Capitalism, as an economic model is supposed to be the free exchange of goods or services for money. But what is good on paper rarely translates perfectly into practice. The game To Build a Better Mousetrap really does a great job of illustrating how corporations are themselves playing a game where the goal is to beat last years top score of record high profits. The basic parameters of the game are fairly straightforward: balance the manufacturing process with the developing process to earn enough profits to eventually retire. What I found haunting was how easily human lives could be discarded for automated machines in the pursuit of the end goal. The game even has counter measures for when the workers start to dissent. Capitalism often times takes an unethical approach to business, exploiting the human components of their enterprise. Aside from the the high cost of consoles and games keeping the gaming community away from the underprivileged, game manufacturing companies often mistreat and exploit their workers by working them well past the point of exhaustion as was the now infamous case of the Foxconn suicides.
Reading the introduction to Global Capitalism and Video Games by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter brought to light some examples of how far corporations will go to insert themselves into the growing virtual world of online gaming and actively pray on the demographic most likely to fork over the majority of their income on first world amenities. “Over 60 percent hold a college degree, most make at least $45,000 per year, and 40 percent earn $90,000 annually (Au 2007a). This is a demographic that attracts corporate marketers and fills the streets of Second Life cities with familiar logos. Apple, Adidas, Nike, Nissan, Volkswagen, Toyota, American Apparel, CBS, Dell, Sun Microsystems, and many other actual companies have an in-world presence, installing not just billboards but in-game stores where you can purchase virtual equivalents of offline products, supposedly stimulating actual sales, and certainly keeping property fees flowing into Linden Labs’ coffers, building the company’s current $20 million capitalization.” The impressive expansion of the medium has given these companies an incredible reach into the lives and wallets of the average 1st world citizen, but with consoles averaging in the hundreds of dollars and games upwards of fifty dollars each, taking anything more than a casual approach to gaming can be a costly endeavour that ends up excluding a large portion of the population that would otherwise enjoy participating in the gaming community.
It’s no secret that video games are a fast growing industry rivalling both the cinematic and music industries as the next leading entertainment medium. Technology’s cutting edge gets sharper as we keep developing new ways to cram more data into smaller spaces and hone in on more accurate game physics, but as we try to escape our world to take part in a virtual one, we still can’t leave behind the capital system. From virtual money used to pay for in-game commodities to actual money used to buy in-game money which is in turn used to pay for actual merchandise from real world companies, the capital system can be found everywhere.
To Build a Better Mousetrap (Molleindustria 2014)
Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig De Peuter. “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire” In Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Videogames. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. xi-xxxv.