Perhaps it is the Players

As I have never played World of Warcraft and been immersed in its subculture, I was surprised that “racialization” of certain game play activities occurred not only in the virtual world itself but also in its extensions through user-created content.  Though I have played other forms of MMORPGs, such as Guild Wars, I have not personally witnessed such racialization or any evident backlash from “gold farming.”  There has been selling of game accounts (i.e. old Runescape accounts) within the virtual world for virtual currency yet no visible or verbal opposition occurs from the adjacent players.  Perhaps I was extremely ignorant of my surroundings or maybe racialization took on other implicit forms.  It is even possible that racialization of activities such as gold farming is unique to WoW or WoW-like MMOs, especially given the fact that some video games do not offer an exchange between virtual and real currency.

So with respect to Lisa Nakamura’s article “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft,” it makes me wonder if the racialization that occurs in these virtual worlds is a true reflection of the opinions of participatory players.  That is, does the virtual cultural tension translate into the real world?  The likely answer: probably not enough to affect their professional and social lives.  Given what we’ve discussed in class thus far, the power of anonymity in virtual worlds likely permit players to openly express private sentiments or to imbue themselves with a sense of superiority by degrading others that “threaten” them.  In other cases, it allows them to explore different personalities and yet for others, to merely appear comical or clever.  Throw in multimedia resources like the machinama website and you have the means for the expansion of not only racialization for unfavorable game play activities but also for alternative modes of griefing and trolling.

At the very least, the racializing players are practicing a sort of hypocrisy in that they deprecate these “worker players” when it is, in an economic sense, the leisure players that fuel the demand for virtual currency.  Leisure players may not have the time or are unwilling to dedicate a vast amount of time into leveling or outfitting their avatars.  Thus, they’d rather throw some cash in to save some time and trouble.  So it comes as really no big surprise that there are players willing to provide those services and act as suppliers.  If what Nakamura says is true, than “Chinese” businesses players have simply capitalized upon this obvious demand.  Sure, some MMORPG players may be put at a disadvantage compared to those who decide to pay rather than work for their virtual progress, but the fact that there are so many gold farmers suggests there is a relatively large buyer market.

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One Response to Perhaps it is the Players

  1. cstabile says:

    The problem that Nakamura is talking about really was limited to WoW and mainly happened in 2006-2007. I’m sure there’s still gold farming going on in the game, but it isn’t being explicitly racialized (e.g. the gold farming isn’t “Chinese”). In Play Loot, most of the gold farming Julian Dibbell talks about was happening in sweatshops in Mexico — it’s interesting to consider why the racialization of WoW gold farmers took this shape and whether it wasn’t a matter of a few incidents being amplified by some alpha fans. We should talk more about this in class — good points.

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