opposite is also true. Our experience of a game’s representations is always informed by the invisible digital procedures the game asks our bodies to make visible.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 The “click” is both a break and a connection. Clicking on a link on a website or clicking on Flo in Diner Dash causes a rupture between the present state of the digital procedure and it’s next state. Our clicks punctuate the flow of code, inputting new data to close down one field of action and to begin another. But, like punctuation, clicks also create an expressive relationship across modes (work/play), spaces (the place of work/elsewhere), and bodies (the player’s body/the computer’s body and the wider community of players). How do casual games and their click management structures serve as affective processes between the player and a wider community of players?

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Since the emergence of the online social network Facebook (FB), casual games have used the platform as means to add a social dimension to casual gaming. When casual games are played as part of social networks, the game application uses the network to links players through their shared investment in the game. Through wall posts, game applications encourage players in the same network to buy, share, or swap game items or to set up restaurants, farms, dress shops, etc. adjacent to each other. Game-related wall postings on FB are also means to advertise one’s progress in the game and to generate competition between players. In the overlap between the affective processes, proceduralism, and representational practices of casual games and those of Facebook (FB) we can begin to see how casual games can create a form of relation between individual players and a wider community of players.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 In March of 2011, Diner Dash‘s FB application had over two million “monthly active users” according to its profile page (a significant number, but just a fraction of Farmville‘s more than 24 million users).[25] Like all social games on FB, Diner Dash uses postings on player’s walls to encourage regular play. Once a player agrees to allow the game app access to their FB profile, Diner Dash will publically post nearly constant updates about the player’s progress in the game as well as post on her friend’s walls to enlist their support. In this way, FB’s tool of the “wall post” is used to both keep the player engaged with the game, even during times when they are not actively playing it, but also to deepen the player’s affective investment in the social network. In addition to the ways the game communicates with individual users through wall posts, Diner Dash‘s application page uses the FB “status update” function to communicate broadly with its users, interpellating them into a wider community of players.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 The rhythm of clicks in casual games is extended beyond the game itself into the social network. The player’s clicking on images, status updates, and friends’ wall posts about the game mirrors the performativity of clicking in the game. Furthermore, when the game uses FB to request action in the game””say, encouraging players to trade items with their friends””the player’s click resonates across several social and media registers. It actually performs actions in the game, but it also performs a linking action between players and friends. It is a trivial link, perhaps, but in light of the larger affective processes that circulate around casual games, it opens the player (and the game) up to wider fields of action.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Shortly after the March 2011 earthquake in Japan, subsequent tsunami, and nuclear disaster many popular online games such as Diner Dash and Farmville and their players used Facebook as a platform through which to express concern for those affected and to raise money for assistance. For example, a status update on Diner Dash‘s Facebook page stated, “From everyone here at PlayFirst and Diner Dash, our hearts [are] with all those affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.”[26] With the appeal that profits would be donated to relief efforts, several popular games encouraged players to buy in-game items like a pagoda bridge, an “Earthquake Relief Lettuce” crop, or a daikon radish crop. These sentiments and appeals to charitable gameplay, were met with more displays of sentiment (mostly positive) by players using Facebook’s “like” button, emoticons of hearts and happy faces, and words of support in their comments.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 It is fair to take a critical view of the games’ mobilization and expression of concern for the victims of the disasters in Japan. Rather then seeing it as a disingenuous example of corporations using disaster to increase their bottom line, though, we might understand this as a completely logical outcome of casual games as affective processes that participate in the commodification of affect that is characteristic of 21st century capitalism. The not quite articulated longing for different work and different relationship to labor can be easily captured on FB as “liking” something, ASCII hearts, happy faces, sharing links, and other ways of signaling the sentiment of global goodwill through digital commodities. The circulation of sentiment we see in this example is an example of how affect gets converted into displays of feeling that, for Berlant, is characteristic of the intimate public sphere.[27] As Berlant points out, the intimate public sphere is practiced and expanded through commodities. Casual games are part of the larger affective economy of the intimate public sphere.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 The Work of Affect

