Hot Coffee and Immaterial Labour

Although it is probably bigger news in the conservative heartland of the US, apparently there is a mod of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that allows for pornographic content (and you thought the title of this blog post indicated it was going to be another rant about postgrad life!?!). The hoopla has also spilt onto our shores. For me the news is not so much that people are enabling 1st/3rd person ‘shooter’ porn content, but that Rockstar games is turning against the enhtusiasts that created the mod:

“So far we have learned that the “hot coffee” modification is the work of a determined group of hackers who have gone to significant trouble to alter scenes in the official version of the game,” reads Rockstar’s official statement. “In violation of the software user agreement, hackers created the ‘hot coffee’ modification by disassembling and then combining, recompiling and altering the game’s source code. Since the ‘hot coffee’ scenes cannot be created without intentional and significant technical modifications and reverse engineering of the game’s source code, we are currently investigating ways that we can increase the security protection of the source code and prevent the game from being altered by the ‘hot coffee’ modification.”

On the dude who actually created the mod:

“Now widely reported in the Associated Press and other outlets, the mod was authored by 36-year-old Patrick Wildenborg, a Dutch gamer and a member of the modder community, those computer users who alter a game’s programming for creative purposes, often adding new character “skins,” altering weapons, or adding new items as aspiring game developers.”

For those that are interested, the mod does actually exist and here is a link to 1:30m video of the action.

(EDIT July 14: Hmmm, dial up modem finally downloaded the video overnight and what is more problematic than there being actual ‘sprite pr0n’ content is the unrealistic expectations reproduced about sex. Kiddies are going to be brainwashed into thinking that you can go around stealing cars, shooting cops, bashing prostitutes and only having sex for one minute. haha… I reckon you won’t get to have much sex if you only go for one minute. Maybe that is why the computer game character is so violent?)

Modding is an example of the ‘free labour’ that Tiziana Terranova discusses:

“By looking at the Internet as a specific instance of the fundamental role played by free labor, this essay also tries to highlight the connections between the “digital economy” and what the Italian autonomists have called the “social factory.” The “social factory” describes a process whereby “work processes have shifted from the factory to society, thereby setting in motion a truly complex machine.”2 Simultaneously voluntarily given and unwaged, enjoyed and exploited, free labor on the Net includes the activity of building Web sites, modifying software packages, reading and participating in mailing lists, and building virtual spaces on MUDs and MOOs. Far from being an “unreal,” empty space, the Internet is animated by cultural and technical labor through and through, a continuous production of value that is completely immanent to the flows of the network society at large.” (33-34)

She draws on Maurizio Lazzarato’s conception of the two different aspects of labour:

“On the one hand, as regards the “informational content” of the commodity, it refers directly to the changes taking place in workers’ labor processes . . . where the skills involved in direct labor are increasingly skills involving cybernetics and computer control (and horizontal and vertical communication). On the other hand, as regards the activity that produces the “cultural content” of the commodity, immaterial labor involves a series of activities that are not normally recognized as “work”—in other words, the kinds of activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and, more strategically, public opinion.” (41)

This is actually different from Paulo Virno’s conception of immaterial labour. Virno conceives of immaterial labour as virtuosic; meaning the ‘product’ is the labour itself and not a finished object (commodity). Virno is explicit in his argument that the virtuosic dimension of immaterial labour is also the basis for its inherent political content.

“Virtuosity is open to two alternatives: either it conceals the structural characteristics of political activity (lack of an end product, being exposed to the presence of others, sense of contin gency, etc.), as Aristotle and Hannah Arendt suggest; or, as in Marx, is takes on the features of “wage labor which is not productive labor.” This bifurcation decays and falls to pieces when productive labor, in its totality. appropriates the special characteristics of the performing artist. In post–Fordism, those who produce surplus-value behave — from the structural point of view, of course — like the pianists, the dancers, etc., and for this reason, like the politicians. With reference to contemporary production, Hannah Arendt’s observation on the activity of the performing artist and the politician rings clear: in order to work, one needs a “publicly organized space.” In post-Fordism, Labor requires a publicly organized space” and resembles a virtuosic performance (without end product). This publicly organized space is called “cooperation” by Marx. One could say: at a certain level in the development of productive social forces, labor cooperation introjects verbal communication into itself, or, more precisely, a complex of political actions.” (54-55)

The distinction Virno is making is similar to the distinction D&G make between a ‘tool’ and a ‘weapon’ in ATP:

“One could also say that the tool encounters resistances, to be conquered or put to use, while the weapon has to do with counterattack, to be avoided or invented (the counterattack is in fact the precipitating and inventive fact in the war machine, to the extent that it is not simply reducible to a quantitative rivalry or defensive parade).” (395)

Lazzarato, on the other hand, broadens the conception of immaterial labour to be defined by communication with, on the one hand, machines (information) and, on the other hand, communication within language (culture). Of course, there is no difference between the two in the sense that both have a creative aesthetic dimension only that in the case of the communication of ‘information’ the discourse is determined by much larger social machines of which a ‘user’ or ‘operator’ may only be but a constituent part. That is, there is a difference in scale. I am thinking of a post-fordist assembly line worker who exists within the ‘total’ factory of a car company (which includes marketing, design, etc) compared to the car dealer who exists in relation to the finished commodity and the circuits of exchange on a different scale.

Anyway, if Rockstar games goes after the enthusiasts that produce mods and extend the durability of cultural commodities such as computer games, then I am pretty sure there will be a massive backlash. Rockstar needs to be very careful as I suspect others will be watching with interest.

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