“If the entirety of post-Fordist labor is productive (of surplus-value) labor, precisely because it functions in a political-virtuosic manner, then the question to ask is this: what is the score which the virtuosos-workers perform? What is the script of their linguistic-communicative performances?”
Paolo Virno, Grammar of the Multitude
Discussing labour in the post-fordist era, Virno highlights one of its distinctive features. Once work became immaterial and affective, it stopped being measurable; its performativity could not be quantified anymore. Based on skills and aptitudes, creativity and communication, work expanded to everyday life, embracing it and capturing it at the same time. The social networking sites of our era seem to constitute a great example of study in this frame context. Empowered by users’ potentiality to establish and develop social relationships, they have come to consist fertile territories for affective-based production and value extraction. Encouraging and hosting the communicative performances of the online multitude, not only do they offer a new ground for immaterial labour, but they also succeed in rendering production again calculable in an unexpected way.
Scores of friends, countings of likes, numbers of check ins are only some of the new units of measurement presenting users’ likeability, sociability and mobility at the pages of the popular social networking sites. Behind them is the strategy of gamification, the integration of game mechanics and dynamics in these online –non game- environments. By taking into consideration users’ apt for competition, and triggering them with challenges and rewards, which might be direct -like a badge-, or indirect -like peers’ recognition-, users’ participation and interaction is significantly augmented. A new form of wealth is thus created based on the accumulation of social capital and on its openness for further process and exploitation. Advertising companies, employment networks or government services, are only some of the usual receivers of data aggregation. The process is already well established and well known, yet the urge becomes more and more clear: Is there a way out or have we reached an impasse? If non-participation is not an option for the networked world, then which are the skills, tools and methods that might be useful for a better understanding and restructuring of the power in the social networking sites?
The proposed presentation will aim to critically examine issues related to networked labour, productivity and exploitation, addressing them through the scope of games studies and play theory. Looking into the core elements of the market oriented phenomenon of gamification as well as into the expansion of what Julian Kucklich framed as playbour, it will argue that what is at stake once again today is the relationship of work to play. The presentation will propose not only the use of game studies and play theory literature as a method to examine the behavior and interaction of users within social networking sites; it will also support that it is from play again that forms of counterpower emerge and opposition to networks’ asymmetrical power becomes possible.