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 In Steven Shaviro’s terms, we can view casual games as “affective maps.” He writes, “A map does not just replicate the shape of a territory; rather, it actively inflects and works over that territory.”[28] The territory they map is that of what it feels like to be a worker, and a working women in particular, in the present and in the West (there is still much to learn about how casual games function in other parts of the world). The work of affect in casual games is an argument for understanding how casual games not only circulate through the ludic spheres of 21st century labor, but also put us into a state of affectability that opens into wider and more public spheres of being in the world.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 In the ambiguous and in-between time and space they create, causal games open up an affective relation between player and game, worker and machine, and, through social networks, between player and a wider community of players, which creates a margin of maneuverability in the status quo. Brian Massumi describes affect as the “margin of maneuverability” in every present situation. In Massumi’s work, affect is related to a notion of hope””hope in the sense of the potential that every small movement of affect between people and between people and objects possesses the possibility for small experimental steps. Massumi writes, “One of the reasons [affect is] such an important concept [“¦] is because it explains why focusing on the next experimental step rather than the big utopian picture isn’t really settling for less. It’s not exactly going for more, either. It’s more like being right where you are “” more intensely.”[29] This idea of “being right where you are””more intensely” describes the experience and the possibility that casual games create. Played on the work computer or on the mobile phone on the way home, casual games double the experience of working and, through this intensification, make strange the contemporary experience of digital work. In the moment of play””that 5-10 minutes in a long work day””you have not really escaped or taken “me time”, rather you experience yourself in the present, working, right where you are””more intensely. Paradoxically, the ambiguous time and space of casual games can result in a sort of clarity of presence. It is affect that fills in and connects the gaps and discontinuities. Here, I find that hope or potential in the affective relationship between work and the worker and between worker and machine this experience of intense presentness initiates.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 The affective relay between people or between people and things are the small experimental steps or possibility for change that Massumi describes. The intensification of presentness can accrue and set the stage for calling into question the strange dislocatedness and temporal indistinctness of work in the digital age. I see a relationship between Massumi’s description of the becoming-ness of affect and what Raymond Williams called structure of feeling. Williams’ notion of a structure of feeling refers to a pre-emergent mode of social formation that is not yet social or material, yet is visible in specific kinds of art. Williams describes a structure of feeling as emerging from “changes in presence” brought about through the experiences created by such art. Williams writes,

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 [T]he peculiar location of a structure of feeling is the endless comparison that must occur”¦between the articulated and the lived. For all that is not fully articulated, all that comes through as disturbance, tension, blockage, emotional trouble, seems to me precisely a major source of major changes in the relation between the signifier and the signified.[30]

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 What I have been describing as the ambiguity and in-between-ness of casual games are the very qualities that prompt the player to enact the endless comparison between the articulated and the lived that Williams describes. Casual games enact in the player comparisons between the game as escape and the game as work, and between work as articulated by the game and work as lived experience. In these comparisons there remains that which is not fully articulated by either and can only be experienced as affect. As such, I understand casual games as an important space within digital culture for creating an experience of affective presentness that has the potential to animate an emergent structure of feeling that repositions the player in relation to her work, her devices, and other worker-players.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 The theories of affect on which I am relying here emphasize the state of in-between-ness not as an appeal to middle of the road mediocrity, but rather as an approach to culture that recognizes how much of the sense we make of world and our actions in it are not entirely caught up in or articulated by clear-cut ideologies or institutions, nor by overt resistance.  Affect speaks to the spaces and moments that fall outside of our work, our home, our social lives””say, the commute between work and home, on public transport, tapping at our mobile phone screens playing a game to pass the time. These spaces and moments and what they constitute are hard to articulate and yet they form the closest thing we know to be “everyday life” and a vernacular digital culture. Berlant writes, “The object [of women’s mass media] is an opportunity for the reanimation of a critical and transformative longing in registers that include power without elevating its normative conventions of transformative fantasy [politics] over other ones.”[31] The casual game as affective process holds potential for transformations of the social order precisely because it seems to escape clear definition as being part of it.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Conclusion

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 The way casual games both represent the working woman and connote an activity done in order to escape work compels me to understand them as being more culturally significant than they are usually made out to be. Rather than being motivational posters””static media that simply adorn and reinforce the status quo of class, gender, and labor conditions””casual games are affective processes with the potential to animate changes in these same conditions. This is not to say that casual games are inherently radical or even progressive media forms, but it is to say that they participate in a different structure of feeling than other types of video games, other media forms, and other digital processes with which we engage.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Casual games function in an ambiguous, but material, time and space between the myriad tasks we do on digital devices: between domestic tasks and social obligations, and between solitary private activities and public/private social networks. When we open a casual game, we open up an affective process and regarding casual games this way allows us to see the relationship between their more visible representational practices and their less visible digital procedures. Casual games are also meaningfully gendered and this is important for understanding how the discourse around casual games has been shaped; how “affect” is not a neutral term, but rather always culturally situated in relation to the gendering of the bodies and objects of mass media culture.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 NOTES

