APC’s readers share their thoughts
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.