Virtual Capitalism

By Jason Ehrlick

Micro-essay #2 (Week 10)

Capitalism has been a longstanding economic and political system around which western society is based. With video games, creators have used the traditions of capitalism to infiltrate the gaming world. Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter’s introduction to their book titled Introduction: Games In The Age Of Empire highlights how video games have become a medium for influencing a capitalist agenda, as well employing strategies for certain causes such as military recruitment, as seen in the popular military video game America’s Army. The game To Build A Better Mousetrap has the player interacting with an assembly line and a laboratory to produce products, all the while keeping the employees satisfied. As the mice work harder they become unsatisfied with their wages and begin to work inefficiently which stifles production. Both the reading and the game for the week reiterate the idea of the shortcomings of capitalism, and how finances are an incentive to progress and move up in the world where poverty is a major issue.

Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter use the virtual social interactive game Second Life as an example to highlight capitalism’s presence in video games. Second Life allows for players to use real money to buy virtual money and purchase property, making it so that the player is financially dependent if they want to progress in their virtual life. Interestingly, according to Nick and Greg, Second Life appeals to a certain demographic, “the majority of Second Life’s population are in their twenties, evenly divided by gender, living in Europe, the United States, or Japan… Over 60 percent hold a college degree, most make at least $45,000 per year, and 40 percent $90,000 annually” (Dyer-Witheford, de Peuter xii). While Second Life brings players together from similar backgrounds, it shows how a game driven by the ideals of capitalism is suited for certain people who are financially stable in real life, making it so that people who are not as wealthy have fewer opportunities available to them. The military funded game America’s Army is similar to Second Life in that it promotes and influences people to develop a certain way of life, in this case it uses virtual warfare to encourage people to join the military.

  To Build A Better Mousetrap puts the player in the role of hiring employees to work in an assembly line to produce goods, and a laboratory to come up with new ideas for products. The game essentially puts you in the role of an entrepreneur where you are making important financial decisions. In many ways the game is the very opposite of a game like Second Life. The game Second Life encourages players to invest more money into the game in order to purchase property and receive exclusive access to certain customizations. To Build A Better Mousetrap shows financial inequality, the capitalist system persists but inequality and poverty become more prominent. In this case, both games have different outlooks on human satisfaction. However, both Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter’s analysis of Second Life and Molleindustria’s To Build A Better Mousetrap display a common theme which is the exploitation of the capitalist agenda and the poverty gap, both of which have real world implications.

Works Cited

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.

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