Feb 4, 2019
This week we dive into the issue gripping the development industry; workers rights. Marijam Didžgalvytė joins us to tell us about Game Worker's Unite - a global grassroots organization dedicated to advocating for workers' rights and unionization within the game industry.
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- [Danny] Hello, and welcome to Noclip, the podcast about the people who play and make video games. I'm your host, Danny O'Dwyer. Our guest this week is a tech and politics writer and workers' rights advocate, with bylines on GamesIndustry.biz, Kotaku, and The Guardian among others. She's also a youtuber on her channel Left Left Up, where you can watch her insights on gaming and tech news from a radical perspective. Today we're gonna talk to her about game dev unionization as she is also chair of communications committee for Game Workers Unite International, a global grassroots organization of game workers organizing unions to improve working conditions within the industry. Speaking to us from her home in London, England, I'm delighted to be joined by Marijam Didzgalvyte. Marijam, thanks for taking the time to talk to us this week.
- [Marijam] Hi Danny, thank you so much. Thank you for your lovely introduction and for covering these important issues.
- [Danny] No problem, our pleasure. I think it's something that we've had a bit of a blind spot on for the two and a half years we've been working, so I'm delighted to start the conversation. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, because I have a lot of questions for you, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? What were some of the games that sort of inspired you as a young person?
- [Marijam] I grew up in Lithuania, and being eastern Europe, we were really big with Counter-Strike and Quake, and Quake is something that definitely continued with me. I am an avid player of Quake Champions right now, and I sort of, I was thrown as an economic migrant to London right when I was 17 and was still playing a lot of gaming, however in the leftist circles that I found myself in, gaming was judged. I don't know, it just seemed to be seen as this sort of waste of time activity, whereas in 2017 I know it has overtaken the films industry in terms of profits, so it is a huge political space. It's the biggest cultural outlet there is. However, progressives have really not been in that space and really abandoned it, and in that vacuum, obviously, right wing politics have developed. I've sort of taken it on myself, about two years ago, to try and change this and to try and encourage progressive voices and a critical view in this industry out of that. Yes, I've written for quite a few publications, GamesIndustry.biz, Kotaku, Vice, the rest, I developed my video series and then a year ago, things have really changed obviously with what happened at GDC, and obviously I'm alluring to the Game Workers Unite movement being born. It seemed like all of my loves came together. My love for a class war, my love for trade unionization, my love for gaming, so obviously I was extremely privileged and lucky to be at the right time and the right place and get involved.
- [Danny] Yeah, so I guess we're mostly here talking about Game Workers Unite International, which is coming up on its first birthday because it was sort of founded out of GDC last year, is that right?
- [Marijam] Yes, it's actually incredible that it was only a year ago and still so much has been achieved. Yeah, so IGDA had a silly idea of doing a panel discussion that was fairly anti-union. They posed the question, whether unionizing is the way to go in this industry. I think they were understanding that there is already a bit of a movement or at least some quiet talk about unionization and I think they freaked out and wanted to sort of whack their finger being like "No, no, it's gonna be very, very bad for the industry "if you do," so yeah, weren't into that. Hashtag GameWorkersUnite started trending, a logo by Scott Benson was created, a Twitter account, website, that was all, incredible work was done at the GDC, but a few dedicated organizers, Emma Kinema being one of them, and it really hit the nerve. It seems like that's just something that that was just a culmination of very, very many things, and chapters sprung up all across the world. There are most of the states, well, quite a few states in the US, Canada, we got Brazil, we got obviously UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, Singapore is about to also have a Game Workers Unite branch, so it was born, it exploded, and obviously a very, very important moment for this movement happened in December, when Game Workers Unite UK declared to be the first legal trade union of this entire effort. It's actually amazing, in the space of what, seven, eight months they got themselves together and formed a legal trade union and quite a few other places are now talking about it too, so yeah, it's incredibly inspiring. I am very sad that I won't be able to make it to the one year parties at GDC, but everyone, if our Saturday's launch is anything to go by, it's gonna be a sick party and everyone should go.
- [Danny] Yeah, tell us a little bit about Game Workers Unite UK and the sort of the collaboration with IWGB, which is, I understand it as sort of like a gig economy trade union. Can you tell us bit about sort of how that, I guess, relationship was formed and I guess the goals that GWU UK has as a sort of chapter onto itself? Because you guys have, it's almost like a distributed sort of organization, right? Everything is locally operated?
