In Memory of Jose Esteban Munoz

“It is through pressing concepts and notions to their extremes and examining their high-energy behavior for contradictions or simplifications that we avoid getting lost in a miasma of localized abstractions of indeterminate depth or arbitrariness, unable to effectively navigate or orient ourselves. A willingness to bite bullets, to fearlessly and seriously swim to the boundaries of the possible, is vital not just in changing the world but having any agency in our own lives.”- Tom Allen

                                                     —Foreword: Utopia’s Trinkets—
            This wasn’t supposed to be about utopia. The loose utopianism of objects is something perhaps beyond my understanding, and fighting for a more perfect world through the giving and receiving of toys sounds silly at best. Examining the political work of these object movements, as we have done throughout the semester, yields proof that they exist differently, on an outside plane from the standard world of exchange, materiality, and object creation. In viewing these objects, their movements and their desires politically through this outside world, I had, it’s true, come to see something resembling hope. But never an ideal, nowhere a staging of perfection. It’s a game of indulgence rather than a game of work.
            But then, we lost a great and beautiful utopian, and all of a sudden I can’t seem to get away from it.
            And if he taught me anything, it is to accept and love utopia’s ubiquity. Those of us who see it, it seems, stage utopia even accidentally, in the bizarre little moments within undercommons and over, somewhere in the surreally mundane marking of time, of place, of presence that always comes with the giving of a gift. Searching for a place to exist that is always outside, always just out of reach, and always within becoming is habit and muscle memory, and the object’s desire to move becomes inextricably intertwined with the utopian’s constant moving towards. In these objects and ideals, it becomes clear that utopia desires movement as much, or more, than any object, and our work becomes that of hanging on for the ride, being aware and shaping the feeling of movement itself. In a way, it’s simple physics: If I am in that constant movement, so too is everything that comes with me.
            This wasn’t supposed to be about utopia.
            But then, when is anything not?

                                                —Objects: The Great Trinket Exchange—
            The Great Trinket Exchange, as it came to be called, began with a turtle in 2005. The small plastic turtle, later found to be a part of Hasbro’s “Littlest Pet Shop” toy collection and christened Eduardo, was found by a high school friend and given as a gift to another.[i] That friend later acquired a ceramic snail, which was given to me.[ii] As a response, I immediately gave a paper crane to someone else. The random giving of gifts, which we called “The Great Trinket Exchange”, became codified among these friends and has spread and changed over the past eight years. During the initial exchanging, we settled on two rules for the game: Trinkets cannot be purchased in the traditional fashion (though they can be bartered, begged, “borrowed”, or by any other means acquired within the giver’s values and abilities), and exchange cannot be reciprocal – that is, the recipient of one’s next trinket cannot be their most recent giver. These rules encourage the exchange to divorce itself from capitalism and the politics of purchasing gifts, and force the giving to expand perpetually outward and include as many people as possible. Gifts are typically small (though I once received a three-foot tall stuffed Emperor penguin which constituted a significant outlier) and given unceremoniously, and the ideal trinket is useless, quirky and of little monetary value. At this point, there are 20 people actively involved that I know of (though I am also aware that there are others involved I do not personally know) and the exchange spans at least six states. The focus of the exchange is on movement and relationship rather than the objects themselves. Objects of the Great Trinket Exchange come to fetishistically represent the relationship between the givers and the larger community to which these objects connect them.
            In terms of performance, the trinkets enact a physicalization of relationships and exhibit the tendency of the fetish toward movement. However, the objects (and more precisely, their method of exchange) also have a significant political performativity. In particular, the Great Trinket Exchange is a small enactment of gift economy. The focus on giving as exchange, given freely and with the intention of creating relationships through giving which further an abstraction from relationships that are subsumed by capital. By consistently enacting a movement away from capital’s mode of creating value, the Trinket Exchange prioritizes movement and stages a form of utopia by rehearsing an interaction which is completely removed from capital and value, and which perpetuates itself based solely on the desire and pleasure of the gift.


