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Commodified play

Kristian Lukic, Media artist and curator

Are MMO worlds ideal late capitalist machine based on the social interaction, play and cultural simulation, or they can be seen as ideal social laboratories based on social interaction, play and cultural simulation?'

Virtual worlds are the new factories in which workers/players work and play, and online games where work interplays with enjoyment, can be considered as huge manufactories. Everquest, World ''of Warcraft and Second Life are nowadays the best known Massive Multiplayer Online Worlds. (MMO)

If we take the current move to marketing and branding in these online worlds into consideration, Massive Multiplayer Online Worlds (MMO) establish enormous economical potential. When farming and selling online goods and items, all that could be generally described as immaterial labour. The concept of immaterial labour was initially proposed by Maurizio Lazzarato to describe situations where creativity, communication, emotion, cooperation and values were ‘’put in work’’ in post –Fordist production processes. Although clearly following decentralised networked trajectories, MMO worlds are enclosed proprietary worlds, even up to the present. Each MMO operates as the factory where pro-duction is fully of bio-origin, where there is the owner, the management, the marketing and a department for maintaining the production facility/virtual world. The main income for shareholders of the MMO world is not derived from the production of in world products, which remain the property of the workers/players, but bio-production itself, which means owning the process of production itself (production of items in world/immaterial products, the process of in-world communication, product, items trade) which means commodifing the play as an idea.

The difference to the typical modernistic capitalist industrial factory, where a product was owned by capitalist/owner, is that products produced in MMO’s are property of workers/players. What is of value here is similar to some other social websites, specifically the number of visitors, players, inhabitants that are wandering around, the energies and the time they spend in this world. In that sense MMO’s are clearly paradigmatical biopower machines, something that authors Nick Dyer-Witherford and Greig de Peuter said about digital games in general. According to them: Digital games crystallise in a paradigmatic way the cultural, political and economic forces of a global capitalist order based on the modification of bio-power. In MMO games (with the time based subscriptions) the old problem of ‘’piracy’’ becomes obsolete. Unlike the game industry that predominantly focused on producing a product/game, multiplying one single package and selling a product, a game, MMO’s focus on selling time, thus minimizing the importance of selling a game product (some MMO’s can be downloaded on free, some not, but the major profit is gained from time /subscription selling and not selling a game as the product). We can expect significant pressure from industry towards a faster setup of telecommunication infrastructures in the underdeveloped South. For the first time in techno-culture, potential players/workers in these countries will have the same opportunity to earn the same while playing like players in developed countries. But the future ‘’digital MMO divide ‘’ will remain between the vast number of third world gamers who only ‘’play’’ games, while the production of games/ worlds will mostly remain in the hands of corporations from developed countries, since the costs of creating and maintaining virtual worlds rises more and more.

Jean –Francois Lyotard pointed out that capitalism, techno sciences and contemporary art share a so called’’ affinity to infinity’’ an affinity for an always needed redefinition of products, breaking the barriers, widering the horizon. In this sense, the question is, if MMO worlds are highly competitive environments that foster notions of leviathanism, where the liberal subject is in the state of eternal war, or is it a place for virtual experimentation of social self-organisation with huge democratic capacities? Is a MMO an ideal late capitalist machine based on social interaction, play and cultural simulation, or are MMO’s an ideal social laboratory based on interaction, play and cultural simulation? But as MMO’s reflect the 1st Life societies the answer is probably both.

Since new situations generally provide artists and activists with new possibilities, one is certainly found in exploring the given MMO’s , creating content inside or subverting and modifying existing ones. Since MMO’s have a certain ‘’materiality’’ in a sense simulated 3D worlds, certain numbers of players can be gathered in one place, thus creating powerful tools for influencing the producer/designer’s internal game politics (the number of players that can be in the same place in a virtual world is still limited, some experiences show that a critical number in Second life for example is around 40). Another possibility can be to think about alternatives, in this case possible other MMO models that are not owned by profit companies.

References: Edward Castronova. Virual Worlds. CESIFO ,2001

Maurizio Lazzarato. Immaterial Labour, in Virno Paolo and Michael Hard eds.

Radical thought in Italy :A Potential Politics. Minneapolis,1996.

Jean –Francois Lyotard. The sublime .New York 1982

Greig de Peuter & Nick Dyer-Witherford. Games of Empire: A Transversal Media Inquiry. Conference Proceedings: Genealogies of Biopolitics, 2005.

Trading Vrtual Loot. New York :Basic Books,2006

Shaviro Steven. Money for nothing, Virtual Worlds and Virtual Economies,2007

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Page last modified on September 12, 2007, at 04:46 PM