- [Marijam] Certainly. I have, it's been the privilege of my life to be so close to the birth of this trade union. Really, in March 2018, when I saw what was happening in GDC, it seemed like all of my worlds collided. My love for trade unions and my love for class war, my love for video games, so I had to definitely get involved and Declan Peach was already organizing at the Score Chat here in the UK and we had our first national meeting in Manchester at the beginning of June, and I was just so incredibly inspired by what workers were how they were organizing in a very horizontal manner and yet, because there was a lot of work involved to establish, and wasn't really just based in London, I think seven cities, or seven or eight cities in the United Kingdom have all got their own local chapters where they all meet and discuss the issues and sort of try to raise membership and raise awareness around. Basically, yeah. Summer came and went, there was a lot of sort of talk and meetings with different trade unions, because basically we had three roots. One was to create a completely new trade union from scratch, which would require quite a few thousands of pounds and a lot of lawyer time and in general just a lot of resources, something that we didn't feel like we had at that particular moment. Second route was to join one of the big trade unions, so Unite, or Unison who have like two million members. Again, the organizers have definitely had quite a few meetings with them over the summer, but then I think everything fell into place around September when we met IWGB, Independent Workers Union of Great Britain is only about four years old. It's a small, dynamic, quite militant trade union that is mostly, whose members are mostly migrant workers working in very precarious conditions and industries such as cleaners and foster care workers, Deliveroo couriers, Uber drivers, so really people that are often on zero-hours contracts, sometimes just cash in hand. Again, people that really have that are sort of at the I guess the most precarious contracts. Sometimes I hear people like "Well what about QA workers? "Surely they're gonna be so difficult to unionize "because they're so precarious." I'm like "No guys." IWGB is like "If they got Deliveroo couriers covered, "testers are gonna be just fine." And that meeting was I think the beginning of sort of realizing that GWU UK has found home, because it's not gonna swallow up the branding, it's a small, effective trade union and it's really allowed for GWU UK organizational structures to stay in place, all the branding, and the relationship with the international, et cetera, and was really excited to work with another industry that is not traditionally unionized. And again, IWGB only has like 3,000 members. Again, sort of every penny, and also the president of the union only earns like London Living Wage plus one pound, you see? Again, it's not one of those often corrupt and bloated trade unions, it's a union where you can see where your monthly dues are certainly going. And yeah, in December there was an inaugural meeting, executive committee was elected. It was a packed meeting, so many members turned up, I think the membership is at a good couple of hundred now and growing every day and at that inaugural meeting, three pillars were, sort of campaign pillars were discussed. They're sort of around crunch pay and diversity, that's quite a long document that at some point I'm sure will be published in detail, and those will be the campaign goals for the next year.
- [Danny] Excellent, so that's I guess what the key focus is for GWU UK. Do you find this, everyone within the organization has had in some way been affected by either zero-contract hours or crunch or do you find that a lot of your members or the members of the UK chapter as it were are sort of more so protecting themselves against the eventuality that perhaps within their career at some stage they'll run into that sort of thing?
- [Marijam] It's difficult to really say what was the main decision for every member to join. I think they all come from varying different contracts and there are different parts of the country and various different parts of the games industry. Some treat it just as an insurance in case they get fired, the union would be able to negotiate severance pay and et cetera, so they won't just be out in the cold as such. And some really have, have probably had terrible experiences perhaps around harassment or crunch and that sort of stuff, and they are thinking, and perhaps they have individual issues that they would like to bring up. However the union, and this is sort of a public service announcement, the union can only deal with incidents or any issues that have only sprung up three months before one joining the union, so although someone could be like "Oh, two years ago this and this happened," the union can't necessarily help with that. And yeah, so sometimes it's only individual members of a particular company that will be joining a union to protect themselves, but obviously the more workers in the particular company are unionizing, the better, because then they as a whole body at least as a majority can push, not only be on the defensive, they can push for better working conditions for bigger pay, for less crunch, for a bigger bar in their office or something.
- [Danny] More ping pong tables.
- [Marijam] Yeah well actually I say this, but I'm joking here, but actually it's, that's the sort of irony that a lot of people think that because there is yeah, a pool table or an arcade in the office that there is some sort of glamorous industry whereas actually quietly people are really suffering and under this allure that they should be lucky to be in this industry. For instance, that they are really hiding their terrible experiences. The secretary of GWU UK, Austin Kelmore has written a very eloquent piece with his experience a couple of years ago, where he was under 100th hour crunch and he was by himself in the office with one other co-worker and on his birthday and it was his co-worker's birthday as well, and around 1 a.m. they just shared a drink, like a can of Coca-Cola at like 1 a.m. for 15 minutes as their happy birthday and then had to go back to work. Again, people that are in the executive committee that are the front of this union and are going to be making decisions mostly, and again, these are elections, one can be on exec committee every year and put themselves out there. They really know and they see the darkest of this trade union. Two other exec committee members, they are freelancers, so again, we got freelancers covered as well. As long as there is some sort of contract, whether, obviously it mostly helps if it's written, the union will have you covered and IWGB has experience with working with professions, that they're now literally having to argue in court that they're workers. IWGB has actually one in court to now class Deliveroo couriers as workers, something that was not in the UK employment law before.