                                                —Performance: Trinkets that Move—
            If we are to focus on the movement and liveness of objects, we must begin (as it seems we always do) with Marx. The circulation of objects being the primary purpose of the great trinket exchange, it is important to examine trinket-movement as a manifestation of commodity-movement in general. For Marx, the desire of objects to circulate is a primary metonymic figure for capital itself, and capital exists to facilitate the movement of objects. The movement constitutes a material change: “The circulation of capital is the change of forms by means of which value passes through different phases.”[iii] Circulation is, as in utopia, a mode of perpetual becoming. In the Great Trinket Exchange, as with most fetish objects, circulation constitutes the mode of becoming fetishized, of becoming a metonym. Fetishistic circulation also constitutes a change in value. This is the backbone of the basic M-C-M formula – circulation transforms value by relating objects to capital. In the capitalistic sense, the transformation is the exchange between objects and capital, but in the gift economy, it is the conversion of an object from ordinary thing to ‘gift’. By becoming a gift, the object enters circulation not as a simple value (in the capital sense of the word) but as a sentimental and metonymic fetish, with a direct relationship to the change in status.
            Thus the work of gift-making fundamentally alters the structure of Marx’s circulation time. In the gift’s model, as in that of capital, it still holds true that “the circulation time of capital enters in as a moment of value creation – of productive labor time itself.”[iv] But in capital, circulation time “appears as the time of devaluation”, where in gift-giving it appears as the time of transformation, of revaluation. In circulation time, the act of transposing into a new form is almost a detriment to capital, and its desire is to create credit and move towards “circulation without circulation time” in the interest of efficiency and profit.[v] The object, though, and especially the gifted object, relishes the time of circulation for its ability to transform, to create, to move. If capital wants the object to abstract, to streamline toward the pure form of value in capital as quickly as possible, the object fetishized through gifting wants to resist this as much as possible. If, as Marx says, the commodity speaks through its value, the gift speaks through its circulation, from which it constitutes its value.[vi] The Great Trinket Exchange, as with any gift economy, removes the exchange-value of the material from the equation, prioritizing the value of the performative act of exchange. To speak through circulation itself is to speak outside capital, and the fetish of the gifted trinket occupies space outside capital’s creation of value through exchange.
            The fetish of the object, of course, is still very much tied to its materiality, its form as a physical object. Peter Pels demonstrates fetish as a spiriting of matter, fundamentally grounded in matter and its ability to communicate. For Pels, “fetishism says things can communicate their own messages. The fetish’s materiality is not transcended by any voice foreign to it: To the fetishist, the thing’s materiality itself is supposed to speak and act; its spirit is of matter.”[vii] The Great Trinket Exchange, and gift economies in general, complicate and enhance Pels’ spirit of matter by enlivening not only matter, but circulation. The focus of the gift is on circulation, and the gift undergoes a formal change when it transforms from a commodity to a gift. In the case of the Trinket Exchange, the transformation comes in its acquisition, when the giver-to-be decides to divert the life of the object toward existing as a gift. As previously discussed, this diversion also converts the spirit of matter to a space outside capital exchange: Rather than possessing exchange-value, the trinket now possesses what I’ll call ‘gift-value’, obtained through the object’s acquiring of history rather than capital value. The spirit of the matter is still retained, but it has incorporated into its possessing of liveness the history of the diversion as much as the history of its creation through labor. In the most cinematic and performative of senses, the moment of the trinket’s acquisition and redesignation, not as ‘commodity’ but as ‘trinket’ is a moment of real change in the object’s personal narrative. Now that it is a trinket, it must take on the spirit of gifted matter, which prioritizes history and uses its materiality as a metonymic placeholder for its personal biography. Along with this new identity, it acquires a new material personality as fetish. Now, the object’s motion is pointed, deliberate and prized, moving with the kind of distinction that Pels affords the rarity as a function of its biographical being-set-apart.[viii] From this vantage point, outside labor and within biography, the gift and the trinket can exist in a state of motion, and focus on their representation of relationships and movement as the primary method of their speech.
            The gifted object, like the larger category of the fetish object, tends toward movement. After the acquisition which transforms the object into a gift, it still remains to be given, and therefore to operate within the cycle of movement. Mauss discusses the gift’s movement ethnographically, demonstrating the circle of movement between islands and between communities as gifts are given and re-given, potlatches held and held again.[ix] In the Trinket Exchange, the movement is again circular and constant: the giving of a gift marks another point in the perpetual motion machine, both for the object that is given and for the larger trinket exchange, as the new giftee now has the affirmation from the community that they should expand the circle and continue the process of gifting. The moment of being gifted is the moment where “souls are mixed with things; things with souls.”[x] For the current, gifted object, the movement in the Great Trinket Exchange is complete, and it is then kept as a marker of the historical moment of exchange and a metonym for the transformation and biography it holds. At this point, it becomes encoded as a fetish in the collection of the recipient, and its biographical knowledge enters into conversation with the other trinkets as representatives of their acquisition and, more immediately, of the giver. The trinkets move and transform once again into a museum-like space, and the movement becomes less physical and more of narrative, where the objects’ desire to converse with one another becomes clear. The conversation is one of history, and for the owner, one of relationship, for the commonality between these objects is their status as representatives of a relationship with members of the Exchange.
            In this way, the object performs, compounded on its previous performances of movement, as a metonym of a relationship. Once received, the object then picks up a labor of its own, which is the labor of the Trinket Exchange in general. Overall, the Exchange labor is one of reproduction: Specifically, the act of exchange is a reproduction of a relationship. The act of giving in general is performed and ritualized in the Schechnerian sense of the word, where norms and standards for giving are pre-determined. If giving is always a twice-behaved behavior, then the relationship of the giver to the recipient must be similarly understood. By giving a gift, then, we are reaffirming a relationship between giver and recipient, made metonymic through the object of the gift. Graeber delineates this relationship in Iroquois beads, Mauss through potlatch (though a bit indirectly).[xi] In the Great Trinket Exchange, this is through the trinket, and especially through the recruitment action of expanding the circle of exchange. The labor of reproduction is frequently overlooked by capital; It is, as Leopoldina Fortunati explains it, “abstract human labor [that] omits the exchange-value of the product – labor power – and not the use-value.”[xii] Reproduction through the gift in the Great Trinket Exchange completes the process of transforming the object and divorcing it completely from exchange-value. Once given without any sort of exchange, purely for the purpose of reaffirming the relationship and re-presenting the connection between individuals manifest in the Exchange as a whole, the gift can divest itself of its entire existence as value, and enter into conversation with the other trinkets purely as a representative of a relationship. At this point, the cycle begins again, with another object diverted from value and transformed into gift.
            Perhaps this is the problem with Mary Douglas’ assertion that there can be “No Free Gifts.” In a way, she is correct – we have done the absolute worst thing possible for the continuation of capital, and taken an object out of exchange-value entirely. If the goal of gift exchange were, as Douglas claims, “to obligate persons in a contest of honour” and therefore to create a social system in which gift exchange were the primary goal, then a system like the one proposed by the Great Trinket Exchange fails tremendously.[xiii] No one is upholding honor, no one keeping careful track of value, indeed we’ve completely given up on value (unless we were to make a vague argument for a hierarchy of value based on relationships between giftees, but popularity contests rarely win academic debates). Perhaps we have made one mistake, then: the fact that the name includes the word Exchange is misleading. For this is not an exchange, not truly. In an exchange, there is obligation. From this mistake of terms comes not only Douglas’ argument, but a prevailing interpretation of Mauss’ writing itself. In fact, gift economies are not exchange, because there is no direct relationship between giving and receiving: The gift is given, and the giver neither expects nor receives an object in return. In the Great Trinket Exchange, there is an express rule against it. In a potlatch, the host receives a boost of status, but certainly nothing concrete and, more to the point, nothing that can be measured or counted in relationship to the action of giving. We have removed the trinket from exchange-value entirely; therefore its conversation is no longer one of exchange.
            The Great Trinket Exchange has a semblance of obligation which sustains the life of the gift economy. ‘Exchangers’ (and we are now using that term loosely) are obliged to keep objects in general in motion through continued participation in the game. The participant avows their relationship to the Trinket Exchange, and more importantly to the other participants in the exchange, by expanding the circle of giving. If they value the trinkets they have received, they understand it as important to continue giving trinkets in order to continue participating in the economy. Trinket Exchanger Alex Schwarz says of her participation that “having the trinkets makes me keep doing it. I see them and I think, ‘I want other people in my life to have these types of things, more people need to have goofy reminders of how connected they are.’”[xiv] The act of giving an entry into the trinket exchange is an affirmation of two different (about to become similar) relationships: that with the current member of the exchange, and the acknowledgement that one values the new initiate in relation to the other members. The Great Trinket Exchange is great for its expansiveness, and the obligation allows the expansion to continue without placing obligation on typical exchange (and therefore risking the integrity of abstracting away from value). For the objects, as well, there is obligation to remove more objects from value. Exchanger Cortney Green describes it in almost liberatory terms: “Before you got me into this, I had never stolen anything before. But I realized that I could look at it politically, and I wanted them [the trinkets] to be able to have a better existence than being bought and sold and stuck in capitalism. To me, it’s like adopting a pet, like rescuing them.”[xv] The object focus of the Trinket Exchange is dependent on giving, discovering, and giving again, moving things outside of a realm of exchange and into a realm of relationship where circulation is a movement of spirit, not of simple value.



