[-empyre-] Player vs Developer.

timothy j. welsh twelsh at loyno.edu
Wed Mar 11 05:49:48 AEDT 2020

Thanks, Alenda, for organizing this! I think I finally have my
technical difficulties worked out and I can play with you all.

My book, Mixed Realism (2016), is about the ways game narratives fold
back onto the activity of gameplay, recontextualizing our engagements
with digital culture. Recently, I have been thinking about those
concepts as they apply to the aftermath of "casual revolution" (Juul
2012) and the industry's transition to "live service" models designed
to encourage "recurrent user payments" such as subscriptions and
microtranscations. Here is one example that got me on to this topic.

On June 10, 2015, Rockstar Games released the “Ill-Gotten Gains”
downloadable content pack (DLC) for Grand Theft Auto V Online (GTAV).
This DLC featured the most expensive in-game items to date, including
a ten-million-dollar, gold-plated Luxor Jet. Offering some diegetic
justification for these expensive items, a blog post on Rockstar
Newswire announcing the patch cites “a surge in high-end crime across
southern San Andreas," which resulted in an increased “demand for
luxury goods and services."

On one level, the “crime surge” mentioned refers to the heist missions
introduced in the previous patch. The exorbitant cost of the
"Ill-Gotten Gains" items rebalances the in-game economy to accommodate
the large payouts of this new game mode. On another level, the “crime
surge” refers to the widespread practice of amassing in-game currency
through the use of glitches and exploits. The "Ill-Gotten Gains" patch
included a number of new security measures to track and ban glitchers,
putting an end to some of the more popular methods. Thus, it seems the
patch’s high-priced items were intended to clear out not only the
money earned through the diegetic crimes of the heist, but also the
non-diegetic crimes of glitchers, whose gains were in reality
ill-gotten, as opposed to those who dutifully grind heists, whose
gains were ironically legitimate.

What I am interested in here is the way the locus of the game seems to
have shifted. Most game modes can be described as player-vs-player or
player-vs-environment and those labels certainly apply here as well.
Superseding all of them, however, is a confrontation of
player-vs-developer. In this "meta-game" (Boluk and Lemieux 2017),
players and developers compete to determine the value of the player's
time. It demands highly efficient playstyles, long sessions of
grinding one productive method, in which players attempt to leverage
available mechanics--sometimes against their intended design and, even
when they legitimate, before they get patched by developers--to earn
in-game resources without having to spend real money. While efficiency
has always been valued in gaming, the industry's embrace of
free-to-play models (which demonstrated explosive profitability during
the casual revolution) has made enhancing productivity the game

My work recently considers what this shift has meant for videogames as
a medium of storytelling as well as the role of game narrative in
subverting these forms of play transformed into productivity. So, I’m
excited to chat with you all about videogames and their participation
in the mangles of play and work that characterize contemporary digital

// Tim

Timothy J. Welsh
Associate Professor of English
Loyola University New Orleans

Mixed Realism: Videogames and the Violence of Fiction

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