Does a digital game industry exist?

“If we take eternity to mean not everlasting time but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.”
(Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921)

When we say ‘Digital Game Industry’, we can forget most of the assumptions we have learned at courses on economy. Games are not homogeneous, each is one of its kind. They have no standard use, they have quite different forms according to game genres and players. Most games cannot be picked up as a ‘product’ or cannot be put on market shelves. We can’t even ‘open’ some games, we only ‘enter’ or ‘leave’ from its door. What is being sold as a game in fact looks like a ticket. Entrance ticket to a perpetual virtual world, or entrance ticket to a virtual world that will be instantly created for you. There are single tickets, monthly tickets, unlimited tickets. Sometimes the door is left open and there are only ‘items’ that we buy from the virtual shelves of the virtual world. These concern the players.

Now let’s consider the developers. The collaboration required by a comprehensive game needs a medium of collective creation perhaps never required in any other production domain. Members of a team developing games work more closely than in most other professions. They are in a position to read each other’s minds and form a joint spirit, so to say. Music prepared for the game, scenario written for the game, engine developed for the game etc. is always something more than a dossier or a ‘work’ sent from a nearby desk. Because, playing a game that is made like an obligation also becomes like an obligation… To be precise: in however a ‘state of mind’ game developers have made the game, it shall be such a ‘state of mind’ into which they invite the players. This basic ‘production of a joint spirit’ aspect of game development has probably been experienced by those who participated in the event Global Game Jam. I’m not being romantic: developing of a game is always also the developing of a spirit. Thus it requires a cooperation of spirit as much as possible. Game developers’ excessive tendency to become attached to their ‘work’ concerns this fact that game development as a whole cannot become ‘work’.

Developing a game is developing a joint spirit

It is often told of digital games that their economic value surpassed that of Hollywood movies. However, we don’t usually discuss how the processes of development or playing of digital games go beyond the values expressed by ‘economy’. We accept that we have some commitment to digital games in our private life, but when we want to advocate digital games on a public-official level, we give prominence to ‘economic benefit’ etc. Now it’s clear that they are profitable. But what makes digital games so special? What does it mean to be commited to a game? This ‘economy’ that comes with these games, what does it rely on, in other words, what is the grist to this mill?

We mentioned that there is a close relationship between players’ commitment to a game and developers’ commitment to their work. Thus, to understand the players, we have to look at the culture and logic of ‘work’ formed by the developers. The first thing that catches the eye is here called ‘networking’.

We usually consider a ‘degree’ as the legitimate ground for recruitment (at least in our words), and we tend to consider attempts though personal relationships as ‘fixing’ and declare them illegitimate. Even if we accept the decisiveness of personal relationships’ in work relationships, we are not peacefully reconciled with this idea, and we rather consider it as a ‘thorn of the rose’. In the Game Developers’ Conference that I attended in 2009, I saw that the picture was totally opposite. ‘Networking’, or finding a work or an employee (a project or a developer) by personal relationships was not some ‘sad reality of life’, but it had become almost a lifestyle attended with joy. In my notes, I told about this phenomenon:

“Game development process involves many roles of work: Game design, visual design, programming, music, sound effects, environment design, visual arts, character modeling, animation, game testing, level and puzzle design… These roles intersect in different ways and their definitions mix together. Therefore the companies turn to personal relationships to meet their needs for employees. Moreover, forming a personal relationship network has become a must to be in the industry and has become institutionalized to a certain extent under the name ‘Networking’.

Lots of parties in the evenings and the nights of the Game Developers’ Conference each of which were organized with some other game company, pointed to this fact. The party organized by IGDA for its members also had the same purpose.

Let us also state that overworking (crunching) is a widespread practice in the industry to complete big games, and so it makes it difficult for its employees to develop a social circle and communality that is outside the industry.

