What Are Game Developers? A View From the Future

Centuries hence, a citizen reads up on a bygone industry.
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Delegate lodging at an ancient game-development convention (Reuters/Rebecca J. Rosen)

I squinted at the discolored reading pad I’d borrowed from the archives. The material was as dry as the title—“Taxonomy of Extinct Terrestrial Tribes”—but these ancient practices had long fascinated me.

Take “games,” for example. They were played by adults and children alike, without shame—even in public! I had once scoffed at the idea that beings of my genetic lineage could have embraced such vice. But now I knew the truth was more complex. Terrestrial society wasn’t corrupt so much as uncultivated. Without access to modern libidinal voucher programs, decadence ruled.

I picked up reading where I’d left off:

Perhaps the most misunderstood of lechery laborers were the creators of games, known as “developers.” They were simple folk subjected to ghastly, repetitive work.

Ungroomed and clothed in rags, developers were assigned to pens hidden within ordinary offices. These firms called themselves “studios” to draw an association with popular art and entertainment of the era. Often they even occupied the same buildings as respectable enterprises like law firms and agribusiness consultancies.

Working long before sustenance powders, developers were easily seduced by appeals to their physical urges. Overseers plied them with sugars and salts during the day and forced them to engorge on extravagant meals at night. Shifts extended for days at a time. Developers were even required to worship in their cells, which were adorned with plush and vinyl totems of figures from terrestrial myths of the era.

Initially, these works were limited to propaganda meant to acclimate young men to governmentally-sponsored global violence. However, after the languorous wars of the first two millennia had failed at forcible depopulation, the task of social progress was handed over to a tribe of patrons called “venture capitalists.”

They had orchestrated the rise of photo-preening software popular before the Disruption came to Silicon Valley. A new arms race commenced—for virtual attention, which the Patrons converted into financial instrument. While historians agree that ancient works like Civilization and chess still provided inspiration, games primarily became a specialized form of banking.

Much like tobacco had flourished after the arrival of Europeans in the Old Americas, so computerized attention flourished after the arrival of the Internet. The economy reconfigured itself around attention provisioning, and game studios proved particularly suitable manufacturing partners for attention speculators. Industry had reoriented overnight for military manufacture during World War II; now it quickly repositioned itself to access exchanges of citizen attention. Game developers had a new job: to fill the time between microtransactions.

While often dissatisfied, developers were unable to renegotiate their employment, having eschewed the labor representation that protected other precarious occupations like mining and filmmaking. Job purges, which had already been common, reached fever pitch.

Even when released from industrialized attention receptor manufacturing, some developers were so habituated that they continued the practice unpaid. These “independent” or “indie” developers, as they called themselves, rejected the indulgences of industrial work, opting instead to subsist on a diet of low-nutrient starch cups. Operating from one-room grottoes or in favelas called “co-working spaces,” indies recreated the products they had once fashioned for their corporate overseers.

But indies were unable to reach audiences directly. They were forced to rely on procurers who provided access to the public attention exchange. To consolidate access and to insure a continuous supply of new developers capable of servicing their insatiable clientele, digital bordellos arose, bundling wares in volume and selling them at deep discounts, while taking a substantial cut of the proceeds. Though clearly exploitative, indie development was at least largely contained to young, white men with an expertise in computer programming, thus sheltering productive society from their indecorum. Later in life, some were even reformed for menial roles during planetary exfiltration to Musk Base One.

While the exact usage of games from this era is unclear, computer archaeologists have observed that they primarily served as collectables for mentally ill obsessives. These “gamers” would pin the wares they acquired from procurers into electronic albums, where the games remained unplayed to preserve their purity.

I stopped reading to project my research notes. Earlier I’d found some fanatical discussions about the term “game” among the Internet Fragments. “Gamers,” it seemed, were as preoccupied with the shape of their media objects as they were with other unrequited carnal obsessions, such as the naked female body.

Just then, I noticed Huxley behind me. She looked up at me with her big, pale eyes. I wondered how long she’d been standing there. Shame lifted the hairs on my neck, and I quickly extinguished my notes.

“Daddy, can I take my diversion pill now?” she asked.

“Of course, sweetheart,” I replied, setting the old book down in front of the window, where Titan was rising, small and yellow in the distance.

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Ian Bogost is a writer, game designer, and contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is the Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair in media studies and a professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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