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Sunday, October 10, 2021

anti-sell manifesto

originally published on twitter, but putting on here for posterity.

i've hidden most everything on my itch page and i'm not going to be selling products on here anymore because i want to contribute to making the hobby a more pleasant space, and because i'm a dirty freudomarxist communist who would rather not commodify my enjoyment.

in the beauty community, there's such a thing as no-buy or low-buy participants who do not buy any new makeup products except to replace what they have or to have just one of something. note that this is not the same thing as a minimalist lifestyle, the caveat of which is that you can always buy what you don't have if you need another one; the goal here is precisely to discourage a view of art entangled with buying things because people tell you to.

one of marx's most important notions is commodity fetishism, that capitalism abstracts relationships between people as being between objects (commodities). the perversion of small capitalists is that relationships between objects appear as relationships between people. you can see that this is not a reversal of commodity fetishism, but an internalization and expansion of it, especially because its goal is not to overcome or bypass the social relationships of capital but to strengthen them by colonizing personal enjoyment and relationships. for the hobby community to transform itself into a marketplace then is more than some people trying to sell their products to an audience that desires them: it is constantly trying to normalize its behavior by representing it as what should be normal relations between hobbyists.

you're not going to out-compete WOTC in the marketplace, full stop. you don't have the resources, the brand image, or the public good will. you think you're going to convert any DND fans by being, very explicitly, salespeople who want to sell to them? if i still were a DND fan (DND as the brand), i'd rather pirate whatever WOTC makes like i'd always done than buy anything from you! and this is me speaking as a stubborn hypothetical DND enjoyer; i don't pirate things because i don't have to in order to play. if you care about trying to weaken WOTC's hold on the hobby without looking like a snake oil salesperson your better chance is to spread the message that they cannot own your play or your experiences, nor can anyone else! this is something we should have worked past ages ago. but this isn't about WOTC for me, because what they do doesn't affect me at all. this is much more directly about small proprietors whose enjoyment is wound up with their aggrandizement, and feel the most compelled to turn the scene into a market for themselves. it's unpleasant.

to make an example of myself and to free my mind of what the hobby community advertises as normal participation, i've hid everything on my itch page (except for sigma bandits). going forward, if i publish anything with a pricetag, it'll be to fund the art. but i'll probably focus more on my blog because that's honestly what i like doing the most, and for things such as my OD&D project or brimstone, i'll publish them with a goal of making the text available and maybe funding just to get more art on the pages. i'm still down to be like hired for stuff or w/e, and i'll continue to support my friends' endeavors because they are often just fun or artistically meaningful works that are necessarily tied up with the capitalist state of things. however, i believe the hobby at large should reevaluate its relationship to capitalism and its self-commodification, and how our individual enjoyment seems so tied together with capital-logic. why is this desirable? why do you desire this? what do you desire?

this is nothing i haven't said before, although i guess this is in much more explicit and targeted language. nevertheless, if this seems like a new opinion to you, please put on your reading comprehension helmet and refer to my blog. thank you!

10 comments:

  1. cheers to this! I wholeheartedly agree, and it's nice to see my position shared by someone capable of voicing it with such clarity :)

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  2. The point of view you express here is one that is, indeed, new to me; but it is one which I find myself agreeing with much more profoundly than I thought I would even halfway through reading it. More than that, even: it is one that I realise I unconsciously already acted in alignment with, but lacked the ability to think of or express as a coherent thing until I saw it presented in the explicit and targeted language you very eloquently used.