In this industry, the activity to make people meet each other directly or indirectly has formed into a game/ritual by itself. Someone says ‘hey let’s do networking’… and everyone stands up to form circles of 3-5 people. The rules are given, if you approach to a circle, they open a place for you (if they don’t, you move away), you listen to what they talk for some time, and then you begin to talk about the topic. After some time, you finish meeting those people, and after swapping your business cards, you turn to other circles.” (GDC notes. Source:

How can we define the ‘work culture’ formed here? We see that the unofficial parties-meetings and personal relationships are crucially decisive in the ‘economy’ that we call the game industry, but the system we designate as ‘economy’ cannot contain the relationships formed here. It looks like we encounter another level that forms the ground for ‘economy’, but how can we name this ground?

Personal Relationships as the ground of Economy

Even the name of METUTECH-ATOM that we have in our proximity should light up something in our head: PRE-INCUBATION CENTER. A strange name for an institution for university-industry cooperation… So what is this pre-incubation center?

“The main objective of pre-incubation structures and systems is to prevent the loss of creative ideas produced by participants and to convert these ideas or projects into experience and investments.” (METUTECH-ATOM website)

There is a question to ask in view of this explanation: How exactly is some ‘idea or project’ that is not ‘lost’ but also has not yet been ‘converted into experience and investments’? The enigma of the name ‘pre-incubation’ rests in this ‘in between’ness. An ‘idea or project’ that does not yet have an economic payoff, still needs a space to live, an ‘interspace’. Because, game developers have to keep alive ‘a joint spirit’. How should we name these ‘pre-economical’ life spaces that form the ground of the economy we call ‘game industry’?

The first pre-incubation center of Europe had been founded in Bielefeld University of Germany in 1997. We will find the answer to our question in this sentence by Paul Virilio dated 1998:

“The globalization of trade is not, then, economic, as has been the constant refrain since the development of the single market; it is, primarily, ecological.” (Paul Virilio, Information Bomb, 1998)

Ecology… The word we were looking for. We can designate the cultural spaces of creation that were founded around playing and game development as certain ‘ecosystems’.

Players and Game Developers as Ecosystems

How should we apprehend a pre-economical ecosystem that forms the ground for an existing economy? When we say ecosystem, we don’t need to talk in terms of real or potential numbers/gains/utilities, therefore we can conveniently move our attention away from popular games to independent and experimental games. So let’s move… Independent game developers were described in the conference notes as follows:

“When you first enter the expo hall in the northern building, there is Rock Band, Blizzard to the left, and various game companies around them. Game videos are displayed on screens in their booths, and all games look familiar. Wandering around the booths, we can almost see the titles on the shelves, FPS, RPG, RTS… On the other hand, if we move further to the backside, we find the booths that were reserved for Independent Games Festival and IGF Mobile. On the tables arranged around circles, each team presents its own game. On each table, there is a computer/mobile device to show the game, and someone from the developer team right next to it.

He turns to you, noticing that you are interested. He first explains the game’s logic. He has maybe told this to a hundred people… But he knows that you won’t understand the game in the first look, because these games do not belong to the genres that we are usually familiar. Then he gives the keyboard/gamepad/iPhone to you for you to give it a try. Maybe you are not so willing, maybe you think that you won’t probably make it; but from this point on, your quickness in adapting the gameplay is very important. Maybe it takes longer for juries to fiddle with these games before awarding their playability, quality of sound, arts, innovation, etc. but a game in the market has at most a few minutes to engage the player. Therefore, the developer keeps a watchful eye on you. After you finish, he asks ‘How do you like it?’.

You will probably say something he has already heard, but still he cannot risk to miss a valuable opinion. He knows that a small adjustment, a little editing in the game can have a great effect for players’ behaviour, expectations and playability.

When we say game, we usually think of ‘titles’, Fallout 3, GTA IV, … (the industry calls a game that has become a product, a ‘title’) But the relations among teams that develop these games, and their relations with their publishers, urge these teams to follow certain assumptions about consumer behaviour and keep themselves away from the abyss of the market. Therefore, although they form the prominent form of perception of the industry, these structures, forming their own crust and armour, keep the basic dynamics of the market away from attention (what it worse were the overlong queues of people up to their sessions). But when we look at an independent studio, in that one meter-square place reserved in the expo hall, we personally confront all of the primordial drives and anxieties of game development. It’s as if we witness the moment of birth of the industry.” (GDC notes. Source:

What is hereby defined as the ‘moment of birth of the industry’, is the ecosystemic/pre-economical interspace that the ‘pre-incubation center’ wants to realize, the space where the ‘spirit’ that forms the game is born and developed as a joint ‘idea or project’ among the developers and players.

