Time is Money: Cart Life and the Instrumentalization of Time

In his book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Jonathan Crary writes that “sleep is an uncompromising interruption of the theft of time from us by capitalism.” According to Crary, in contemporary capitalist societies, individuals’ time is instrumentalized for the ends of production, circulation, and consumption, with the one exception of the time when they are asleep. A similar representation of time can be seen in digital games, where waking time is directed towards completing missions and gaining currency of some kind, while sleep time exists only laconically.

This paper will seek to show how one game, Richard Hofmeier’s Cart Life, uses goal-based mechanics to comment on the instrumentalization of people’s time due to financial concerns and struggles. With a game clock that moves relentlessly forward with no option to pause, in-game tasks that require precise timing, and an overall deadline by which the player-character must reach a specific goal, time is central to Cart Life. Every moment must be optimized, requiring the player to push the protagonist to exhaustion and to sacrifice interactions with NPCs. The rare exception to this is sleeping time, which, rather than going undepicted as in other games, serves as a welcome rest for the player from the intensity of waking life, though one which is constantly encroached upon.

This paper was presented at the Extending Play conference at Rutgers University.