Harvester of Desires: Gaming Amazon Echo through John Cayley’s The Listeners

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Over the past two years, smart speakers such as Amazon Echo have become popular entertainment technologies and, increasingly, game platforms in households across the globe. These systems are controlled through voice-interactive Artificial Intelligences such as Amazon’s Alexa. The present work seeks to open a conversation about voice-interactive games on smart speaker systems in game studies. While these platforms open exciting new creative spaces for gamers and game developers alike, they also raise ethical concerns: Smart speakers are powerful twenty-first century surveillance capable of interpreting, recording and synthesizing human speech. Through the lens of a case study on John Cayley’s ludic Alexa skill The Listeners, this paper interrogates how Amazon Echo’s technological affordances enable new forms of surveillance while also giving rise to a new poetics of voice interaction. Illuminating aesthetic and ethical dimensions can help scholars in game studies assess the risks and perks of this new ludic platform.