Game Creation Space as a Pre-Economical Interspace

Economy begins with a purchase. Thus, we can designate as ‘pre-economical interspaces’ all of the space for creation and relationships that exists before a monetary transaction. To an investor that aims to realize the purchase, this interspace looks like a misty abyss. A game’s economical value is determined only after its ‘release’ to the market. Everything done up to that point, from an investor point of view, corresponds to swinging above this abyss for a extensively long time…

Game development as a ‘labour process’, if we use Karl Marx’s term, is a ‘salto mortale / deadly leap’ that takes a quite long time. To reveal digital game’s difference from other commodities, let’s go through this passage that is a bit lengthy:

“The price [price of iron in terms of gold] while on the one hand indicating the amount of labour-time contained in the iron, namely its value, at the same time signifies the pious wish to convert the iron into gold, that is to give the labour-time contained in the iron the form of universal social labour-time. If this transformation fails to take place, then the ton of iron ceases to be not only a commodity but also a product; since it is a commodity only because it is not a use-value for its owner, that is to say his labour is only really labour if it is useful labour for others, and it is useful for him only if it is abstract general labour. It is therefore the task of the iron or of its owner to find that location in the world of commodities where iron attracts gold. But if the sale actually takes place, as we assume in this analysis of simple circulation, then this difficulty, the salto mortale of the commodity, is surmounted. As a result of this alienation – that is its transfer from the person for whom it is a non-use-value to the person for whom it is a use-value – the ton of iron proves to be in fact a use-value and its price is simultaneously realised, and merely imaginary gold is converted into real gold.” (Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859)

Marx here tells the tragedy we always go through as digital players and game developers:

  1. “it is a commodity only because it is not a use-value for its owner”. But what we call a ‘use of digital game’ is immediately a subjective experience, a unique and singular ‘action of playing’ that takes place through an interface. It begins and ends in a certain timespan. Consequently, a digital game, precisely due to the fact that it is interactive, is inevitably ‘a use-value only for its owner’.
  2. “his labour is only really labour if it is useful labour for others”. But a digital game, because it’s a subjective experience, is not ‘useful for others’. We cannot locate or define this ‘usefulness’ no matter how hard we try.
  3. “and it is useful for him only if it is abstract general labour”. But for every digital game, the labour that develops/designs it is particular to this game, we can find ‘abstract general labour’ only in the production of music, graphics, codes etc. that complement the game. The ‘production of spirit’ that generates the game’s fundamental essence can never be an abstract or general labour.
  4. “the task of the iron or of its owner to find that location in the world of commodities where iron attracts gold”. Absolutely. Putting ‘game’ instead of ‘iron’, and ‘player’ instead of ‘gold’, we can accept this sentence as it is.

Note the sentence in the beginning: “The price while on the one hand indicating the amount of labour-time contained in the iron, namely its value, at the same time signifies the pious wish to convert the iron into gold”.

The ‘labour-time’ indicated by the price points to the need for developers to make their living. The other thing indicated by the price, the ‘pious wish’, on the other hand is what we have called a ‘spirit’ above.

Then what does it mean to ‘give the labour-time contained in the game the form of universal social labour-time’? When does a digital game take a universal social form? It takes such a form, when it belongs to a ‘game genre’ or when it becomes the first instance of a ‘game genre’.

In that case, we can pinpoint the concept ‘game genre’ as the point of transition between the ecosystem and the economy.

