The Labor of Play

Benjamin Tausig at Public Books:

An Upper East Sider with advanced degrees playing Wordle over espresso; a suburban teenager pairing Call of Duty: Warzone with bong rips before work: both play, arguably, for the same reasons. Each delights in low-stakes release. Each enjoys the sense of completing a task (spelling words, killing enemies) that feels vaguely moral, and which the player might take pride in, even if virtually and for an audience composed only of themselves. What is different is only that the New York Times and other enlightened organs have now found ways to market trivial, dependence-inducing digital game products (already wildly lucrative in other settings) to the gentry. And the Times is hardly alone.

Is this boom in bourgeois gaming bad? The “inanity of many leisure activities” famously troubled the philosopher Theodor Adorno.

An ardent anti-capitalist—and a half-Jewish German refugee who feared that frivolous entertainment was a handmaiden to fascism (living in Los Angeles must have been interesting!)—Adorno had no problem with leisure, but he suspected that so-called free time had, in late capitalism, become little more than a recharging period between episodes of labor extraction, i.e., work days.

More here.