Game on, game off.

Sent to me via comment on my previous post on WoW as a form of prison labor in China, here is Cory Doctorow’s short story “Anda’s Game,” from his collection Overclocked.  The story prefigures the RL system of gold farming for real-world currency.  While the writing itself may leave something to be desired, it’s worth a read, especially if you’re into sci-fi/feminist literature and the meatspace/cyberspace binary.

Brief, seeming digression: when I think about “meatspace,” so aptly coined by William Gibson in Neuromancer, I think of the 2009 film Gamer, where Gerard Butler plays a human game piece controlled by another human in a combat game called Slayers; in another game called Society, human game pieces are bought and controlled by other humans in a weirdly Facebook-Second Life-ish sort of simulation, mostly consisting of sexual interactions.  The human pieces are controlled through implants in their brains, resulting in a “big game”-style convergence of meatspace and gameworld (irrelevantly, but for the record, the leader of the Luddite-ish group Humanz is Ludacris).

“Anda’s Game” (Ender’s Game much?), if in a less theatrical sense, similarly questions the meatspace/gameworld dichotomy.  Through its juxtapositions as well as its motivating scenario—the exploitation of meatspace child labor via game environments and the exploitation of the game economy to protect that exploitation—it dissects themes of gender equality in gaming, exploitation, labor (and other forms of human rights organization)…in both meatspace and gamespace.  Meat is rendered in language meant as repulsive, while Fahrenheit attributes are “sensible,” though there is freedom and exhilaration to be found in either.

The juxtapositions of gameworld action and meatspace action in this story interrogate this dichotomy, the idea and value of “gaming the game,” game economies and real-world economies, etc.  I remember friends and coworkers selling off plat and high-leveled characters for real-world money and thinking something similar, that unless earned, such activity promoted noobs who would ruin the game dynamic.  As in the Chinese government using prisoners for gold-farming, prisoners are forced to perform manual labor and gold-farming so that prison guards could exchange goods created within the game economy for real money.  Falling behind resulted in physical punishment.  Interestingly enough, when I first briefly blogged about this article, someone recommended “Anda’s Game” to me…so clearly it’s still relevant, especially as commenters argued that gaming isn’t real work or punishment, and lacked any “real” consequences, suggesting our valuation system needs to be reconsidered as well.

Creative Commons License
This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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2 thoughts on “Game on, game off.

  1. Franny says:

    I like a lot of this story but I hate the part at the end when all the girls are supposedly breathing into their mics at once, sounding like crickets or something. When that really happens over voice chat in a game it’s HORRIBLE, like “ow stop fucking my ear” bad. For me, that point makes the story an example of how Doctorow likes the *idea* of games but is uninformed about the lived experience of them.

    That’s not really related to the issue of how extremely relevant it is to the news about prison gold farmers, but I just felt like I should share.

    • Please, tangents are always welcome! Yes, it’s more screeching and nails-on-chalkboard than crickets when that happens. And I think it is actually relevant that Doctorow seems to be writing more from an idea perspective (as many sci-fi writers do) than from one that indicates personal experience. To me, the story reads more like it’s based on a MMORPG template of sorts, maybe to be more accessible to a non-gaming community. The question of authority and (mis)representation is always somewhat relevant, I think.

      I found myself contrasting Doctorow’s story with this piece in The Escapist (written by an acquaintance, shameless plug I know), about game testing. I think her experience with gaming shows in the prose. Not like this is relevant to the prison labor post either, but I thought I’d pass it along.

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