­                                                   —Politics: Trinkets that Resist—

            In becoming outside value, the Great Trinket Exchange takes on a distinctly political motivation. Gift economies in general have a relationship to anarchist mutualism, and the Great Trinket Exchange is no exception. Through the Great Trinket Exchange, members use the structure of a gift economy as a means of achieving exchange outside capital – by breaking down the relationship between the object and value, Exchangers create a space where they can interact with objects without determination by capital, and therefore rehearse ideals they utilize in everyday life. Most of the members of the exchange (to my knowledge, at least) are political and, in some way or another, radicalized in their beliefs. The Exchange is not an anarchist collective, though, instead containing Socialists, Marxists, Mutualists, Libertarians, Capitalists, Democrats, Tea Partiers and almost every conceivable combination of political views and ideologies. In this examination, though, it appears as an anarchist project because it utilizes anarchist principles of organizing, giving, and determining relationships. Because the gift economy reflects generosity above all else, the gift must reflect the political desire for generosity as an end, not as a means, and anarchist principles utilize this most effectively.

            The Great Trinket Exchange’s gift economy is politicized, from the very beginning, simply because it assumes the primacy of generosity rather than consumption as a format for exchange. As such, the gift economy must directly confront obligation as the point where obligation either forces exchange (and therefore greed) and collapses into capitalism or abstracts from obligation’s expectation of exchange and converts the form of exchange into an indirect process. Mauss, on the one hand, describes gift economies from an anthropological perspective as, in a way, stopping before they reach the point of directly confronting obligation in a manner that could manifest as capitalism. The societies using this are at a point where “this principle of the exchange-gift must have been that of societies that have gone beyond the phase of ‘total services’… but have not yet reached that of purely individual contract, of the market where money circulates, of sale proper and, above all of the notion of price reckoned in coinage weighed and stamped with value.”[xvi] This is, essentially, the conclusion wrought by Douglas’ reading, that an economy of giving without expectation to receive simply has not reached the point of creating price or value. Here, obligation is inevitable and can only manifest itself in a single way, as the exchange form that later becomes Marx’s exchange-value.
            David Graeber, however, extends the argument made by Mauss into a larger social context, one which ultimately informs the Great Trinket Exchange and creates a space where obligation can be considered and actively re-moved from the gift economy. Graeber reads Mauss’ final conclusions as exaltation not of an object’s value, but of its humanity, of its fetishistic collection in history. Rather than stopping before we’ve reached value, the gift economy “can vary enormously in how they do this [create value]; and particularly, in how personal identities become entangled in things… At either extreme, identification does not facilitate reciprocity. It makes reciprocity impossible.”[xvii] A gift is distinct from any other type of value creation because it is enveloped in identity, and is therefore fetishized as a container of an individual identity, history, or relationship. Therefore, the gift does not require monetary value, and reciprocity is impossible because one would have to either give back the identity or somehow instantly match the gift of identity (which would, in polite company at least, be strange at best and laughable at worst). The Great Trinket Exchange, by ignoring reciprocity, is not on any path to obligation, but rather furthers the classic gift economy’s sense of actively making reciprocity both not required and not possible. The desire of the gift economy is the desire to give. Politically, it is the desire to exist within relationships without being confronted by capital’s monetizing and commodifying of the relationship – this is why contemporary Christmas is a victory for the capitalists rather than the mutualists. When giving is competitive or obligatory, it is not a gift economy, because it must rely on hierarchy. As Graeber says, a gift only has to be repaid “when ‘communistic’ relations are so identified with inequality that not doing so would place the recipient in the position of inferior.”[xviii] The Great Trinket Exchange, by forcing the instinct to reciprocate into a horizontal need to expand the gift economy, removes the potential for inequality through obligation, therefore politicizing the game through yet another transformation, placing it yet further outside capital and value.
            Further, the method of gifts’ acquisition directly resists capital, and operates outside traditional theories of value in its very being. First, a trinket is not an object of need, and the Trinket Exchange by definition creates relationships, not provisions or requirements. This distinguishes the Great Trinket Exchange from other contemporary gift economies. Frequently, gift economies are set up as a relationship to need. This is the Burning Man theory of the contemporary gift economy; you are in need of food, shelter, drugs, etc., and you can seek to have them given to you on the basis that the community provides for the needs of its own. In the Trinket Exchange, there is no such need. After all, one hardly needs more silly little objects cluttering one’s home, and a Trinket Exchanger is unlikely to set up a give-away shop specifically for collected trifles. By designating the object of the gift as a ‘trinket’, one immediately implies a judgement of value. In Pels’ terms, the trinket is a variation on the ‘fancy’, where a sense of wonder is diminished, devalued, and set aside when it becomes clear to power that wonder is dangerous.[xix] By exchanging objects of fancy, the Great Trinket Exchange reasserts itself politically by not only revaluing the danger of wonder, but actively trading it. In a way, the act of giving away an object of wonder designated by capital and power to be ‘fancy’ (and therefore detrimental to ‘serious’ acquisition or exchange) is a subversive act of refusal.             Choosing to exalt the trinket is choosing to ignore the rules implied by value. If the good itself exists without value, in the ‘trifling’ sense of the word ‘trinket’ itself, then its exchange must exist completely outside a capital system. Compiled with this are the practicalities of acquisition in the Trinket Exchange: If one cannot purchase a trinket, one will instead create or discover one (thereby removing a potential object of labor from capital circulation) or steal one (therefore removing an already-accounted-for object of labor from capital circulation). Either way, in a small sense, capital loses the potential to acquire the value potential of an object. By distinguishing it as ‘valueless’ in the sense of being a trinket, the giver-to-be actually takes something from capital itself, replacing the void in the object’s identity with a relationship. Where once an object’s history is one of capital’s value, now its history is one of a relationship’s value. This is especially relevant when one removes an object from capital’s value in order to recruit a new member of the Great Trinket Exchange, effectively removing not only an object but an entire relationship that could otherwise be controlled by capital. Not only is the sense of obligation relationship-based, but the act of exchanging itself performs a metonymic staging of the complete removal of capitalistic obligation. An object which is valueless is given as a reflection of the presence of relationship, with the mutual understanding that the ‘real’ value (the act of giving from the spirit of the gift) will continue to move and expand the circle of exchange. One does not give in order to receive, one gives in order to perpetuate giving.
            The Great Trinket Exchange finds its utopia in the ideals that it perpetuates. As a system of pure giving, the focus is not on the receipt of the object, but on pleasure derived from the relationships represented and contained within the object. The Exchange is an embodiment of what Graeber calls “a theory of pleasure… I think one might go so far as to say that in all the most sophisticated formulations, pleasure ends up involving… the degree to which that effacement partakes of a direct experience of that most elusive aspect of reality, of pure creative potential.”[xx] Because the act of giving within the Great Trinket Exchange, in the sense of discovering objects and re-making them as objects outside of value, is creative, it is immensely pleasurable to share the creation with others. Further, by creating a relationship within an object, the trinket comes to represent a form of pleasure that is only achievable through this act of creation when given within the context of the Exchange. The act of giving is a fundamentally anarchist project because it breaks down capital’s control and recreates something outside it, where the act of giving is the sole sustenance of the community. Anarchists gain pleasure from the creative magic of world-making and world breaking, and even more so from the act of sharing the world we have created with others. Manifest in the objects of the gift economy is the utopia of the anarchist world: “Our ideal, as we have said, is that of the fraternal equity for which all yearn, but almost always as a dream; with us it takes form and becomes a concrete reality. It pleases us not to live if the enjoyments of life are to be for us alone; we protest against our good fortune if we may not share it with others.”[xxi] The act of pleasure is the act of sharing, and the project of utopia benefits from the expansive, circular and relational mode of the gift economy. In essence, the project of giving is the project of utopia, a staging and restaging of relationships as the only value placed on a society.
           The Great Trinket Exchange is ultimately a miniature utopia (and again, when is anything not?). The goal of the exchange is to create space that prioritizes the humanity of the object, the object’s desire to circulate and create human stories and human reality, over all other properties. By becoming a fetish, the object escapes the necessity of holding value and instead holds utopia in all of its potentiality. Because the object is valueless, it can no longer sell its soul, but must instead exist as a property of pure pleasure, a representative of the hope to be found in relationships and the possibilities of existing outside. The trinket contains within it all of “the ‘should be’ of utopia, its indeterminacy and its deployment of hope, stand[ing] against capitalism’s ever expanding and exhausting force field of how things ‘are and will be.’ Utopian performativity suggests another modality of doing and being that is in process, unfinished.”[xxii] In giving and receiving we have created an act of pure pleasure, with no purpose other than to provide happiness, and to provide hope. In trinkets as in utopia, happiness is, as Agamben knew all too well, “always at stake”, but the process can stay unfinished. Instead we have only to give pleasure and history as an object in the knowledge that we are rehearsing a project, examining tenuously the possibility of utopia not as an universalizing place, but as a very small, trifling ‘here and now’ which we have briefly transported to that beautiful ‘then and there’ just over the horizon.

