Micro Essay: Capitalism and Gaming

Capitalism and commodification in game culture is nothing new, but ways that outside corporations interact with players and the industry changes as often as the medium does. Corporations are taking advantage of these new ways to reach potential consumers. While some people see this as a natural development to a culture that exists within a greater capitalist society, others see this as an intrusion of a private and deeply personal domain. People within the culture are finding ways to use gaming as a political tool to undermine capitalism. This essay intends to evaluate [developments] of capitalism in gaming as well as the community’s response to these developments.

In Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter’s essay, “Games of Empire,” they discuss capitalism in the game industry, and how it is becoming more common now for huge corporations to see opportunity in the virtual world for profit and expansion. Online virtual worlds like Second Life are whole new medium on which companies can advertise their products. Some companies such as Adidas, American Apparel, and Toyota have even begun to sell online versions of products you can buy in real life. The writers of the essay point out that Second Life, this virtual escape, becomes just like the real world with this introduction of real world capitalist corporations. Some people consider this to be an expected development to online gaming, but some players consider this to be an invasion of their domain that was intended to be separate and distinct from the real world, and even virtual protests were organized. Second Life and other MMORPG’s are developed by companies, but they grow and come to matter because of the people that care about them. It is understandable that players would feel defensive of their virtual game space from a system that does not benefit or care for them.

Another way that people are reacting to this ever increasing strength of capitalism in gaming is by developing games that directly challenge this problematic system. Molleindustria is an independent game developer that challenges mainstream game culture and publishes free, leftest socio-political games. Their products “range from satirical business simulations to meditations on labor and alienation, from playable theories to politically pseudo-games.” (Molleindustria) One of their games, To Build a Better Mousetrap is a “semi-abstract management simulator.” It is an example of the ways that games can take a powerful stance against mainstream industry, in a way that is not specific to gaming. In the game, the player manages worker mice in different departments: planning and development, and production. Mice develop products, computers, and machinery to improve production, and the player decides their wages. Mice may go on strike if they are dissatisfied with their pay, or the company may go bankrupt if they are paid more than the company takes in. Mice waiting for employment may become aggravated and bang the ceiling, leading to the building collapsing. The game is impossible to win, illustrating the impossibilities of sustaining this system. It is simple yet effective, and serves as a strong critique and warning against capitalism.

Despite the apparent influx of corporations active in some online RPG games, there are still people working to undermine capitalism in game culture. Games like To Build a Better Mousetrap speak to the potential of games as a medium to function as political tools. People are still intent on protecting a gaming culture, who manage to find fun and intelligent ways to challenge this economic system.

Works Cited
“About.” Molleindustria. Web. 11 March 2015

Dyer-WItheford. Nick and Greig de Peuter. “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire” Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Videogames. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 2009. p. xi-xxxv.

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