APC’s read­ers share their thoughts

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Elon Musk an­nounced in Novem­ber that he was putting in 120 hour work weeks to get the Tesla Model 3 out the door in time. He did so with the usual brag­gado­cio, but added, in an in­ter­view with Re­code, that it was the “worst year of [his] en­tire ca­reer” and that he felt like he’d aged five years. More re­cently, Rock­star Games CEO Dan Houser boasted to Vul­ture that the stu­dio was work­ing “100 hour” weeks in the lead-up to Red Dead Re­demp­tion 2’ s muchan­tic­i­pated launch.

It won’t come as a sur­prise to any­one that, com­plet­ing tasks the likes of which Musk and Houser do, re­quire more hours than a reg­u­lar week­day 9-to-5 could ac­com­mo­date. As lu­mi­nar­ies in their re­spec­tive in­dus­tries, both have a huge in­vest­ment in their work – they live it. They are their work.

But what about the work­ers? In the same in­ter­view with Re­code, Musk men­tioned that “ev­ery­one” at Tesla were work­ing 100 hour weeks, and that there was no other way to achieve their tar­get. While Houser claims that only a tight-knit in­ner cir­cle of writ­ers were work­ing 120 hour weeks at Rock­star, later re­ports sug­gest that the av­er­age worker for the stu­dio was putting in 80 hours: a bit less than dou­ble what most would ex­pect to work.

There’s no doubt that most folk who work at Tesla and Rock­star, if not all, are pas­sion­ate about their work and want to see it suc­ceed. But it won’t be their names strung up in fairy lights when his­tory seeks to com­mem­o­rate Red Dead Re­demp­tion 2 or the Tesla Model 3. No, it’ll be the head hon­chos, the ones whose sac­ri­fice is very per­sonal. The coder or en­gi­neer who put in 80-100 hours a week, ig­nor­ing fam­ily and rest be­cause it was man­dated by the com­pany, will not fig­ure in the thoughts of a games or car en­thu­si­ast when they put their money down.

And it’s not just a ques­tion of who gets credit in cases where there’s a big celebrity face rep­re­sent­ing the work of thou­sands: “crunch cul­ture” is en­demic in the games in­dus­try. For those in­ter­ested in work­ing in games, “crunch” is part and par­cel with the work. But in the end, th­ese are work­ers be­ing ex­ploited by the corporations that em­ploy them. Whether it’s an ac­cepted part of the in­dus­try or not, the long term ef­fects of crunch can­not be com­pen­sated for with bonuses or over­time re­wards. A 2016 Ko­taku re­port gath­ered mul­ti­tudes of anec­dotes from within the games in­dus­try and it painted a dire pic­ture: weight loss, de­pres­sion, bro­ken fam­i­lies, sleep de­pri­va­tion ,and on­go­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders.

Com­ing as they did within the same month, rev­e­la­tions of Tesla and Rock­star’s crunch cul­ture has re­vi­talised a per­ma­nently tricky ques­tion: what are the ethics of con­sum­ing prod­ucts cre­ated un­der th­ese con­di­tions? Of course, the same ques­tion can be ap­plied to vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing we buy: cloth­ing made in sweat­shops, smart­phones made at Fox­conn... Vir­tu­ally ev­ery trans­ac­tion in the 21st cen­tury car­ries a hid­den eth­i­cal com­pro­mise, but we might start by ceas­ing to cel­e­brate over­work as “no­ble” and “good”. Or per­haps, as un­likely as it seems, leg­is­late against it.

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