            In closing, I would like to end with the best part of Mauss, the reminder that all of this is still human, still vital, and still moving with all the energy of the fetish, and with the knowledge that utopia is, and always will be, everywhere: “We must not desire the citizen to be either too good or too individualist or too insensitive nor too realist. He must have a keen sense of awareness of himself, but also of others and of social reality (in moral matters is there even any other kind of reality?)… This morality is eternal; it is common to the most advanced societies, to those of the immediate future, and to the lowest imaginable forms of society. We touch upon fundamentals… we are speaking of men and of groups of men because it is they, it is society, it is the feelings of men, in their minds and in flesh and blood that at all times spring into action and that have acted everywhere.”[xxiii]


[iii] Marx, Karl. Grundrisse, ( ), 626.

[iv] Marx, Grundrisse, 538.

[v] Ibid., 659.

[vi] Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 ( ) 176.

[vii] Pels, Peter. “The Spirit of Matter: on Fetish, Rarity, Fact and Fancy,” In Border Fetishisms. Material Objects in Unstable Spaces. (New York/London: Routledge, 1990), 94.

[viii] Pels, “The Spirit of Matter”, 110-112.

[ix] Mauss, The Gift ( ), 21-26.

[x] Ibid. 20.

[xi] See Graeber, “Wampum and Social Creativity Among the Iroquois”: in Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of our Own Dreams. ( )

[xii] Fortunati, Leopoldina, The Arcane of Reproduction, ( ), 106.

[xiii] Douglas, Mary. “Introduction: No Free Gifts”, in Mauss, The Gift, xiv.

[xiv] Unofficial interview, conducted 11/23 via facebook.

[xv] Unofficial interview, conducted 11/23 via facebook.

[xvi] Mauss, The Gift, 46.

[xvii] Graeber, Anthropological Theory of Value, 211.

[xviii] Ibid., 221.

[xix] Pels, “The Spirit of Matter”, 111.

[xx] Graeber, Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value, 261.

[xxi] Reclus, Elisèe,

[xxii] Muñoz, Josè Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, ( ), 99.

[xxiii] Mauss, The Gift, 70.




















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After “Fuck you, pay me” – Art, Marxism, and reproduction


Artists should Women should
Google search suggestions for “artists should” and “women should”, respectively, searched 11.10.13


            Google’s semi-prescient knowledge of my search intentions, while never failing to be slightly creepy, also tends toward the enlightening. Thanks to the ‘search suggestions’ tool, a search can reveal cultural biases, burning curiosities, and trouble on the horizon. In these cases, the similarities between public opinions are revealed: Once again, it is a question of what one group should or should not be allowed to do. However, the overly simplified groups of “women” and “artists” have more in common than their apparent polarizing nature on the Internet. Socially women, particularly the “female houseworker” identified by Leopoldina Fortunati, and artists share their status as reproductive forces in a capitalist structure. According to Fortunati, “reproduction is the creation of value but appears otherwise,”[1][2] and reproductive workers as such occupy themselves with creating value in the form of the subject, the wage-worker, and as such interact directly with capital with the (male) wage-worker mediating the exchange through his possession of the wage. While Fortunati argues for the exploitation of the female reproduction worker in the realms of housework and prostitution, many parallels can be drawn between the houseworker and the artistic worker. Ultimately, capital’s oppression of the artistic worker, like the female houseworker, comes in denying them access to actualization and setting up a cultural system which devalues reproduction work while relying upon it to adequately produce capital’s subjects. In both cases, the unpaid status of the worker is perpetuated by capital and creates further alienation, oppression, and ultimately, furthers the need for both groups to act against the system of capital.
            Of course, this is by no means an indication that women’s struggles against capital and the status quo are not unique or in need of examination in and of themselves. On the contrary, I mean with this analysis to indicate ways in which the struggle for equality can serve as a model for other groups facing oppression by capital. The call for intersectionality is a crucial aspect of any group’s achieving greater autonomy, and both artists and women can benefit from further exchange.

Forms of Reproduction

            Fortunati’s structure for reproduction work in the form of the female houseworker can be seen in the reproduction power of the artist as well. In The Arcane of Reproduction, Fortunati defines reproduction work as that which produces the wage-worker by identifying and attending to his needs, transforming the form of the wage into actual use-values (food, shelter, comfort, etc.), and ultimately reproducing the wage-worker as member of society as well as new citizens[3]. She focuses on two groups, houseworkers and prostitutes, as the major sources of reproduction. Artistic reproduction shares many qualities with these female reproductive groups, particularly the houseworker (though the prostitute framework is accurate as well, especially in artists’ dealings with galleries and corporate beneficiaries, which will not be discussed here). Where housework reproduces the wage-worker, artwork reproduces the subject, the state or community’s ‘culture’, and through these things, the wage-worker as well. Where housework is creative in its ability to reproduce social beings, artwork is a classically creative process for viewers as well, in that art workers create not only the wage workers’ interaction with culture, but simultaneously create the wage workers’ social interactions through the reproduction of state and community culture. In doing this work, the reproduction worker is not subject to receiving wage in the same way as the male worker, but instead being ‘supported’ by his wage. This is justified because she is, rather than a wage worker, “a natural force of social labor”, enabling capital to “transform the male/female relationship from an exchange of living labor into a formal relation of production between them”[4]. This relation of production renders the reproduction worker dependent upon interaction with the wage worker in order to interact with capital through the wage.
            Art workers as reproductive workers interact with capital through the worker (in this case, the viewer) in the same manner that the houseworker interacts with capital, as a natural force of social labor rather than an aspect of industrial production. The transformation of the relationship, then, comes in the form of artwork’s interaction with the wage. If an artist is paid directly for their commissioned labor in the same manner as the wage worker, then they are akin to Fortunati’s category of female wage-workers and this aspect of their work is not reproductive. However, the artist’s unique interaction with the wage, and therefore with capital, furthers the narrative of reproductive forces which capital ultimately uses to receive labor-power as cheaply as possible. These wage interactions come in many forms, both state and individual. Art workers consume the wage, provided in the form of charitable donations, grants, and independent support in order to enable reproduction of culture through artistic work. Alternatively, artists can be offered non-real wage forms due to the nature of their reproduction, including the ever-popular payment forms of ‘exposure’, ‘fun’, and ‘experience’. Like the female houseworker, the artists’ reproduction is seen as auxiliary to the production of the wage-worker, and their interaction with the wage is mediated accordingly.

