The Idiom

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Virtual Sweatshop

Instead of sewing up Nikes or hand-painting trinkets, the new sweatshop laborer in China kills virtual monks and takes their gold. 12 hours a day.

More than eight million people around the world play World of Warcraft — approximately one in every thousand on the planet — and whenever Li is logged on, thousands of other players are, too. They share the game’s vast, virtual world with him, converging in its towns to trade their loot or turning up from time to time in Li’s own wooded corner of it, looking for enemies to kill and coins to gather. Every World of Warcraft player needs those coins, and mostly for one reason: to pay for the virtual gear to fight the monsters to earn the points to reach the next level. And there are only two ways players can get as much of this virtual money as the game requires: they can spend hours collecting it or they can pay someone real money to do it for them.

Proving once again that wherever there is a desire, a market will spring up to satisfy it, Chinese laborers are making like Cartman et al to harvest virtual money to sell to gamers in the West for actual money.

The things people will pay for. But Kid Various can't talk. He just dropped about 2,000 Linden dollars (about 8 bucks to you and me) for a sweet Luger P-08 and a better Rocketeer outfit. And that's the point. This sort of unintended market activity just highlights how it is completely beyond the capability of humanity to "plan" out people's needs. No one would have ever thought of this. No one would ever have seen the real value of virtual gold. Everyone would say "that's worthless."

But it's not. Because nothing has an intrinsic value. Something's value is only determined by another's desire for it. And that's the thing most people miss. We seem to have evolved to accept Essentialism as a matter of course. That is, everything has some sort of "essential" nature including, The Kid surmises, a set worth or value.

But nothing has an intrinsic value. And that virtual gold is worth real money because it assists players in operations in the game which gives them happiness. And that's what it's about.

Kid Various springs into action against injustice!


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