- [Danny] Right.
- [Marijam] IWGB, although tiny, it is not afraid to take on the big shots.
- [Danny] Let's talk a little bit about then I guess trying to get people on board, right, so your role is obviously, you're the chair of the communications committee for sort of the international umbrella group as it were that sort of oversees a lot of what's going on in these localized chapters. The sort of forward-facing stuff that I guess you sort of talk about is the parties and the social aspect of it. I'm interested in the sort of utility of that type of thing. Why is having these sort of meetups important? These sort of more relaxed social gatherings. Why is that important? And also I guess, what's the barrier to stop people from joining a trade union? I understand from, I grew up in Ireland and I lived in England for a number of years and sort of the image of the trade union, either by sort of the elements within the political establishment which would make you, funds that sort of negative image or via the sort of the corrupt nature of some trade unions over the years. It's that sort of 80's idea or the TFL stuff in more recent years. Do you have to fight against that sort of negative image of what a trade union, some people has seen? And is there a reticence from people to join up for a part of larger studios because it might negatively impact their employment? How do you convince people to get on board? And what's the sort of utility of having these social gatherings?
- [Marijam] You're completely right. There is certainly a stereotype of trade union that we're trying to fight. I'd like to think that as part of this small, more new minted trade unions that have sprung up, the new trade unionism as I call it, we are really challenging the view of trade unions who are, let's be honest, I'm not gonna beat around the bush, most trade unions are rubbish. They just are. They have been, obviously there's been a political project in the past 40 years, especially here in Britain to really dismantle trade unions, to create this bad rep around them, but they're not helping themselves a lot of the time as well. A lot of the time they're bloated, pall-mall, stale, sometimes corrupt, they're in bed with the employers rather than employees, you pay your monthly dues and then an issue arises and you can never even get in touch with the trade union. That happens, that has happened. I am not going to sit here and defend the entirety of trade unionized movement, because it has failed and failed workers again. I would separate IWGB from that because it's worker-led, completely, and it has already proven itself in the last four years in its militancy and dynamism. The sort of dynamics that it reproduces. And this is where I think the social stuff comes in. Just to sort of plug, but also reflect on the incredible two weeks that we had with Game Workers United International where we have pushed for something called GWIRL, which eight cities across the world have utilized and attempted and thus far we've had incredible response. Basically, we've asked for our local chapters to do just, whether that's a small dinner party or a huge rave, how it happened in the UK, just create something along, just create a real-life gathering, because we think that, especially in such alienating industry as the games industry, real life relations are so important. That's where people establish solidarity with each other, that's where they meet each other and something that is as abstract as workers' rights becomes part of their every day, it creates that empathy and creates that solidarity between workers which is something that will be necessary whenever some problem will arise, whenever we will ask for numbers to, whether to start with simple as sign a petition, whether that is to come out on the streets and be there with us. For instance, the different branches between, so IWGB is sick at throwing parties. Mostly there are salsa dance parties, they're incredible, but the reason why they do it is because they have many different branches, right, so there's electricians branch, couriers branch, cleaners branch, foster care branch, well now there is a gamers branch. And they by themselves don't necessarily have the numbers, but if all of those meet each other and dance and then create those relationships, we know that for instance electricians will turn up to the cleaners protest, or game workers will help in terms of IT for the couriers branch, let's say, see? Rather than these being abstract groups, they then meet, they dance, they perhaps share a cocktail, and it all becomes a lot more real. And I think so much of our activism in general and so much of our political organizing, but it just can be so, we're so often just on the defensive, we're defeated and it can just be a drag and whereas those moments of victory, of empathy, of creation of a communal experience, that's what it's meant to be. That's how sustainable political projects work, and that's how sustainable workplaces should be as well. When people have empathy to each other, when workers understand that something problematic that has happened with one worker can very much happen to them, and creating that empathy to each other is sort of at the core of the trade union movement as it should be. Not this sort of client versus service provider relationship that some of the bigger unions have perpetrated a bit more. Yeah, and again, we're utilizing in our communications we're utilizing or we're planning to utilize more innovative ways to talk about unionization, whether that's Twitter takeovers or a podcast or yeah, just another push for these IRL events and perhaps also establishing solidarity with existing strikes, so the teacher's strike in America or perhaps Wetherspoons and McDonald's worker strike here in the UK. Sorry, I'm being very UK, US-centric here, but I guess this is just, these are the sort of places that I'm presently working with right now, however I'm obviously supporting the local chapters all across the world. But yeah, so we're just looking at ways to raise awareness towards our issues, but also to inspire broader political education and class-based politics inspiration towards the new generations. The idea for me that some 16 year old that is playing Fortnite that perhaps looks at Game Workers United Twitter account and sees that there are actually lots of cool gatherings happening, and that's the hook for them, rather than this boring statistics on work. And that's the hook for them and they get excited about what this could be and their politics shift. To me, that is a really exciting part of what we could be broadly achieving.