Production, Devaluation, and the Art Worker

            In both housework and artwork, the reproductive worker is aware that their work is productive, and contributes not only to subject formation but produces real objects as forms of the reproduction of the wage worker. Reproduction work “posits itself as such insofar as it is a precondition and condition of the existence of productive work within the process of production.”[5] As a condition of the existence of productive work, artists and houseworkers have a considerable degree of control – they have access to the wage-worker on the level of thought, ideology, and the real substance of the workers’ subsistence, and as such are a vital part of continuing capitalism.
            To continue its existence, capital must standardize and create undifferentiated labor-power in order to protect itself from the wage-worker’s individualization and ultimate ability to struggle against capital. In doing so, capital must appear to support the individual while standardizing and controlling their production, and accordingly creates a work environment that seeks to simplify and dehumanize the individual’s interaction. Artwork, like housework, “must compensate and ‘re-humanize’ the production worker, creating the illusion that he is more than a commodity.”[6] Therefore, when these groups confront their oppression under the capitalist system, it is possible for their struggle to result in real change due to their affective placement as the sole supporter of the complex individual – as Fortunati states, the struggle for actualization for female reproductive work has resulted in major demographic changes, and women are a key to any meaningful revolution of capitalist oppression. Capital, of course, is aware of this with women as well as artists, and counters the problem with devaluation of the reproductive worker’s voice.

            It is at this point that the determination of reproduction as “a natural force of social labor” becomes crucial. To avoid the potential power concentrated within reproductive workers, capital uses culture to devalue the status of reproduction work, perpetuating the ideas that “the labor-power involved, as a natural force of social labor, is assumed to have a lower cost of preparation and a lower value than that of the male (production) worker… it is the ‘unskilled labor’ par excellence.”[7] Artists have experienced this same devaluation firsthand, as the evolution of capitalism has overwhelmingly altered systems of patronage, public interest and access to the arts, and community responsibility for cultural reproduction. Further, the cultivation of the artist as skilled laborer has been devalued, and the emerging idea that ‘anyone can do it’ and that artwork does not constitute a ‘real job’ is a direct result of capital’s increasing concern about reproductive workers’ ability to alter or even remove the wage-worker as the form of labor power due to their exclusive access to the reproduction process.

Capital’s Free Labor

            In the same way that changing family demographics have altered the interaction of capital with housework and the female houseworker as a subject who promotes the increased hegemony of capital, changes in the structure of artistic reproduction have caused capital to reconsider the implications of artistic reproduction, and ultimately to react more repressively. Enter the unpaid internship which, while present in many sectors of contemporary industry, is absolutely ubiquitous for art workers. By pushing the unpaid internship, the myth of ‘exposure’, and the unaware consumers’ belief that art should be free because artists love to make art, capital furthers alienation, isolation, and systemic oppression for artists in the same way that it attempts to expand oppression of the female houseworker through social pressure. By perpetuating the devaluation of the reproductive worker, both the female houseworker and the artist, capital succeeds in maintaining its control over the subject for the sole cost of the wage-worker’s wage, with the knowledge that the wage-worker will sustain the reproductive worker and will, as a result, continue to be himself reproduced as the ideal subject of capital. By working for free, reproductive workers are forced to perpetuate capital’s cycle of control and are as such unable to self-actualize without the ability to detach themselves from the imposed “inferior” status assigned to reproduction.
            Lately, the backlash against reproductive devaluation in the arts sector has been enormous. As freelance work becomes more recognized, and the role of the artist in exchanges with capital is exposed alongside other problems of capital’s oppression, artists are increasingly calling for changes in the attitudes of their colleagues and their viewers. It becomes apparent that the struggle of artists as reproductive workers is, like the feminist movement, yet another manifestation of the myriad problems of capital’s control. The artist, in insisting upon being paid for their work and therefore confronting capital directly as a wage-worker, is joining the movement of other devalued reproductive workers and attempting to confront capital as an ally and a voice. Fighting the devaluation requires the artist to take a defensive stance in advocating for their work and “rather than going on towards the abstraction, socialization, and simplification of her work, she has to represent it as the opposite, as concrete, individual, and complex.”[8]

            How, then, do artistic reproduction workers reclaim the dialogue, and shift the balance of Google’s search further toward “artists should NOT work for free”? Jonathan Scalzi’s Goodfellas-inspired rallying cries of “fuck you, pay me” for artistic work is certainly tempting[9]. Indeed, in his lucid takedown of would-be favor solicitors, Scalzi’s claim that this attitude “does not make me…the asshole in this scenario – it makes me the guy responding to the asshole, in a manner befitting the moment” focuses accurately on the reproduction worker’s need to confront assumptions of devaluation and forced subjugation as a natural force of social labor[10]. However, it is important for reproduction workers to remain aware of the actual target – the real asshole in art workers’ struggle is capital’s structure of oppression. In housework’s reproduction, the historical change in the structure of the working day and the assertion that reproduction must be seen socially as a vital force has begun to take hold. In artistic reproduction, as well, an increase in valuation represents a beginning, but by no means an end result, of reproduction’s efforts. Perhaps the end goal, then, is not only to change Google’s framing of the debate, but to eliminate the need for debate altogether.




Fortunati, Leopoldina, and Hilary Creek (trans.). The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital. Autonomedia: Brooklyn, NY, 1995.

Scalzi, Jonathan. “A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write for Free”, Whatever. 9 Dec. 2012. (Accessed 10 Nov. 2013).

[1] All emphasis as in the original text.

[2] Leopoldina Fortunati, Hilary Creek (trans.), The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital (Autonomedia: Brooklyn, 1995) p.8.

[3] Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction, p. 20-22.

[4] Ibid., p. 41

[5] Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction¸ p. 102.

[6] Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction, p.111.

