By Lauren Hannough-Bergmans
Capitalism, or an economy controlled by rich individuals rather than the government, has had a hold on the world for decades. It maintains our lifestyles, and in return, we consume to ensure its health and stability. However, capitalism is no longer a socio-economic preoccupation as it has begun to rear its dominating head in the realm of games. Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig De Peuter’s article “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire,” and Molleindustria’s To Build a Better Mousetrap focus on the lure of capitalism, consumerism, and human weakness in the face of capitalism by creating a dependence on currency, whether abstract or as coming from the player’s own pockets.
In their article, Dyer-Witheford and De Peuter criticize games for creating environments that rely on capitalism and consumerism. “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire” discusses the online virtual world game Second Life where standard play is free but the alluring and ostensibly entertaining functions cost real world dollars. Users are charged monthly fees for owning land “And sale and rent of virtual buildings are the major source of wealth generation in this online domain,” (Dyer-Witheford, De Peuter, xi) which makes financial gain central to the game. Linden dollars are the official currency of Second Life, which seem harmless but “one U.S. dollar [buys] 250 Linden dollars” (Dyer-Witheford, De Peuter, xi). Here, in-game currency relies on the player’s financial situation, and a disposable income allows the player to use her money to customize her character and environment, truly making a second life. Second Life has created a financial facsimile that challenges the western world today where the characters are: “property-owning, commodity-exchanging, currency-trading, […] energy-consuming subjects of a comprehensively capitalist order” (Dyer-Witheford, De Peuter, xii). Second Life relies on the human tendency to want to appear superior through customizable options for characters and their home environments, which in the game, as in life, relies on capitalism.
Molleindustria’s To Build a Better Mousetrap displays a boss and worker system in a factory that produces cube products and relies on a set production fund. The boss rat, the payer, controls the amount of funding for each sector, research and production, and the amount of workers that staff each department. The angle of overt capitalism becomes evident at the player control level, where the desire becomes to keep the workers productive at minimal cost. The capitalist overtones assert themselves anew when efficiency and time become an issue and machines can replace the compensation hungry workers. To Build a Better Mousetrap becomes a game focused on greed and corporate survival and as the level of available capital decreases, quality is sacrificed. If nothing else, this game forces the player to consider the inner workings of the cyclical capitalist and consumerist system, whereby the workers perform their duties to sell products to the public, whose funds fuel the system.
Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig De Peuter’s article “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire,” and Molleindustria’s To Build a Better Mousetrap each enhance the aspects of capitalism in games. In the article, the authors use the game Second Life to illustrate how some games have added appealing content to their free play that requires money to obtain. In the game, financial control and caution are essential to keeping the factory afloat. In-game currency is paramount to both as it reflects the capitalist agenda and humanity’s eagerness to submit to it.
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.