Laboring Online: Are There "New" Labor Processes In Virtual Game Worlds?


  • To understand contemporary capitalism as the mixture of high-technology advances, the concentration of speculative financial capital, and the increasing differentiation between those who are better and worse off.
  • To illustrate that a pivotal element of contemporary capitalism is an appropriation of social activities into the capitalist mode of production and the construction of social life as forms of labour. The labour aspects of everyday life are hidden and couched as entertainment, leisure, arts and crafts as well as artistic endeavours.
  • To highlight the ways in which social activities enabled through technologies - including multiplayer games - are complicit in incorporating youth into prevailing economic hegemonies - and at an extreme are training youth to become workers in the digital economy.

As unemployment figures rise in the developed world, questions regarding the meaning of “labor” and the intrinsic ”value” of work re-emerge. This paper examines labor practices in virtual game worlds to extend existing theoretical explorations regarding concepts of labor and work in the information systems field. The cases explored in this study observe the labor processes associated with two virtual game worlds. We explore whether labor processes are being replicated in virtual environments and, if so, whether “conventional” hegemonies identified by Marxist literature regarding labor are also found in these virtual worlds. This paper contributes to critical information systems research by exploring emancipatory claims regarding labor practices in ICT-enabled work. We present the findings from empirical studies of the Puzzle Pirates and Farmville virtual worlds where we examine the forms of labor undertaken online and their significance in the construction of hegemonic power relationships. The research utilizes a structured ethnographic-style methodology to explore daily working life found in these game environments. This paper contributes to critical information systems research by testing the robustness of existing theories of labor process in the problematic and expansive space of virtual worlds.