    I am in no uncertain terms a real intellectual featherweight when it comes to capital-T Theory (haha, get it, capital), meaning the majority of my leftist opinions are born out of personal experience and, for want of a better term, what I would consider "common sense". So, when I read you very assuredly announcing that you would rather pirate stuff from WOTC than buy from indie creators, I was fully gearing myself up to get mad online. "What a bad take," I thought to myself, "imagine trying to frame a refusal to pay workers for their labour as a morally superior position? This is exactly the sort of backwards thinking that makes me like anarchists more than these dang tankies." I know, right? An anarchist who doesn't know shit about theory, I bet you've never seen one of those before. Gonna have to fly my black flag at half mast today, though; you make a really compelling argument that has made me meaningfully re-examine my relationship with tabletop gaming, the thing which I would consider my primary hobby and creative outlet, and which I hold very dear.

    I love GMing, most of all. I love it like skydivers love falling. It makes me feel like I can fucking fly. I have been doing it for I think about 7 years at this point, across a variety of games and systems and et cetera, and at no point have I ever run a prewritten story. I just get too much enjoyment out of making worlds and people and plots for my friends to shape and explore and interact with, it is the most fun thing in the world. What I mean by that, in a relevant sense, is that I have a great mass of what could conceivably be thought of as "monetizable content" that I self-confidently think of as having a decent standard of quality. Up until now, when I have had the occasional off-hand discussion about "oh, hey, have you ever thought about tidying up your notes a bit and putting them on itch / drivethrurpg / wherever?" I have never been totally able to verbalize my vague discomfort with the idea. I would explain it as driven by a fear of "failure", of rejection and discouragement, but I think now that it cuts a little deeper than that.

    Tabletop gaming is the hobby which I have chosen to be the main regular, structured activity in my life entirely removed from capitalism. It is the place that I go to as a refuge from the soul-eating, alienating, ocean-boiling, apocalyptic death drive of capital. Packaging and presenting my relationship with it as one of labour that I have performed, even in a utopian scenario where I am compensated fully and fairly for that labour, is corrosive. Fundamentally, definitionally so. It is a well-worn saying that the self-employed (like indie creators) can "be their own boss." As though that is a good thing, as though that doesn't just mean you are extracting the surplus value from yourself like some awful ouroboros, feeling the agonizing pain of each new bite of your own tail as you destroy yourself. It's fucking awful, actually. Now that I stop and really think about it.

    So thank you, in a way more personally and sincerely than I think can maybe be achieved in the context of "a stranger commenting on your blog post". Reading this meant a lot to me.

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    1. hi there! thank you so much, your comments really touched me :) and thank you for giving my thoughts consideration despite them being rough around the edges!

      i fully agree with what you say about being your own boss, and it's something we should give further consideration: like you said, there's nothing more alienating than exploiting yourself and the surplus value you produce. as long as we have avenues of surviving in the current state of things, why alienate ourselves from the things we would otherwise do outside of it?

      i hope you keep having fun and making good memories with your friends! thank you again so much for reaching out with your response; it really means a lot to me :)

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  3. This vaguely dovetails with the feelings I have every time I think about selling a creative work online. Though you've clearly Thought through the political/economic implications in a lot more detail. Less a unified vision in my case than a set of observations and opinions:

    * I'd like everyone to have at least basic needs met in life before other considerations.

    * But I'm not opposed to people asking for compensation if they've invested a time and effort into something.

    * And given the current system we live under, the requirement to exchange services for even basic needs seems unlikely to go away soon.

    * But, personally, I do unrelated work which compensates me sufficiently to survive. So creative income isn't necessary.

    * And, given that a lot of my creative output is based heavily on the work of others, it feels weird to ask money for something others who need the income are making a living off of. Though giving it away free also seems a bit weird under the circumstances.

    * Maybe for less derivative creations I could see myself allowing the option of tipping, or charging for physical copies. Might one day fund art commissions.

    * But otherwise, the enjoyment is just in getting what I consider interesting ideas out there.

    As a result, I have an itch page, but so far it is all free. Maybe some day something will be "pay what you want", but nothing I've come up with yet seems to warrant it.

