Game Modders are Subverting the Rules of Capitalism

by Rachel Baker on December 8, 2013

Here’s an interesting perspective on our economy from both a Harvard law professor, economists and well…gamers.

You walk into a village inn and it turns out the landlord sells swords. You’re short of gold so you pop out and shoot some wolves with your bow and arrow. You add their pelts into the deal and buy the sword. Where’s this? Skyrim, of course.

Skyrim is a computer game set in the mythical world of Tamriel, where human intercourse consists of fighting, stealing, magic and trade. Whether you’re here, or in the deep space of EveOnline, or among the low-life in Grand Theft Auto V, the economics of computer games nearly always resemble early capitalism: trade, conquest and ruthless rule-bending are the sources of wealth; actual human labour and ingenuity almost never. With about half of all households owning a games console, and 8 million people a day secretly amassing fortunes on Facebook games like Farmville, that is one huge dollop of free-market ideology getting dumped into our leisure time.

But what happens if you try to subvert in-game economics? Players in complex online worlds are well used to “gaming the game” – that is, trying to exploit inconsistencies of the economic model to scam other players. Last year one player, by bidding up the price of a worthless object and then getting his friend to destroy it, almost wiped out all the value in the entire universe. The game’s fulltime economists – such jobs exist – spent days unpicking the trades.

What I am proposing is something different. What if, just as in an Occupy camp, where they try to “live despite capitalism”, you could live “despite” the property forms and voracious market economics of a computer game?

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