Genre-ification of Games as the industrialization of the ecosystem

To place the phenomena of genre-ification in the industrialization of digital game ecosystems, let’s take another look into Game Developer Conference notes:

“As the games followed the example of movies, the cultural structure of the industry had repeated the divisions in cinema. At one side is the blockbusters growing with the ‘core’ gamers’ interest, at the other side are the independent game developers supported by those who want to see distinctive and different games… But, because games are not movies and they do not need stories or characters to keep our interest (Tetris!), this picture is in fact a deceiving one. We can moreover say that: there are as many varieties of publishers and game developers as there are game genres. From big game publishers releasing blockbusters to web portals selling ‘casual games’ to facebook distributing small game applications, every platform has created its own payment/income sharing models.

Every publisher, to engage the players in its target group, chooses the games that are known to appeal to them, thereby forming the basis for genre-ification in games. To explain by an example; it is not that booksellers distribute books to shelves because these books already belong to certain genres, in contrary, book genres emerge because booksellers sell these books through some shelves, where these books undergo an artificial selection.

Since independent game studios has not internalized this selection mechanism of these publishers, whether consciously or not, they can distance themselves from established game genres. Whence the greatest variety is observed among independent developers, each game, each team represents different characteristics.” (GDC notes. Source:

The point I want to emphasize here is the phenomenon of genre-ification of markets in parallel with the genre-ification of games. That is to say, game genres go beyond being ‘products’ in a common market, and they also bring along a differentiation of market structures. We can say that the genre-ification and separation in digital games immediately genre-ifies and separates the industry itself, forming economies that become independent from each other.

Therefore, no single ‘digital game industry’ exists, there are ‘digital game industries’ that are constructed above networks of digital game ecosystems that are supported financially by these industries, and these multiple industries differentiate in several stages from creation to markets.

Games in different genres often do not appear in a common market. So, while comparing games from different genres, we cannot rely on the numerical ratio of their prices/exchange values. The separation of their markets signals that these game genres are separated from each other at the stage of selling, in other words, when their ‘use-value’ is ‘proved’.

To develop a game of an existing genre can be considered as ‘selling a product to a market’, but to develop the first instance of a new game genre, beyond all existing markets and economies, is to expand the ecosystem of digital games by inventing a new ‘use-value’.

A market formed by a game genre, in an economy point of view, consists of particular features (who is the audience, what is the production model, etc). But from a digital player point of view, each game genre is unique. That is to say, each ‘game genre’, with respect to the ecosystem, is a new ‘form of universal social labour-time’.

Game Genre as a form of universal social labour-time

To summarize the story up to this point: Digital games do not resemble the economies that we know of. Players and game developers relate through a ‘spirit’ they incorporate into the game. The phenomenon of ‘networking’ points to this spiritual relation in game industry where personal relationships come in view as work relationships. Development of a game requires interspaces where this ‘spirit’, ‘idea or project’ will live without a need to be converted into economical value, where it will continue its existence in an extended ‘salto mortale’. We can call the sum of these spaces as digital game ecosystems. The economy is constructed on this ecosystemic ground through digital game genres. But these game genres cannot be considered as various products in a market, because each new game genre, to be ‘proven’ as a new ‘use-value’, needs to create its own market and its own economy. That is to say, the genre-ification of digital games will have to take place on the ecosystemic level that relies on personal relationships.

We reach the conclusion: Digital game industries are economies that are firmly grounded on ecosystems formed by digital game developers and digital players. Since these ecosystems consist of subjective points of view, to an investor, digital games resemble an immense abyss, an extended ‘deadly leap’. Digital game ecosystems, due to this characteristic, resist against being ‘economized’ and converted into an ordinary ‘exchange values’ in the market. They cannot be virtualized by finance capital. In other words, digital games, often blamed to be ‘virtual’, when considered as an industry, since they cannot be separated from the ecosystems that keep them alive, forms the most real and most well-grounded economies. Their exchange values cannot be determined beforehand, because they are only converted into use-value when they are played. Therefore, the selling of a digital game is always a selling before the real selling, and thus their ‘markets’ become separated from each other.