- [Danny] Yeah, let's talk about that sort of the other side of the transaction I guess, which is game players. The audience of sort of Noclip enjoys, we do have a lot of developers who watch our documentaries and listen to the podcast and obviously we also have a lot of game players who do this same thing as well and we try and sort of bridge that gap, and I know that a lot of the folks in our community and our patrons have been sort of asking about what it is that they can really do in terms of boots on the ground activism, be it online sort of stuff or actual in real life, as you said, that more substantive action that they can do to sort of help out. I guess I sort of have the general question of how people can help, and also, I'm just sort of interested in how you feel about engaging with the sort of online discourse in relation to this? We live in a post-Gamergate world and it seems now that most people sort of widely understand that the Trojan horse of consumer advocacy that was sort of used and that was not sincere and really it was just a bunch of horrible bad actors attempting to target women and minorities within the games industry. Is the idea of getting into this sort of the consumer advocacy world or the way in which the online discourse over this sort of stuff, is that something that you think the Game Workers United should be engaging with or is it something you are keeping at arm's length?
- [Marijam] Okay, so I think games industry consumers are in a very unique position where they are closer to the producer of their product than in many other industries. Their voice is much more listened to than for instance, I'm thinking the McDonald's workers or something, right? The person that they're selling perhaps the burger to will not be as easily aware of the issues that the McDonald's worker is having to deal with, right? Or in any corporate, other corporate job perhaps, again, the relationship between the consumer and the producer is much more, is much more invisible. Whereas games consumers, a lot of the time they are on social media, they are vocal, and really what we can ask for is just every little bit on every little tweet that you can do towards the companies that have really abused their workers. That is always extremely helpful. Content creation, I've been extremely impressed by Jim Sterling, Jimquisition, who has really taken the time to talk about these issues. And again, for better or for worse, gaming communities do have their influencers and they do influence opinions and then I think a lot of the people that perhaps weren't aware of these issues will find out because of people like you doing these podcasts or because of people like Jim Sterling that really have a huge reach. Something like top six of his 15 latest videos at one point were the most popular ones, were on workers' rights. Not only that people that this content gets created, it is certainly popular and watched by what I assume to be quite a young audience, so that's incredibly exciting. But really, researching the modes of production of a particular game is very important. I am also, and I'm now sort of saying this as just someone that is looking at games industry in the critical point of view in terms of my content, I don't think we should be stopping just at game studios and game creation, I am interested for our movement and talking about modes of production to grow into something that the fashion industry is well ahead of us, talking about terrible working conditions in the factories of the gadgets where we are enjoying games are created, right, so whether that's the mineral mines in Democratic Republic of Congo or the Foxconn factories in China, something that we're completely ignoring and yet the conditions that are terrible and much worse than probably whatever happens in the worst games industry studio, and that's something that we are still very much silent about. I'm obviously hopefully gaining trying to gain momentum first on these issues and establishing worker solidarity here, but we have to be we have to understand that we mustn't just stop here, that this is a much wider issue and so I'm interested to sort of start talking to consumers about these issues as well and not just talk about not just stop these conversations on studio-level. But yeah, create content, research modes of production, spread the word. I think Game Workers Unite UK have their merch, so buy the merch! It's so funny, I think they will also have a donations website as well, and I think thus far it's been an extremely they have been extremely transparent as to where the money is spent and I think that will continue in the future and yes, I think that the consumers in this industry, more than in any other, even more than in the tech industry I would say certainly can make that difference.
- [Danny] Speaking of people who donate to things that they support, do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions from our patrons?
- [Marijam] Sure, gladly.
- [Danny] Awesome. First one comes in from Ralph Elliott, he asks when looking for new members, do these trade unions target specific companies? I'm sure indie developers are important too, but surely the power of union comes from having members who are working at larger corporations. Is that something that the trade union chapters sort of actively do? Or is there any reason why they wouldn't be able to do that type of thing?
