Noclip Podcast #06 – Marijam Didžgalvytė (Game Workers Unite)

Noclip Podcast #06 – Marijam Didžgalvytė (Game Workers Unite)

(relaxing music) – [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, 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,, 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. (laughter) – [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 (laughs) 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, (laughs) 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! (laughs) 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 (laughs) 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. (laughs) – [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. (laughter) – [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, (laughs) 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
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 (laughs) 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. (laughter) – [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! (laughs) – [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 (laughs) – [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. (laughter) Sorry, so that’s a long response to this but I just got so much, I’ve got a lot of passion
towards this. (laughs) – [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. (laughter) Thank you so much for following our work. You can follow us at
NoClipVideo on Twitter, I’m @DannyODwyer on
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10 thoughts on “Noclip Podcast #06 – Marijam Didžgalvytė (Game Workers Unite)

  1. (Captions Incoming)
    Follow Marijam on Twitter here:
    Marijam's LeftLeftUp YT archive is here:

  2. "progressives have really not been in [the games industry] space and really abandoned it, and in that vacuum obviously right wing politics have developed"

    how completely inane. you sure know how to pick em Danny…

  3. "It seemed like all of my loves came together. My love for a class war, my love for trade unionization, my love for gaming." 2:57


  4. "We are committed to remaining non-sectarian and we will not censor or deride individuals for their particular political tendency. However, we reserve the right to censor politics that are pro-employer, pro-exploitation, pro-oppression, bigoted, or are in any other way reactionary." – Points of Unity, Game Workers Unite

    Daily reminder that these people are unironical marxists and will throw you under the bus unless you are a full-on "Orange man bad" NPC. But hey, I'm sure what the gaming industry needs right now is more left-wing ideologues. Just ask DICE. :^)

  5. Good cast. Its hilarious what pisses off the ayn randian, libertarian hoopleheads. Its nuts that with so much money in the industry that so many gamers don't think the actual makers of the games they love don't deserve more of the pie. I'm not the biggest fan of hollywood, but at least they have legal workers rights and fairly negotiated wages for everyone in their industry.

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