The artist and the automaton in digital game production

Chia, Aleena. 2022. The artist and the automaton in digital game production. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 28(2), pp. 389-412. ISSN 1354-8565 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article analyses discourses around procedural content generation (PCG) as automation of creativity in the games industry. PCG refers to techniques for creating game content algorithmically, by manipulating data through sets of computational operations and parameters. By producing scalable results with combinatorial diversity, procedural generation is touted as the future of content, yet flouted as the harbinger of technological unemployment in game art production. Critical scholarship on automation suggests that the real danger is not job loss per se, but the constitution of an underclass of artists whose vital work of conditioning algorithmic outputs is denigrated as derivative and ‘manual’. Framed by liberal humanist ideas of agency, PCG naturalizes trade-offs where the autonomy of generative machines is contingent upon the automatism of its human conditioners. This qualitative analyses of talks on PCG at the Game Developers Conference (2015–2020) shows how procedural systems bifurcate the creative work of algorithmic cultural production into affective and mechanical forms of conditioning that map onto stratifications of racial capitalism. Affective tuning resists documentation and is reserved for artists with technomasculine forms of cultural capital; mechanical tuning is relegated to automatable and outsourced labour and relies on replicable technique that is considered artistic but not creative. This article argues that PCG’s reclassification of creativity through racialised dialectics of human agency and machine automaticity overlooks the autonomy of procedural systems. PCG pipelines are organised less around the agency of human toolmakers and more around the autonomy of systems that assimilate tasks in the management of complex networks of dependencies. Instead of pitting artists against machines, this analysis politicises automation’s racial stratifications by examining the momentum of more-than-human systems in which toolmakers and tool users negotiate granularities of control and degrees of concession.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Procedural generation, digital game production, outsourcing, racial capitalism, automation, digital labour, creative industries, computational creativity

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


5 January 2022Accepted
25 February 2022Published Online
April 2022Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

07 May 2024 09:13

Last Modified:

07 May 2024 09:20


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