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Monday, June 18, 2007

Virtual Capitalist Nightmare in the People's Republic of China

12 hour shifts 7 days a week playing the online game "World of Warfare" to collect "gold coins" sold at an appalling markup on the web. Marx and Smith had this concept called "productive labor". Working to collect virtual money which the game site can make instantly has to be about as unproductive as labor gets.

Also regular players kill their avatars and the game sites ban them (and seize their coins).

It isn’t that WoW players don’t frequently kill other players for fun and kill points. They do. But there is usually more to it when the kill in question is a gold farmer. In part because gold farmers’ hunting patterns are so repetitive, they are easy to spot, making them ready targets for pent-up anti-R.M.T. hostility, expressed in everything from private sarcastic messages to gratuitous ambushes that can stop a farmer’s harvesting in its tracks. In homemade World of Warcraft video clips that circulate on YouTube or GameTrailers, with titles like “Chinese Gold Farmers Must Die” and “Chinese Farmer Extermination,” players document their farmer-killing expeditions through that same Timbermaw-ridden patch of WoW in which Min does his farming — a place so popular with farmers that Western players sometimes call it China Town. Nick Yee, an M.M.O. scholar based at Stanford, has noted the unsettling parallels (the recurrence of words like “vermin,” “rats” and “extermination”) between contemporary anti-gold-farmer rhetoric and 19th-century U.S. literature on immigrant Chinese laundry workers.

Min’s English is not good enough to grasp in all its richness the hatred aimed his way. But he gets the idea. He feels a little embarrassed around regular players and sometimes says he thinks about how he might explain himself to those who believe he has no place among them, if only he could speak their language. “I have this idea in mind that regular players should understand that people do different things in the game,” he said. “They are playing. And we are making a living.”

It is a distinction that game companies understand all too well. Like the majority of M.M.O. companies, Blizzard has chosen to align itself with the customers who abhor R.M.T. rather than the ones who use it. A year ago, Blizzard announced it had identified and banned more than 50,000 World of Warcraft accounts belonging to farmers.

The virtual horror the virtual horror.

Mao Zedong must be rolling over in his grave. The unkindest cut of all

It may seem strange that a wage-working loot farmer would still care about the freedom to play. But it is not half as strange as the scene that unfolded one evening at 9 o’clock in the Internet cafe on the ground floor of the building where Donghua has its offices. Scattered around the stifling, dim wang ba, 10 power levelers just off the day shift were merrily gaming away. Not all of them were playing World of Warcraft. A big, silent lug named Mao sat mesmerized by a very pink-and-purple Japanese schoolgirls’ game, in which doe-eyed characters square off in dancing contests with other online players.

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