[7] Ibid., p. 107

[8] Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction, p. 111.

[9] Scalzi, Jonathan. “A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write for Free”, Whatever. 9 Dec. 2012. . (Accessed 10 Nov.13).

[10] Ibid.

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Augmented Reality in the world of Ingress

Technology in popular culture occupies a distinct space beyond its merely functional capacities. Futuristic dreams of advanced cyber-technology have furthered many narratives, influenced product design, and fetishized tech objects not only as useful gadgets, but as paths to another world. Augmented reality gaming is uniquely capable of bridging the gaps between current technological advancements and the imagined realm of the cyber-punk future. In bridging these and other gaps, augmented reality games (or ARGs) can also create new spaces for performance by incorporating space, technology, and the body in a real-time, real-world cyborg performance. The augmented reality game Ingress has created a particularly interesting form of cyborg performance, joining together real-world spaces, multiple platforms of engagement, and community-performed actions into the futuristic world of the game and allowing players to perform their identities as cyborg actors in real-world spaces.


            Ingress is “a near-real time augmented reality massively multiplayer online game” created by Google-affiliated Niantic Labs for Android devices[1]. The system employs Google Maps’ layout and navigation and the built-in GPS capabilities of smart phones to orient and direct players and to allow them to interface with the real-world spaces through the game. Ingress has a complex story which is being continuously updated through Niantic’s multiple channels of communication with players, revolving around the ingression and takeover of the human race by a force known as the “Shapers”. Players choose one of two teams, or “factions”: The Resistance (in blue), defending against the ingression of the Shapers, or the Enlightened (in green), who seek to usher mankind into an alliance with the Shapers[2]. Players interact with one another through the app and in physical spaces by recruiting members and gaining or defending territory, with the goal of assisting their team in controlling the most “Mind Units”, or playing spaces. While the game is played worldwide, players’ interactions usually focus on their city or area, and city-based teams have become common.

           Play in Ingress takes place on players’ smart phones, in real-world public spaces. These spaces are known in-game as “portals”, and range in type from public art works and sightseeing locations to historic buildings or quirky points of interest in the city. Portal locations are submitted by players and approved by the Niantic game moderators, adding to the game’s focus on players’ interactions with their local spaces. Portals are individual locations, but can be connected to others in the vicinity to create “control fields”, large spheres of influence across sections of the city that provide bonuses to members of the player’s team. In order to gain control of a location, players must go to and stand in front of portals and can then use their devices to “hack” the public space gaining personal experience points and adding to their faction’s worldwide score. Successful hacking of enemy portals also provides drops of items which players can then use to strengthen their team’s portals, donating their conquests to the group cause of ultimate control. Additionally, in more recent updates, Niantic has begun providing story clues, narrative background, and exclusives from the world of the game through portal drops.
            Stronger portals are more difficult to take, and require the cooperation of high-level players and coordinated efforts by multiple players simultaneously. Often, several players will meet at particular portals to wrest control from the other team, or to strengthen areas in their control. These meetups are also the primary way for individual players to level up, as most portals require higher level players’ experience points and lower-level players’ item caches. The individual object of the game is to gain experience points and level up, eventually reaching the coveted Level 8, and the prize of an individualized congratulations from Niantic Labs (as well as a sort of hero status within the community). More abstractly, players are rewarded with better knowledge of their city, a set of new friends, and the ability to help new players become active in the game.

            The moment of performance, the interaction with portals at a real-world space, is relatively subtle to an outside observer. In general, it takes the form of a sort of active loitering. A passerby would observe an individual or group clustered on a street corner or at a particular site, wearing headphones and tapping impatiently on their smart phone. Groups of players often converse in hushed tones, looking from their phones to the space in search of players from the other team to thwart their efforts. While gameplay is often not disruptive, players have reported being questioned by passerby or even police officers, who often become concerned at the erratic behavior of standing in a public space while interacting with technology (a product of the all-consuming fear of terrorism that has resulted, thus far, in little more than amusing misunderstandings in the context of the game)[3].
            For players, however, the experience is significantly more performative. The Ingress application consists of a flashy, cyberpunk alternate-Google Maps interface, with black streets and grey buildings being overtaken by the glow of nearby portals and the interconnected web of portal links. Players can target particular portals and be navigated toward them, or wander around to collect XM, points which are required to complete portal actions such as hacking or placing items. When interfacing with the portal itself, the game uses simple animations and a turn-based calculator, showing damage inflicted on a targeted portal versus damage to the player, and provides several small mini-games depending on player actions. The interface shows a photograph of the real-world space and the futuristic Ingress world simultaneously, reminding the player that their actions are attached to physical spaces and further contributing to the performance of the feeling of augmented world-building. The experience of walking around the city is effectively overlaid with the world of the cyber-performance, allowing the player to actively participate in a world that, as the game states, “is not what it seems”[4].

