Paying a Fair Wage Is the Opposite of Slavery

I just found out about Alex St. John’s ridiculous article on VentureBeat claiming that developers who object to working uncompensated overtime have “a wage-slave attitude”. Ummm, what?

It sounds like he’s trying to use emotional terms and “snarl words” to make people think that “whatever a ‘wage slave attitude’ is, it must be bad!” But look at what he associates with “a wage-slave attitude”: people asking for fair pay and decent working conditions. A 40-hour work-week with real work-life balance, instead of ongoing, uncompensated “crunch mode”.

Asking for fair pay and decent working conditions is not “slavery”. In fact, it’s about as far from slavery as you can get. It’s the exact opposite of slavery: being able to leave the workplace and go home is freedom.

Someone who tries to convince you that wanting a 40-hour work-week and proper vacation time is “a wage-slave attitude” — or is any other undesirable thing, like “socialist” or “un-American” or “a poor work ethic” — is not someone who has your best interests at heart. It’s someone who’s trying to confuse you, so that they can take advantage of you.

So, just to dispel any confusion:

  • Who’s the slave: the person who can get up and leave the office at 5:00 pm, or the one who has to stay late and work overtime?
  • Who’s the slave: the person who gets paid a fair wage for every hour they work, or the one who’s putting in 20, 40, or even 60 hours of uncompensated overtime every week, over and above their regular hours?
  • Who’s the slave: the person who can take a vacation — who can take the vacation time that was negotiated as part of their compensation package — or the one whose vacation requests are always denied due to “crunch time”?

St. John says that when he hears game developers talking about the value of work-life-balance, how hit games can be delivered on a schedule with proper management and how they can’t produce their best work when their creative energies are tapped after a long forty-hour work week, he tells them they should just quit and go into business for themselves. He writes, “To my great shock and disappointment, they never respond to this feedback with any sort of enlightenment or gratitude for my generous attempt at setting them free — usually, I just get rage. [emphasis in original]”

No kidding, he gets rage! He dismisses their very valid concerns about work-life balance and proper management with scare quotes, implying that such things don’t or shouldn’t even exist, he tells them the only recourse is to become their own bosses (implying that there are no sane, humane workplaces to be found — yet another lie), and he tries to claim they’re some kind of slackers because they’re not propping up his bottom line.

And he has the Orwellian chutzpah to claim that he’s trying to set them free! I’m surprised they don’t actually punch him in the face.

And one of his constant refrains is that this overwork can’t possibly cause burn-out, because the people are working on games. So it must be fun! This is yet another fundamental confusion of one thing with another, of one thing with nearly its complete opposite: there’s a huge difference between playing a game and writing code (that just happens to make a game). Dismissing complaints about overwork because the product is a game, rather than say, accounting software, is like telling an overworked seamstress in a sweatshop that she can’t possibly be worked to the bone, because the garments she’s stitching are party dresses! They’re for fun!

I doubt that St. John can really be that stupid.[1] I think he’s actually being quite strategic about this: he wants to convince people to work for entrepreneurs like himself, as cheaply as possible and without complaint. His business model prospers if developers buy the myth that they’re lucky to have a job, any job. His business will not actually prosper if he gets his workers to ignore the copious research showing that productivity drops after 40 hours of work per week, but he obviously thinks it will (because he himself is ignoring that same research).

St. John ends his gaslighting rant with: Don’t be in the game industry if you can’t love all 80 hours/week of it — you’re taking a job from somebody who would really value it. But what he really means is: if you’re going to advocate for sane, humane working practices in game development, I wish you’d go away — and leave the industry staffed with cowed, compliant, uncomplaining slaves that I can take advantage of.

[1] Okay, I am aware of Hanlon’s Razor. Maybe St. John really is that stupid. But a straw-manning, emotionally-manipulative screed like this sure feels like malice to me. ↑↑

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