We can consider what Marx called the ‘pious wish to give the labour-time contained in the iron the form of universal social labour-time’ as the ‘pious wish to form a game genre’. Game developers should recognize this wish. In that case, what is the raw material that this ‘pious wish’ relies on? When developing a digital game, when relating to each other as developers and players for this purpose, what do we truly shape?

What is the raw material of digital game ecosystems?

At the moment we consider a spiritual raw material that can carry economical value, we are stepping out of the existing ‘political economy’ paradigm. Because, political economy is the logic of interests and conflicts of interests. What comes face to face in ecosystemic relations are, on the contrary, desires, not numbers.

Maybe we need to comprehend ‘politics’ in a new way to understand digital games. Maybe digital games’ narrow acceptance in society, their becoming into ‘objects of fear’, stems from a radical incompatibility between digital game ecosystems and the existing logic of ‘politics’…

This fear against digital games, can it be the ‘turning point’ where the existing logic of political interests reaches to an impasse and becomes more and more conservative?

Our new question is this: If the logic of numerical ‘interests’ we are used to see in political economy is based on ‘exchange value’, what is the ‘raw material’ that provides the base for the ecosystemic logic of digital game creation and playing?

If you please, let us lend an ear to this interview with Slavoj Zizek from last year. Zizek offers an alternative to the politics of fear:

“I call [this] the politics of fear. You are never escaping fear. In societies where everything is managed technocratically, the only way to mobilise people is on the basis of fear. The fear of taboos, of pollution, of outsiders, of who knows what.

In the West, we have no longer the capacity to produce a positive vision. Everything is predicated on the technocratic management and mobilisation of fear. And Left and Right are united on this. You have rightist fears – immigrants, homosexuals, etc; you can have leftist fears – ecological devastation…

– So, if not fear, then what?

Badiou and I have been debating this thing privately, and we are now going to write about it. There is one place where Lacan should be theoretically corrected. You know, Lacan, following Freud, says that the only emotion that does not cheat is anxiety. The idea is that all others can be masks, so even love can be a mask of hatred and so on. But not anxiety. With anxiety, you encounter the Real. To this one should add: enthusiasm. Already Kant, while talking about the French Revolution, hinted that enthusiasm (as in the sublime) is where you touch the noumenal, the thing in itself.

And in politics, with enthusiasm you cannot cheat. Now, you might say, what about the fanaticism of racists, of Nazis? But that is not enthusiasm, and I can prove this. Enthusiasm is not fanaticism.

– How do we distinct enthusiasm from the fanaticism of the fanatic?

By its inherent structure. My reproach to Nazism is that it is negative, it is based on fear. How should I put it… enthusiasm does not need a Jew. When you talk with an anti-Semitic racist, it is already wrong to frame the discussion on the terms of ‘what Jews really are like’. Anti-Semites have no interest in finding out what Jews are really like; in fact, they were strongest in Germany in the very places where there were almost no Jews.

– So what is enthusiasm?

We know that it is not fear. In a Badiou-Kantian sense, it is a commitment to an idea. The idea, in my understanding, is a Communist idea. For example, in politics, you cannot have enthusiasm for your nation. It has a universal dimension. You can have enthusiasm for equality, justice. For something greater than the particular. A certain kind of enthusiasm.

Now, you might say, what about the enthusiasm of an élitist artist? Is that universal? I would say, even in the case of a very difficult poet like Mallarmé, composers like Schoenberg, their work, despite its élitism, has an underlying enthusiastic dimension. In enjoying it, in enjoying its enthusiasm, you want to share it with everyone. It has this universal dimension. Of sharing.” (Shuddhabrata Sengupta’s interview with Slavoj Zizek)

With some help of speculation, we can conclude: If Slavoj Zizek were a digital player or a digital game developer, he would tell that the spiritual raw material that this industry relies on is ‘enthusiasm’, which is a ‘commitment to an idea’ that involves a universal dimension of ‘wanting to share it with everyone’.