Augmented Reality and MMO as Cyborg Performance

            As an example of augmented reality gaming, Ingress demonstrates an effective hybrid of social gaming, sightseeing and community interaction, and technological interest, and operates as a type of real-world cyborg theatre, transforming space and players alike through interaction with familiar technology. Ingress employs two major types of gaming: Augmented Reality and MMO, or “Massively Multiplayer Online”. Augmented reality uses technology to enhance one’s perception of reality through a specific interface – in this case, the player’s smart phone, as well as GPS data technology, sound, and interactive graphics. In contrast, MMOs focus on creating immersive game worlds where player interaction determines the evolution of the meta-game. Ingress employs strategies of both game styles to create a hybrid game which relies on players to perform cyborgian identities and successfully enact the game in real space through community actions.
            Augmented reality has become synonymous with contemporary urban life through smart phones, and Ingress players are already accustomed to these types of interfaces. Imaging apps such as Instagram and Vine connect technology with space and experience, social media augments experiences with constant social interaction, and utility-based apps, particularly Google Maps and GPS location technology, introduce augmentation into everyday life. Ingress represents an integration of several types of smartphone augmentation by combining game, spatial interaction and mapping. Smartphone users discovering Ingress are already familiar with “the processes through which content and code work socially and spatially… fundamentally mediate the everyday practices of urban life, subtly shaping senses of place as particular interpretations are foregrounded or sidelined”[5], and as such are willing to engage with the augmented reality.    Ingress has taken advantage of this urban integration to create a game which operates as a natural extension of the ubiquity of the smart phone in everyday life, co-opting technologies like Google maps and hybridizing the world of the game with familiar forms of augmented reality. In terms of mediation, Ingress creates a new way of interacting with a familiar technology through Google maps. The already-present augmentation of the map in spatial awareness is highlighted with the introduction of the gameplay layer. Additionally, Ingress subtly builds on the players’ awareness of the constructed nature of mapping in general. The map eliminates all landmarks and leaves only portals and streets. In a way, Ingress develops a sort of ‘radical cartography of its own, where the politics of mapping as users typically experience them in digital map apps (advertising, prioritizing of buildings and particular landmarks, car-focused directions) are subtly subverted, revealing that in Ingress, the “inherent politics that often lie beneath a map’s ‘objective’ surface” belong instead to the players of the game.[6] This map’s politics are straightforward, “us vs. them” messaging, with the player’s physical movement at the center of the communication.
            The space of Ingress’ gameplay can be categorized within Antonia Silva’s hybrid space. According to Silva, “Hybrid spaces merge the physical and the digital in a social environment created by the mobility of users connected via mobile technology devices”[7]. A hybrid space is unique because it is not constrained by a particular geographical point in real-world space. Hybrid spaces can occupy multiple physical locations simultaneously, by placing disparately located users in a single digital environment, or they can encompass a wide swath of locations connected by a digital path. It is primarily the latter type of hybrid space that players encounter in Ingress’ actual interface, though the former is an important aspect of gaming-related community activities (for instance, the use of social media in connection with the game, to be discussed later). Ingress uses hybrid space to immerse the player’s entire surroundings in the world of the game. Even those spaces which are not portals still hold a measure of game-magic, where points can still be collected and journeys between one portal and another can be mapped, in the context of the hybrid space that is the player’s city. Ingress also creates a branching-off from Silva’s categorization of hybrid spaces. Where Silva makes the distinction that hybrid spaces are not spaces of augmented reality, Ingress manages to occupy both worlds[8]. This is possible because Ingress incorporates two different types of space: the aforementioned hybrid spaces of the player’s journey in the city, and the augmented reality experience of interacting with portals which comprise the main gameplay.
            The merging of augmented reality spaces with hybrid spaces functions due to the Ingress layer’s foregrounding of non-normative aspects of the portal space on the map. Not only does it introduce the portal layer, it emphasizes the points of interest in real world space, and the spatial connections between portals, rather than the city layout, streets, and traffic patterns emphasized by the standard map application. As a result, players are interacting with augmented physical space using familiar map technology. In order to play, a player must travel through the hybrid space to these public portal spaces using a familiar form of augmented reality, further augmented through the context of the game. Where “digital augmentations offer a means of place-making that is infinitely more malleable and dynamic than those that existed previously,” the unique augmented-reality map creates a new experience of place for the player.[9]
            MMO, on the other hand, is more specific to gaming, describing a particular type of online game where players interact with one another, with gaming prioritizing player experience over plot line, an open-world demonstration of Burrill’s “open” gaming style[10]. Open gaming, as seen in online RPGs such as Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, rely on encounters between players in the game environment to produce gameplay narrative and primarily provide platforms of interaction, competition, and cooperation with other live players. Ingress employs some of the tactics of MMO gaming styles. While the game still retains an overarching narrative controlled by the game-makers, the primary gameplay story comes in interactions and scores of players, and often mini-narratives of interactions and competitions between well-known players. Ingress does not use character-creation as a gameplay tool like many RPGs, but the line between avatars and real-world individuals are blurred as players interact in physical space with other players. Adapting MMO ideas to suit augmented reality interaction, Ingress retains the primary concept categorizing open games, where “the players write the script for the performance in real time, constantly reacting to the changes in the environment that occur while they are in the environment”[11]. In this case, the changes in the environment are represented by control of portals, and the connection between real and virtual heightens the emphasis on space as the primary object of gameplay.

            The gameplay of Ingress can be examined as a manifestation of Parker-Starbuck’s “cyborg theatre”[12]. In particular, the game relies on the use of bodies and space, working through a mediatized interface, to create a new form of experienced liveness. Using technology as an extension of the space and the player’s identity, players perform simultaneously the real (as live bodies in physical space) and the virtual (through the game’s interface, the map format, and the online community). The player experiences the public spaces in a new way, and co-operates the body with both the technology of the interface, and the lived experience of the urban location. Ingress players perform the roles of Resistance or Enlightened as cyborg actors, effectively performing for the community through the medium of the smart phone and the game. For Parker-Starbuck, the “simultaneous co-presence of performers and technologies on stage” defines the cyborg theatre[13]. In the quotidian sense, where technology is already seamlessly integrated into everyday life, mere co-presence is not enough to distinguish cyborg performance. In the case of Ingress, however, players are simultaneously using both the live, performed experience (seeing the physical site and interacting with other live players) and the technological, and must be willing to blend both experiences as the source of the cyborg performance. The space, as well, becomes a participant in this cyborg theatre, becoming simultaneously a recognizable real-world landmark and becoming marked by players as a cyborgian point of contact. Liveness and the body are crucial aspects of the effectiveness of the game, as it relies on physical presence existing simultaneously alongside media presence.

            What cyborg theatre as utilized in Ingress’ gaming space provides, then, is an alternative solution to the problem of social realism. In Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, Alexander Galloway illustrates this “problematic of correspondence” through the “connections between the gaming world and the real world, both from the inside outward in the form of affective action, and from the outside inward.”[14] Where many games answer this problem using modeling and other tactics of realism in immersion, the cyborg theatre status of the Ingress player creates effective social realism. In Ingress, the affective orientation of the player with the game is the active, constant reminder of integration and cyborgization. Player, space, and relations between players are absorbed by this cyberpunk alterity, and the game achieves a higher level of realism through this constant othering than could be found in modeling or hyper-realistic art styles. The focus on physical space and the physical body, set apart from the digital, demonstrates Galloway’s “third moment of realism”[15] where players connect their own action to the game world, as a process of self-identification with the game as much as it is a process of gameplay.
Community, the multitude and performative world-building

            Ingress’ community aspects also contribute to the active creation of cyborg performance. In addition to performing game identities while playing in live space, players must also connect several virtual identities to their status as an Ingress player. The Ingress community uses multiple platforms as sites of engagement. Besides the game itself, most cities have established facebook and Google Group sites for their local faction, as well as community-wide sites for codebreaking and storyline activities and a strong presence on the online community reddit[16]. Of course, most players already have a presence on most, if not all, of these sites, and a unique performative identity on each site. In order to perform effectively, players must be willing to integrate these identities with their established performative identities on the other platforms, further establishing gameplay as part of their identity. This multi-platform engagement helps to foster Burrill’s definition of an open gaming experience, where “players themselves actively create the narratives and experiential parameters of the game”[17]. Though these groups are created by the players and not the game officials, the game encourages cooperation though this multi-platform approach– indeed, it is almost impossible for one to progress in the game without seeking out these alternative platforms, similar to the need to meet other players in physical space. In this way, the game also facilitates multiple types of both mediatized and live performance. The multi-platform approach also allows the game’s element of augmentation to extend to other technologies, involving computers and social sites as well as the Ingress-specific technology. Players are expected to perform as multiple types of online avatar in these sites, augmenting their virtual as well as live performance to engage in game activities with other players.