- [Marijam] I think that our meetings currently being taking place with the workers of a few companies that have come together and said that we want to unionize our entire company, they're actually surprisingly some of the bigger ones and they're meeting with the this is I'm talking about the GWU UK of course and they're looking how to come to bosses saying like "Look, a few of us have organized "and we want to unionize this trade union." In terms of indies, we had really lovely response from a few of them messaging. Actually the boss is messaging being like "Hey, I am not gonna join the union," well first of all because they're not eligible as bosses, but also because it just wouldn't make sense, but I actually think that's for the betterment of my workplace, it only makes sense that the people do, so if we could do that as soon as possible that that would be great. Another thing that the union is planning is sort of accreditation system for studios that have really great working conditions. Not only to be on the defensive, but to also celebrate good working conditions. I guess we'll start with small indies, and then once enough of them are organized, we can push towards the triple A's being like "Hey guys, if these people can do it, "then you can do it of course too." Really, if you read through the GWU UK eligibility rules, mostly it's like the bosses can't join, and then people that just don't have any contract at all, I suppose so like a student and not working, or if you're working just for a mate, then it's really unlikely that union can help with you a lot in the UK employment law, but no, I can't say that we have really focused on bigger versus smaller sort of thing, and lots of freelancers are joining as well, so that's really exciting. But yeah, the more the better. And yeah, the union's actively sort of talking with a few studios, et cetera.
- [Danny] That sort of bleeds into the next question I have here from Nick, who's asking what positions the union would cover? You sort of answered already, but I'll just throw this one at you as well because it is an important part of the conversation. QA, quality assurance traditionally gets shafted when this topic comes up and I'd argue that if anybody gets abused the most during crunch it could be QA. Most times, it's waved away with the excuse that that's outsourced, but that of course is some, not all studios. You're saying that at least the work that the sort of the IWGB, I guess that's all covered as well, that type of outsourced or contract labor, right?
- [Marijam] 100%, I think QA workers from what we're hearing especially here in the UK are the ones that are getting the worst deal for sure. You hear of zero-hour contracts, you hear of abysmal pay even in London, you hear of terrible crunch. QA workers are certainly the prime contingent to be unionizing, and so that's something that they should definitely be looking into, especially since the monthly fees, they are divided into different pay grades, so people that are not earning enough, they really won't have to pay that much at all but they will have that insurance. And also, if enough people in the studio unionize then they can ask like "Okay you guys, "you're ending zero-hour contracts," or if we're outsourced, all right, we're you have to bring us back in-house, right, no agency work. And IWGB is actually extremely experienced in bringing back agency workers in-house, that's victories that they have achieved with cleaners mostly and I think they're talking with a few electricians in their branch as well. Cleaners are outsourced in a particular establishment, perhaps in a museum or something, and IWGB gets together, they do a lot of pressure on the media, they get articles out, they do demonstrations outside the venues and what not, and the institutions usually cave in and then bring those workers back in-house, which is an incredible achievement for sure. Yeah, QA's are very much I think the sort of prime membership material. But obviously everyone else, no, your other question was like who should be looking into this? Really, I think the main focus has been at I suppose developers and artists, et cetera, but even if you're in a games company and you're at like HR or what not you should be still looking at joining this union. Perhaps there are other unions that perhaps would be of more interest to you, but I think IWGB is just sick and everyone should join it in general, but yeah, so it really, as long as it is sort of and you work in a games studio then you should be eligible. There is now a conversation, now even at some point in the future to bring in board games, so that's exciting. My personal sort of dream down the line would be esports players. I think that's something else that has been completely sort of over-glamorized et cetera, whereas these workers are doing, and it's not perceived as work but actually esports players are creating profit for someone else, a lot of the time they're sort of chewed up and spat out and yeah, I think esports is a space where unionization, conversations around that will be happening very, very soon.
- [Danny] Yeah, it's interesting you mentioned that. We interviewed Scott Smith, SirScoots he's know as--
- [Marijam] Oh, he's a legend! He's an absolute legend.
- [Danny] He said he set up the Player's Association, which is a sort of I guess a Counter-Strike professional players' union, which is trying to do some of the things that you're talking about there.
- [Marijam] So you see it's this is interesting, this is a conversation I had with him and we've had this one disagreement, but it's I think he shouldn't be afraid of the word union. I think he thinks that union, the word union has certain connotations attached to it, whereas association doesn't, that is a bit scary to the employer or what not. I think that we should be going back to the roots of what the victories that unions and unionization has achieved and really being and reclaim this word from the, I guess failures of the past 40 years of some of the unionization efforts. But yeah, he said he went more towards the safer routes, but we'll see how it'll go in the future.