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 [1] Sam Anderson, “Just One More Game … Angry Birds, Farmville and Other Hyperaddictive “˜Stupid Games,'” The New York Times Magazine, April 4, 2012.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 [2] Some notable exceptions are Mia Consalvo, “Using Your Friends 2.0: Social Mechanics in Social Games,” FDG 2011 Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Foundations of Digital Games, ACM, p. 188-195; Shira Chess, “Going with the Flo: Diner Dash and Feminism,” Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2012; and Jesper Juul, A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010).

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 [3] Ian Bogost, How to do Things With Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011) 83.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 [4] Bogost 87.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 [5] Andreas Huyssen lays out this history well in, “Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism’s Other,” After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Post-Modernism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986) 44-64.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 [6] “Casual” denotes a very broad, perhaps too broad, subset of video games and there is a risk of subsuming some very real differences between the games covered by the term by even applying it. In that this work is speaking to this broad discourse and to some of the common platforms, mechanics, and aesthetics of casual games the term is valid, but used cautiously and in the hope that further work on casual games will produce better language with which to distinguish and analyze the differences.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 [7] Casual Games Association, “Casual Games Market Report 2007.” Accessed online at http://www.casualgamesassociation.org/news.php

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 [8] Juul 37.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 [9] PopCap press release, “Survey: One-in-Four White-Collar Gamers Play at Work – Senior Executives Have Most Fun,” September 2007. Accesses online at http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/survey-one-in-four-white-collar-gamers-play-at-work—senior-executives-have-most-fun-155569585.html

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 [10] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. by Steven Randall (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984) 25.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 [11] Shira Chess, , p. 90.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 [12] Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Time Bind (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2001), cited by Chess.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 [13] Chess 91-92.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 [14] Cathy Davidson, “So Last Century,” Times Higher Education, April 28, 2011. Accessed online at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=415941

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 [15] It is tempting to say that this rhythm constitutes only what used to be called “white collar” labor. But between the labor shifts that have made once stable white collar jobs more precarious, the sheer variety of work that involves sitting in front of a computer, and the ubiquity of mobile phones with games on them, the rhythm I am talking about here extends beyond the narrow category of white collar office worker. Games are in the workplace from a call center in Mumbai to a nurses break room in Toronto to a stock broker’s office in Manhattan.

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 [16] Tania Modleski, “Rhythms of Reception: Daytime Television and Women’s Work” in Regarding Television: Critical Approaches, ed. E. Ann Kaplan (University Publications of America, 1983) 71-74.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 [17] Hochschild, The Managed Heart (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983), cited by Chess.

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [18] Chess 96.

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 [19] Steven Shaviro, Post-Cinematic Affect (Winchester, UK: O Books, 2010), 4.

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 [20] Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008) 2.

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 [21] Berlant 1-2.

74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 [22] Berlant 3.

75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 [23] Juul 68.

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 [24] My thinking about the expressive qualities of digital procedures is informed by Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998) 72; and Ian Bogost, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007) 1-64.

77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 [25] Since this research was conducted, Playfirst has discontinued Diner Dash as a FB game. This was due to its low number of FB players relative to games like Farmville. FB fan pages for Diner Dash remain active.

78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 [26] Diner Dash Facebook Profile, “Status Update,” March 11, 2011, 5:21 p.m.

79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 [27] In addition to The Female Complaint, see Berlant, Intimacy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) and The Queen of America Goes to Washington City (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997)

80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 [28] Shaviro 5-6.

81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 [29] “Navigating Moments: An Interview with Brian Massumi,” interview by Mary Zournazi in 21C Magazine, Aug. 20, 2007. Accessed online at www.21cmagazine.com/issue2/ massumi.html.

82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 [30] Raymond Williams, Politics and Letters (New York: Verso, 1981) 168.

83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 [31] Berlant, The Female Complaint, 270.

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Source: http://adareview.fembotcollective.org/ada-issue-2-feminist-game-studies-peer-review/anable/