            In addition to creating the online world of the game, the community also performs an important role in creating the physical space of the game. Any player can submit a site in their city for consideration as a portal, and the majority of them are accepted. The only requirement for a portal is that players must be able to visit the site without trespassing, making the game a primarily outdoor experience. Niantic also organizes real-world “Ingress events” in major cities, further fostering an ethos of community world-building through augmented reality[18]. These efforts focus the performance on the players, foregrounding the fact that players are shaping the reality of the open game.
            The community focus creates a self-organized world, one which focuses on the community’s form of organization and uses the multitude’s social force to expand the game world and enhance the cyborg experience. The idea of the multitude as illustrated by Hardt and Negri examines the interplay between the capabilities of the individual and the collective to organize, produce, and communicate.[19] The multitude’s connections are frequently used by capital to achieve their goals. In gaming, however, the multitude structure can be harnessed to further individual autonomy, connections, and self-actualization through combination with cyborgian identity. In the “self-organized worlds” of MMO gaming, where individual player decisions alter the balance in-game, the multitude’s collective is adapted by every individual, and the individual’s experience furthers the multitude’s growth.[20] Because each of the various city and local communities is unique, players can connect on an individual level to the game while still participating in the global multitude. Because the game focuses on direct action between individual players, and connects the player to their own community, the sense of customization in-game enables players to connect as individuals. The cyborg body confronts the multitude not as a force of alienation, but as a force of the expansive world. Because their own experience, but not their awareness, is effectively limited to their location, the cyborg theatre of the game creates community-within-community tied to physical space and physical bodies.
The Social Cyborg

            By combining these various modes of analysis, it is clear that Ingress’ model of gaming demonstrates the presence of a near-ubiquitous but little-recognized entity, that of the “social cyborg”. The cyborgian nature of the augmented reality platform provides an alternative method of relating to real-world spaces and individuals, and the community aspect creates a distinctive group who are recognized by their relation to each other. Players perform their roles as members of the game through an augmented relation to the space and their fellow players – rather than being defined by their faction or their normative life distinctions, players are defined as a holistic group by their mutual willingness to enter into the cyborg state of being. This type of social cyborg-ing is seen in many digital city-type interactions, where the individual’s entering into an element of the city requires them to adopt and interface with technology in order to effectively use the space, and Ingress is able to build upon its players’ already-present comfort with the idea of augmenting themselves with digital objects.[21] Further, players distinguish themselves as other when they are in-game. Players report alternate ways of moving, of interacting with non-players, and even trouble with law enforcement becoming concerned after seeing players engaged in gaming in public space. The social cyborg is a distinct hybrid of Burrill and Parker-Starbuck’s categories, one who uses their augmented status to other themselves from everyday life through connection with technology and community.
            The social status of this cyborg is of equal importance. Defined by their other status in their active relationship with technology, Ingress’ social gaming promotes a causal relationship between the act of game playing and the formation of social groups of players. The players of Ingress, by being required to work together in the space of the social game, are further defined as a cohesive group in recognizing their mutual cyborg status. Social gaming then becomes a platform for other types of interaction, both online and off, where the social cyborg becomes a catalyst for integrating other types of identity. Ingress is especially dependent on intersections between the players’ identity as members of a social cyborg group and citizens of a particular urban area. By encouraging players to interact with one another and their city through the technological medium, Ingress fuses the identity of the social cyborg with the identity of the urban citizen in the same way that it has digitally and socially augmented the city’s landmarks.

Performing for Oneself: Impact on Players

            The effects of this community of social cyborgs have been generally positive. Players have reported positive lifestyle changes, increased involvement with public urban spaces including cleanup and restoration efforts, and the formation of real-world friendships found through cyborg interaction. The following are responses from anonymous reddit users in the sub-community devoted to Ingress, when asked the question, “Why do you play?”:

                       – “It hits this gaming spot for me that’s really hard to find. Ingress is amazingly dynamic

and addictive because it relies purely on strategizing with and against other humans.”
– “I now play ingress to learn about my city and surrounding cities. When I travel I use in-

gress to find interesting places that the locals have created as portals. I get to see history
a totally different way.”
– “Introduced the game to my nephew who was heading down a bad path. Now we have
something to talk about. It’s not completely pulled him from the brink, but it’s a start. “
     – “I joined for two reasons; to get closer to a friend, and to explore my own city (which I was
still unfamiliar with).”
– “Ingress is slowly changing my life for better. I’ve been struggling with depression over the

course of the past two years, keeping myself quiet at home whenever I could. Ingress gives me
a good reason to go out and work on something with people I started to sympathise with, making
new friends – even in the opposite faction.”[22]

Players who identify as a part of this social cyborg construct are able to perform their identity as urban dwellers through direct interaction with urban space, a feat which is difficult to achieve without some form of interface. Ingress’ augmented reality creates a social cyborg not only of the player, but of the urban space, and promotes a more engaged community performance through identity with the uniqueness of one’s city. In short, the social cyborg becomes not only a status, but a force unto itself.

[1] Ingraham, Nate. “Google’s ‘Ingress’ augmented reality game puts Android users into a battle against worldwide mind control.” The Verge.

[2] Agent Intel: The Beginner’s Guide. Youtube. Silicon Valley, CA: Niantic Labs, 2012.

[3] Foster, Cormac. “Augmented Reality Game Gets Player Busted: The First Of Many?.” ReadWrite: 11 Dec. 2012.

[4] Niantic Labs@Google. “Ingress.”. Web.

[5] Zook, Matthew, Mark Graham, and Andrew Boulton. “Augmented reality in urban places: contested content and the duplicity of code.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 38, no. 3 (2012): 466.

[6] Bhagat, Alexis and Lize Mogel. Introduction, An Atlas of Radical Cartography. Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press: Los Angeles, CA, 2007.

[7] De Sousa E Silva, Adriana.. “From Cyber To Hybrid: Mobile Technologies As Interfaces Of Hybrid Spaces.” Space and Culture 9, no. 3 (2006): 269.

[8] Ibid. 265.

[9] Zook et al., 465.

[10] Burrill, Derek Alexander. “Out Of The Box: Performance, Drama, And Interactive Software.” Modern Drama 48, no. 3 (2005): 501-504.

[11] Ibid. 502

[12] Parker-Starbuck, Jennifer. “Introduction: Why Cyborg Theatre.” In Cyborg theatre: corporeal/technological intersections in multimedia performance. 1-13.

[13]Ibid. 3

[14] Galloway, Alexander. “Social Realism”, in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture”. University of Minnesota Press: Minnepolis, MN, 2006. pg. 71-72.

[15] Ibid., 84.

[16] Sites include “Decode Ingress” ( and

[17] Burrill 501.

[18] Niantic Labs@Google. “Ingress Portal Event Guide: AP Gain”.

[19] See Hardt and Negri, 2000.

[20] Dyer-Witherford, Nick and Greig de Peuter, Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, MN 2009, 201-204.

[21] Silva, Adriana, and Daniel M. Sutko. “Introduction.” In Digital cityscapes: merging digital and urban playspaces. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. 1-19.

[22] “Why do you play Ingress? : Ingress.”

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