- [Danny] Could there be sort of an element of a difference in culture between the UK and the US with that one? Because the other big union that I think of here is SAG-AFTRA, which refer to themselves as sort of a guild rather than a union and they do represent people within the games industry insofar as voice actors. There was that famous strike back in 2016. It went all the way into 2017. Yeah, do you think there's a cultural difference? I guess you must think there is, because you've got all your chapters working independently.
- [Marijam] Yes, perhaps you're correct. It's here in the UK that we've experienced really crushing, really substantial crushing from political actors in 1970's to do with miners and many other industries that have now been outsourced. The word union has a very particular historical connotation that has been lost and has been co-opted by the sort of new Labour view of what a trade union looks like, and I think we're just trying to reclaim that. But I know what you mean, that as you say, that SAG-AFTRA is extremely effective as an association in the US, and perhaps if that's a more fitting description of what essentially hopefully will be the same thing then so be it. But I just think that, yeah, we shouldn't be afraid to really understand that stuff like pensions and weekends and maternity leave, these have all been brought by trade unions in 20th century, sometimes under terrible oppression from the states and there is a history in that word that we should be taking with pride.
- [Danny] Yeah, absolutely. It seems like the sort of the history of union-busting is seems to be relatively well-known.
- [Marijam] Yeah, no one ever says association-busting, right, nobody.
- [Danny] Exactly, and in recent weeks even, just looking at the government shutdown that happened here, ultimately it was the union of air traffic controllers which were the one that finally sort of beat down that door and got almost a million people who were working for free. It seems like it's on the tip of everyone's tongue. I want to talk about a question just quickly we got here from Farhad who lives in Berlin, who is asking the question, he said "I have no idea how or if there is such a thing "in the US, are there any good examples?" This individual is also living in Berlin. Can you tell us where Game Workers Unite International, where the chapters are? Whereabouts they're located, so people who are maybe listening can get involved.
- [Marijam] Yeah, Game Workers Unite Deutschland is definitely a thing and you should definitely be looking them up. I spoke with them recently and they're looking at setting up, at being a bit more active than they have been, but again, the law is so different in different countries that some countries I find it way easier to establish a trade union than others. Right, okay, yes, people across the world, if you live in Atlanta, Austin, Australia, Baltimore, Bay Area, Boston, Brazil, Chicago, Dallas, D.C., Detroit, Deutschland, Spain, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York City, Orange County, Orlando, Ottawa, Seattle, Sweden, France, Toronto, Triangle, United Kingdom, or Vancouver, there is a Game Workers Unite chapter in your area. If you are a games industry worker quietly suffering in any of these places, definitely get involved, check their Twitter, check their websites, get on their Discord channels, meet up with them, and really start understanding that you should not be feeling guilty or abused in the position that you are. If your city of country hasn't been read out, then set up your own. These have, no but really, so now there's someone that got in touch being like "Hey, I think a few of our friends are in Singapore "would like to do something along these lines. "How do we do this?" And we're like "Okay, yeah, so these are little things "that you do, get Discord, "then we're gonna hype you up on our social media, "then more people will join you." And again, from the international, and again, these things, yeah, they're just springing up like mushrooms after rain, in this drought if I can use such a cheesy metaphor. But certainly it's something that it seems like across the world, everyone's very, very thirsty for it. Yes, definitely the German one is there and US, that's not legal, there are no legal trade unions just yet, I mean, there's not even a year of this movement yet and already so much has been achieved.
- [Danny] If anyone wants the list of those again, you can go to GameWorkersUnited.org and there's a map that has all of them in there. It's amazing to see so many of them close to me here. Baltimore, D.C., and I guess the Triangle area is North Carolina. There seems to be quite a lot of them. Even just looking at Europe, I'd love to see a little pin on Ireland. I know IMERC is a really good organization that operates out of Ireland.
- [Marijam] There are conversations going. There are conversations going.
- [Danny] Oh cool, it would be awesome to see something over there, because I know there's a great spirit of revolutionary advocacy in my home country. I have one more question here, this one's from Sharkie81 on Twitter who says "I'm pro-unionization. "Creators must have good working conditions. "But could this mean that making games "could take even longer than now? "A lot of triple A titles have four or five years "of development, even with crunch." What would you say to that? Do you think sort of crunch is an element of game design that makes them come faster or is it the product of bad planning and worker manipulation that could be--
- [Marijam] I think you know what I'm gonna say.
- [Danny] Yeah, bit of a loaded question there from my part, sorry.
