One-Dimensional Creativity: A Marcusean Critique of Work and Play in the Video Game Industry

  • Ergin Bulut Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies, London; Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey
Keywords: Herbert Marcuse, one-dimensionality, one-dimensional creativity, video games, digital games, video game industry, immaterial labour, play


Creativity is at the heart of the video game industry. Industry professionals, especially those producing blockbuster games for the triple-A market, speak fondly of their creative labour practices, flexible work schedules, and playful workplaces. However, a cursory glance at major triple-A franchises reveals the persistence of sequel game production and a homogeneity in genres and narratives. Herbert Marcuse’s critique of one-dimensionality may help to account for this discrepancy between the workers’ creative aspirations and the dominant homogeneity in game aesthetics. What I call ‘one-dimensional creativity’ defines the essence of triple-A game production. In the name of extolling the pleasure principle at work, one-dimensional creativity eliminates the reality principle, but only superficially. One-dimensional creativity gives game developers the opportunity to express themselves, but it is still framed by a particular technological rationality that prioritises profits over experimental art. One-dimensional creativity negates potential forms of creativity that might emerge outside the industry’s hit-driven logics. Conceptually, ‘one-dimensional creativity’ renders visible the instrumentalisation of play and the conservative design principles of triple-A game production – a production that is heavily structured with technological performance, better graphics, interactivity, and speed. Multi-dimensional video game production and aesthetics, the opposite of one-dimensional creativity, is emerging from the DIY game production scene, which is more invested in game narratives and aesthetics outside the dominant logics of one-dimensionality in triple-A game production.

Author Biography

Ergin Bulut, Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies, London; Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey

Media and Visual Arts, Assistant Professor