Enthusiasm as spiritual raw material

We claimed that digital game playing, digital game development and the spirit of personal relations that develop around those consist of enthuiasm in a Zizekian sense. To support this thesis, we will consider the relation between enthusiasm and anxiety. In his book ‘Less Than Nothing’, Slavoj Zizek describes the emergence of enthusiasm as follows:

“The Event in its first emergence causes anxiety, since by definition it shatters the transcendental coordinates of a world. It is this anxiety which affects everyone, all subjects of a world, and denying or ignoring the Event, trying to reintegrate it into the coordinates of the (old) world, etc., are reactions triggered by this anxiety, reactive ways of coping with the Event’s traumatic impact. (Social democracy, liberal ignorance, and fascism are reactions to the anxiety caused by a communist event.) But only an authentic subjective fidelity to the Event succeeds in ‘converting’ anxiety into enthusiasm (almost in the Freudian sense of converting affects): it displays the courage to confront or accept the Event in its full traumatic impact, and to transform this anxiety into the enthusiasm of emancipatory struggle. In this precise sense, anxiety is the necessary background of enthusiasm: there is no enthusiasm without anxiety, enthusiasm does not begin in itself, it is formally the result of the conversion of anxiety.” (Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing, 2012)

In brief, enthusiasm requires a prior anxiety, and anxiety requires that our world being shattered or that we enter into a shattered world. When we think about our generation, along with the short history and cultural life of Turkey, it would not be difficult to trace this shattering to the main whereabouts of its roots and its continuation.

Leaving aside a possible dispute about an ‘event’, its place of emergence, etc, we can clearly state that the abyss that separates the pre-1980 and post-1980 times, has created directly or indirectly a generalized shattering and anxiety among the generations that also include ourselves. The world that has been shattered in this process is the world of ‘old times’ that we see in Yeşilçam movies. Today, the fact that we are not able to add on Yeşilçam movies in terms of truth, beauty and goodness, points to the fact that the shattering marked by 1980, and our generalized anxiety due to it, continues much the same as it was. In the space of culture, which now also contains digital games besides cinema and television, it is inevitable that we confront this same shattering and anxiety, even if indirectly. We confront it in both senses, as the great anxiety that arises against a novel situation, and as the powerful enthusiasm produced in this process.

Zizek defines enthusiasm as the emotional form that anxiety is converted into. The greater the anxiety in the beginning, the greater the enthusiasm that will be produced in its conversion.

Let’s also read this passage to find the reflection of enthusiasm in digital games:

“In each truth-domain, anxiety signals the encounter with a minimal difference which hinders the absolute reduction or purification, that is, which is simultaneously the condition of possibility and the condition of impossibility (the immanent limit) of the domain in question: in science, ontological difference, which prevents the scientistic reduction of the object of knowledge to a positive entity (as in cognitivist brain sciences); in politics, class difference, which prevents the political project from fulfilling itself in a new non-antagonistic ‘harmonious society’; in love, sexual difference, which stands for the impossibility of the sexual relationship; and, in art, the minimal gap between art and daily life which condemns to failure all modernist attempts to unite the two. Each time the difference persists; however, each time, the point is not to ‘respect the limit’ but to push through to the end in order to encounter the minimal difference: to push through the cognitivist reduction of man to a brain machine to discover the “negativity” of the death drive; to push through the modernist unification of art and life to discover the ‘minimal difference’ between the two dimensions (Malevich, Duchamp); to push through love to confront the limit of sexual difference; likewise, one must push through a revolutionary process to the end in order to confront the insurmountable antagonism.” (Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing, 2012)

The ‘immanent limit’ of entertainment in digital games and use in digital interfaces is, likewise, the difference between the player/user and her embodiment, her avatar in the virtual world. If our purpose is to make anxiety convert into enthusiasm, the point is not to respect the distinction formed between “real life/virtual life” and take sides according to it, but on the contrary, to push through the possibilities provided by the digital game and its interface to their limits with courage and thereby confont the minimal difference of user/avatar in its most abstract form.

