Encouraging Enterprise: Rationalising Self-Exploitation in the Digital Games Sector

  • Adrian Wright

Student thesis: Phd


The creative industries have recently been identified as an exemplar of enterprising activity with workers in the sector being described as a 'creative class of entrepreneurs'. The digital sector is seen at the heart of these debates as political and media rhetoric has illustrated the wealth of opportunity, flexibility, freedom and control available to digital workers willing to take up entrepreneurial activity. However, contrasting accounts of enterprise are apparent in the creative industries that highlight unstable and insecure labour market conditions for all but 'star' performers. High levels of job insecurity prevalent in the creative industries are also visible in the digital games sector as project work, flexible employment models, and changes in the structure of the sector leave employment in the sector, at best, fragile and unstable for many workers. In the context of contrasting accounts of the impact of precarious labour market conditions on creative workers, the aim of this thesis is to examine the experiences of a cohort of digital game developers in the North West of England, in a sector that is, by contemporary prescription, both creatively empowered and entrepreneurial. Using in-depth interviews and an ethnography of networking events it will consider the consequences for work and employment in the local sectoral labour market. Empirical research reveals the exploitative and precarious nature of work in the experiences of self-employed digital game developers and charts the responses of developers to unstable and insecure working conditions. It is clear that the typical response to increasing instability in the labour market is to adopt more enterprising and entrepreneurial behaviour in order to find work. Using the Pongratz and Voß (2003) framework of the 'entreployee' this work illustrates the consequences for developers by highlighting examples of self-exploitation which has been fuelled by a passion and a dedication to the work but at the same time has led to long working hours, unpaid work, and a blurring of work-life boundaries. Faced with accounts which explain individuals' acceptance of self-exploitation through self-actualisation, a love of their craft, or a gift of autonomy, this thesis offers an additional understanding of self-exploitation by examining how individualistic values of passion, self-discipline, enterprise, and a strong sense of belonging have acted as a control structure and have given a convincing rationale for individuals to engage in these self-exploitative practices. Furthermore, this thesis demonstrates how the occupational community socialises developers' motivations towards sociality, altruism and enterprise. It is argued that the unintended consequences of these motivations have led to the normalisation and acceptance of self-exploitative practices.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDamian Hodgson (Supervisor) & Debra Howcroft (Supervisor)


  • Creative industries, digital games, enterprise, self exploitation

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