- [Marijam] I think whereas perhaps 10, 15 years ago, crunch perhaps was an accident and it was, I suppose, I don't know, a failure of management or what not. Right now it certainly is plan of the management. It is part of the project creation. That culture is now so embedded, and sometimes workers are even competing between each other who is gonna do more crunch. The culture is so rotten that we just have to call the whole thing out. Obviously managers are, yeah, I also think they are just failing and whatever it is that they're doing is inexcusable because it hurts workers so much, but the things have become so bad that there is literally now, and there's so little solidarity and it's so, it's such an individualized industry that is so sad to see sometimes, even workers volunteering to do more work than the other and that's how they feel like they are gonna get a promotion or something like that. In terms of games taking even longer to be made, I'm kind of a bit like boo-hoo. If that means that workers are gonna have better lives, then I think that's worth it. Of course, I mean you look at huge company like Apple. It churns out an iPhone very, very easily because they're outsourced in Foxconn and workers that get, I don't know, $10 a day or something like that and there are just terrible accidents and incidents that you hear of from those factories, et cetera, and is that what we want games industry to be? I'd like to think not. And I'd like to think that there are ways perhaps of employing more people or just more creative ways of implementing certain features to the game that need to be found. I don't know, if things are so bad now that if it's gonna affect the company, the fact that workers want better conditions, they just have to come up with a better plan. They just have to completely adapt. That means completely rethinking their business strategy, their production management strategy, or throwing in their whatever they saved in the vaults, the investment money perhaps, not towards the studio hardware or what not but towards I guess recruitment and human resources and that. Then that's just something they have to do. Yeah, I'm sorry, times have changed. 2018 has proven that you can't get away with stuff any more and if that means there needs to be some sort of revolution and rethinking as to how they make games, well that's on them, but they can't be on the lowest, well it can't be on the workers, that's it. Times have changed, get on with the program.
- [Danny] Marijam Didzgalvyte, thank you so much for your time today. Where can people find you on the wild world of the internet?
- [Marijam] I post all of my controversial opinions on @MarijamDid on Twitter and my YouTube channel really is just the archive. I mostly post my videos on Twitter first and I will leave an archive on YouTube, but it's Left Left Up, and yeah, do check out my portfolio. I've written a lot of articles, I've done lots of panel discussions and guest lectures. I'm interested in sort of gaming communities, the push, the way for progressives to reclaim this space in an empathetic manner and looking at the modes of production of this huge industry and how can we change the cultural hegemony towards the better. Danny, thank you so much for covering this. It's been a huge pleasure, and I think we should be celebrating what we've achieved in the last year. Game Workers of the World, unite. Let's see what happens.
- [Danny] Awesome. I have one more question for you actually, because I watched a really good lecture you did at the University of Lincoln. Just before I let you go, I'm basically saying you can take off your Game Workers United hat now and put on your sort of Left Left Up hat for this question. You did a really good talk, it's available on your YouTube channel with University of Lincoln, and there was one element that stood out to me, well sorry, it didn't stand out to me just in relation to this podcast, because next week our guest is Lucas Pope, who made Papers, Please.
- [Marijam] Oh!
- [Danny] I'm interested in your perspective on this, because obviously, Return of the Obra Dinn came out last year, his previous game, Papers, Please sort of came to great critical acclaim. Obviously your perspective I think is incredibly valuable on this, not just to somebody who sort of rallies against that sort of milk toast, pat yourself on the back liberalism that has dominated a lot of the speak of the left over the past couple of years, but also as somebody who's from Lithuania, a Baltic state, a former Soviet Bloc nation, and the sort of made up country of that game obviously lends itself somewhat to that sort of general culture politically. In that talk, you sort of talked about how the game was sort of, you don't like political games as it were. Can you speak to that a little bit? What is it about political games that you think is sort of preaching to the choir a little bit more? It doesn't actually change minds or make people do any sort of on the ground political work after they've played them?
- [Marijam] Yes, oh, fascinating. Right, so I have to give a bit of context here. My master's was in art and politics. It was at the politics department of Goldsmiths University and the entirety of that course was an attempt to really understand how culture can affect political change or the other way around, and there was a lot of sort of dissection of political art in particular, so I think I've gained an understanding and a critique of political fine arts that I'm then applying to the games industry, which is obviously very, very late in this game when it comes to political themes, and the trend that has sort of sprung up in the fine art department has been, especially since sort of post-9/11, post 2001 WTO riots, et cetera, was that trend of very attempting to be high-brow political art that really doesn't look into modes of production. Because it is very edgy and fashionable and cool to create an object that gives you that high status of someone that is thinking of politics, that it sort of straight away it puts you into some sort of a holier-than-thou category, whereas real activism and real, I even hate that word, activism, but real change requires us looking into global manufacturing chains and looking at modes of production and looking at how our Western, I suppose, consumerism in a very real manner is affecting the global south, and these are questions that are not necessarily solved by these tokenistic pieces of art. I'm just sort of thinking ice, polar bears, or
- [Danny] Right.