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    1. hi there! thank you so much for your reply; i really appreciate how you've been thinking through this. i definitely agree that it is unavoidable to participate in capitalism when you make art in some degree, and that it's nice to compensate people for art that you enjoy because that's really just how we do things around here. my post misses that nuance because i was wanting to target attitudes that selling goods can be altruistic or progressive, but you're right that we should keep the reality of how we have no choice to interact in mind (and that honestly, it helps to buy things sometimes).

      i also think about the nature of selling derivative things; i'm in the same boat as you that i'd feel uncomfortable selling something if i pulled too much from someone else's work! this is why i think we should try to return to platforms like blogs, because i think that's a more honest way of distributing works that might be derivative of each other than putting those works up for sale.

      thank you again for your reply! :)

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    2. I guess my main rationale for publishing something in a format or platform other than blog post (usually a PDF on Itch or Drivthru), is either:

      * To reach audiences on a different platform. (Blogs strike me as having narrower distribution these days.)

      * To say something covering a more extensive variety of topics than a blog post.

      * To package ideas in a more transportable or creatively arranged form. (PDF)

      * I suppose if I actually did much collaboration, then other platforms and formats might help categorize things into distinct projects in terms of who is working on what or being compensated for which activity.

      But blogs do seem better for certain kinds of discussion, logging of thoughts and musings, and community interaction.

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  4. interesting post as always!

    it seems like the time record for passing between "i enjoy doing this" into "how can i make money out of this" is broken depressingly often. But 'small capitalists' -- is that really a good definition of cottage industry creators/publishers/sometimes-shills? not a lot of exploitation of (un-)waged labour power going on, i'd wager. guessing a lot of zines are made for similar reasons that you moved this from twitter to blog: for posterity and for a certain permanence that facilitates forms of sharing? i know that's how i think about it, at least.

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    1. hi marat, thank you for your reply!

      the cottage industry is in fact the very model of what i mean when i refer to small capitalists. the small capitalists, what marx calls the petite bourgeoisie, are those who own their own labor time and sell the products of their labor on the market. this is in contrast to 'big' capitalists who purchase the labor time of workers, and in contrast to workers who must sell their own labor time to make a living (and thus do not sell their own products). ultimately the small capitalists exploit their own labor because that's how surplus value is generated (making something worth more than it cost to make it), but lots of people find that more fulfilling than letting someone else exploit them, so whether it is desirable or not for an individual is up to one's opinion.

      i totally agree that plenty of people make zines and other works just to preserve the memory of their creativity! in fact, i don't have a problem with people selling things (even if they are small capitalists) at all. i'm concerned above all else with the presentation of selling things as an altruistic or progressive activity, rather than presenting it as one's own self-interest. i am specifically thinking of the marketing strategy where indie developers/publishers posture themselves as though they are competitors with WOTC, and that they are fighting the good fight. i chalk this up to a manipulative strategy (though i only say that it looks manipulative from a cautious consumer's perspective), but it can just as easily or more commonly be the publisher's own self-image of grandeur.

      thank you again for your reply! there's a lot of things i left out of the original thread because i didn't want to make it a monster thread, so it's worth considering things i didn't include or (of course) didn't think about at first. :)

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  5. I publish all my shit for free but I don't think there's any escape from the commodification. Anything free just looks like a low value commodity to people. I literally wish I could put a price tag on my games just so that people would actually look at them and I could pay for the labour of commodifying my art so that literally anyone will have any interaction with it, positive or negative. I can't even get some of my old group members back in my home country to look at my work because they're all playing dnd 5th due to new people who only do dnd. The entire culture is just self-described communists who are so opposed to communization that they shudder at the thought of a copyleft licensed game. twitter is just an endless conversation about how to best commodify between 'anarchist' entrepreneurs. I don't think that ttrpgs will escape the black hole of commodification it's entered until long after an actual communist mode of production becomes a real force in the world. and even then half of them will make some radlib argument about how it's actually reactionary. anything other than our play itself is a commodity whether we like it or not and thanks to critical role it's leaking into play too.

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