New genres of interaction that are created each time in digital games and interfaces, and the progression of this process with newer genres and forms of games/interfaces, show the process in which the generalized anxiety of our shattered world is being piece by piece converted into enthusiasm. This emotional conversion is progressing in parallel with the changes that take place at the immanent limits of digital interfaces. The ‘substructure’ that we call ‘ecosystems’, which grounds the economy while containing the whole of digital players and game developers, takes its ‘ludic spirit’ that keeps it alive, from this generalized process of historical transformation where ‘anxiety is converted into enthusiasm’.

Playing as a realization of enthusiasm

After closing up this parenthesis about enthusiasm and anxiety, if we agree that we have found the raw material (enthusiasm) that our industry relies on, we can repeat our quotation from Karl Marx with small modifications:

“The playing [playing of game in terms of enthusiasm] while on the one hand indicating the amount of creation contained in the game, namely its value, at the same time signifies the pious wish to convert the game into enthusiasm, that is to give the creation contained in the game the form of game genre. If this transformation fails to take place, then the game ceases to be not only a commodity but also a product; since it is a commodity only because it is not a use-value for its developer, that is to say his labour is only really labour if it is useful labour for others, and it is useful for him only if it is abstract general labour. It is therefore the task of the game or of its developer to find that location in the world of commodities where game attracts enthusiasm. But if the sale actually takes place, as we assume in this analysis of simple circulation, then this difficulty, the salto mortale of the commodity, is surmounted. As a result of this alienation – that is its transfer from the person for whom it is a non-use-value to the person for whom it is a use-value – the game proves to be in fact a use-value and its playing is simultaneously realised, and merely imaginary enthusiasm is converted into real enthusiasm.”

This text would probably be familiar to a game developer. Here are our modifications:

  1. iron = game: our candidate for a ‘commodity’ is the digital game itself.
  2. labour-time = creation: the labour process of digital game consists of the creation that takes place in the pre-economical interspace.
  3. form of universal social labour-time = form of game genre: game creation only gains a social economical value through being a ‘game genre’.
  4. price = playing: a player expresses her valuing of a game not by money but by the action of playing it.
  5. gold = enthusiasm: as the raw material of a digital game is enthusiasm, what happens among the developers as well as between developers and players is not an economical ‘transactions’, but an ecosystemic relationship. This relationship is not measured by ‘gold’ that is exchange value, but immediately by the sharing of ‘enthusiasm’.

I want to emphasize the last sentence in our new passage: “As a result of this alienation – that is its transfer from the person for whom it is a non-use-value to the person for whom it is a use-value – the game proves to be in fact a use-value and its playing is simultaneously realised, and merely imaginary enthusiasm is converted into real enthusiasm”. Therefore, the ‘transfer/proving of use-value’ and the playing of the game is simultaneous. The real base that keeps the digital game industry standing is not the realization of price in market, but the realization of enthusiasm in playing. The resistance of digital games ecosystem against economical virtualization, the failure to found a digital games market independent from game genres and playing, etc. are direct results of this characteristic of digital games.

According to these results, we can name digital game development as ‘enthusiasm engineering’. Digital game is a form of creation that forces the economical markets that are based on preservable ‘exchange values’ into structural transformation.

Before finishing this article, let us say that the logic of ‘enthusiasm’ that we described through digital games in fact forms a context that is more general than digital games: if ‘gold’ is a value that can be reserved/stored at some place, ‘enthusiasm’ is a value that cannot be stored anywhere because it has become placeless and it has to repeat its realization each time it is realized. When we pass from ‘gold’ to ‘enthusiasm’, we are forced to reconstitute our relationship with time and space in our reality. As Virilio says:

“Henceforth, here no longer exists; everything is now. The end of our history has not happened, but we do have the programmed end of the ‘hic et nunc’ (being-here) and the ‘in situ’ (being-in-place).” (Paul Virilio, Information Bomb, 1998)

The relation between an economy and the ecosystem that grounds it, is the relation between a place and the time of its existence: economy always bases itself on a place of calculation, a cash box. But ecosystems are collections of relationships that continue in the form of lively-emotional flows.

In the process where enthusiasm carried by personal relations that exist in present time becomes prominent as a universal value, places of economy and calculation that require an extended time and permanence in some box (including cash boxes as well as computer boxes) are losing their absoluteness and are becoming relative.