- [Marijam] Or stuff like that, stuff like this that has just as you've basically just said before is just preaching to the converted. I don't think there is a political project in there that is just basically a way for a particular artist to feel a bit better about themselves with the fact, or even edgier or cooler with the fact that they've touched on a political theme. I am yet to find anyone, so yes, I've basically then wrote a critique of Papers, Please about two years ago that gained a bit of traction where I say that Lucas Pope has created this somewhat, I suppose one of the first viral politically-charged video games, then was traveling across the world, collecting awards, collecting a BAFTA for himself, and not ever really talking about real issues of migration, of our brutal borders, of the fact that United Kingdom, where he collected the BAFTA, imprisons hundreds of people in really brutal detention centers. Basically he used a very particular I guess theme, he sort of picked a particular battle that is not his, that he hasn't really done anything with it, hasn't really created any he hasn't pointed it out, pointed the capital he gained from it. I don't mean material capital, I mean social capital towards any real organizations that are trying to solve the migration issues or whatever you call them, and I just felt it was such a, yeah, it's a very sort of lazy liberal attempt and a very self-glorifying attempt at politics that I think should be challenged. I think there are more creative ways to achieve cultural significance and to basically attempt to convince people from the other side than this. I actually have examples in fine art, when I think certain fine artists do do that, so that would be Santiago Siarra, who really works with actual migrants in his work and then puts himself on the line as to being, so he pays for instance a prostitute, the amount that those of harem would cost and then he tattoos something on her and some people were like "Hey, but what are you "just abusing a prostitute or something?" And the prostitute actually tells that this person has given me more time and has looked at my issues more than most of these people that come to galleries ever would. Or Hans Hakia, who as actually done a lot of investigative journalism into Manhattan real estate industries and then literally in a gallery just produced all the evidence of corruption. Again, that's sort of real engaging with particular issues and trying to find a solution. In terms of video games, I was very impressed by the Uber game, which it sounds like a political game, but the Uber game was, basically it's an Uber simulator. You are just a driver, and it looks like it's not that much difficult of a job and I will, spoiler alert basically, at the end of it all it seems like you actually earned a lot of money. And then at the end of the game, all of your expenses go away and actually you see that you've earned like four full dollars an hour, et cetera, but that's not what interests me about it. What interests me about it is its mode of distribution. This game was released by a Financial Times, which is a center right wing, sorry, newspaper, right? If it was released by The Guardian, I would just think it's another quite sad liberal attempt, but because it is released by a right wing medium, I think it has a chance of actually changing someone's mind. I think modes of distribution are much more interesting way to apply politics into gaming than the form of them or the plot of them. That's why I've been very, very critical of the new Brexit games, that are just like "Ooh, Brexit will be a dystopia," and play in this terrible zombie land Brexit. Is there gonna be a Brexit voter that you're gonna show this video game to that is gonna be like "Oh shit, yeah, you're right, crap, that's true. "It will be a dystopia." No, it's just preaching to the other lib dems, and yeah, I just think it's such a lazy attempt at politics, however, it gives you a lot of social capital and it kills me. Sorry, so that's a long response to this but I just got so much, I've got a lot of passion towards this.
- [Danny] Well I appreciate it, Marijam, thank you so much for your passion and your incredible insight. And thanks for sharing it with us today. We'd love to have you back on, maybe to talk about Game Workers Unite after another year or so. Who knows?
- [Marijam] Yes, hopefully all the victories will happen in the next year. Thank you so much for covering this.
- [Danny] Our pleasure. If you're listening, thank you so much for well, you are listening, because you're listening. Thank you so much for following our work. You can follow us at NoClipVideo on Twitter, I'm @DannyODwyer on Twitter you can hit it up, or /noclip for all our subreddit stuff, including a bunch of outreach stuff we're doing on there. If you're a patron, of course you get access to all of our special patron posts as well. Special thanks for our patrons for making all of this possible. I have the podcast available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, I think that's a thing, Google Play, we have a YouTube channel after the podcast, archive is separate to our regular video stuff so go searching for that. You can get this show earlier for our $5 tier, but otherwise it is ad-free and supported by our incredible patrons to listen to a day later. Thank you so much again for listening. Hit Patreon.com/NoClip for any more details on how to fund our work, and even if you don't, we'll see you next week. See you then.