Just like how gold and places where gold accumulates had relativized all other social values in the old times, now enthusiasm and the ‘present time’ where enthusiasm emerges is gradually relativizing to itself places of its emergence and places of value accumulation.

One can re-examine every issue that falls under the topic ‘Digital Game Industry’ keeping these in mind. Thus, let us remind the readers the books ‘Digital Game as a culture industry product’ and ‘Digital Game Reader’ by Mutlu Binark and Günseli Bayraktutan (


Centuries ago, Alchemists were looking for a magic formula for Gold, which was preparing the end of the sovereignty of God.

After some time, by spreading trade relationships around the whole world, Gold founded its own system: Capitalism, which produced Gold from Gold, eliminated Alchemy and overthrew God.

Are not game developers (‘enthusiasm engineers’) in a sense, Alchemists of today? They are looking for a magic formula for Enthusiasm, which is gradually lifting its effectiveness against the current sovereignty of Gold.

Maybe we need to direct our attention to the Enthusiasm itself; that is to say, to the Ludic Spirit that is infesting the workplaces by producing Enthusiasm from Enthusiasm, the mole that is undermining real gold by its ‘virtual’ gold that rely on real relationships…


  1. […] In this paper, I claim that (1) creation of a digital game is always accompanied by a creation of a ‘collective spirit’ that is to be carried through this game, (2) for this reason, digital game production requires pre-economical interspaces (such as pre-incubation centres) where ‘game ideas’ exist and live as ‘projects’ before they become investments or professional experiences, (3) we can characterise these spaces as ‘ecological’ as in the form of globalization (Virilio). (4) Digital game as a commodity requires extensive lengths of time for its ‘salto mortale’ (Marx), the time of uncertainty before it realizes its value and becomes a commodity, and (5) a game does not realize its price in sale, but in gameplay. Thus, (6) game genres split not only as different products in a single market, but each game genre tends to establish a market of its own. (7) As a result, digital game industries are economies of a special kind that firmly grounds on their own creative ecosystems. (8) As it is realized in gameplay, exchange value for a game is not ‘gold’ as in a commodity, but ‘enthusiasm’: the second Real emotion (Zizek) that results from the conversion of ‘anxiety’, the first one (Freud). (9) In digital games, ‘anxiety’ is an encounter with the minimal difference between player and avatar, which is pushed through by enthusiasm, and also marks the antagonism that it confronted by it. (10) Digital game developers, as ‘enthusiasm engineers’, hold a very specific role in the general social transformation that is gradually passing from self-generating ‘gold’ to self-generating ‘enthusiasm’ as the dominant value form in human intercourses. (11) ‘Enthusiasm’ can also be distinguished from ‘gold’ in terms of time and space: as opposed to ‘gold’, which is stored in a space, ‘enthusiasm’ is always created in the ‘present time’, which is equivalent to eternity in the sense of being timeless, given the finitude of our field of perception (Wittgenstein). (12) We can name the corresponding social transformation as ‘ludic spirit’, which is gradually incorporating the ‘subjective spirit’ into the ‘objective spirit’ (Hegel). […]

  2. […] Does a digital game industry exist? — Developing a game is developing a joint spirit — Personal Relationships as the ground of Economy — Players and Game Developers as Ecosystems — Game Creation Space as a Pre-Economical Interspace — Genre-ification of Games as the industrialization of the ecosystem — Game Genre as a form of universal social labour-time — What is the raw material of digital game ecosystems? — Enthusiasm as spiritual raw material — Playing as a realization of enthusiasm […]

  3. […] Does a digital game industry exist? — Developing a game is developing a joint spirit — Personal Relationships as the ground of Economy — Players and Game Developers as Ecosystems — Game Creation Space as a Pre-Economical Interspace — Genre-ification of Games as the industrialization of the ecosystem — Game Genre as a form of universal social labour-time — What is the raw material of digital game ecosystems? — Enthusiasm as spiritual raw material — Playing as a realization of enthusiasm […]

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