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Jin Ge’s documentary work on Chinese World of Warcraft(WoW) goldfarmers was highlighted for MTV’s Gamer’s Week 2.0: Is Mining Virtual Gold Exploitive?
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Go Jin ge!
Jin Ge has estimated there are at least half million goldfarmers working throughout China in organized game sweatshops, where they work to produce gold/points for market consumption–pimarily for gamers in America.

The development of virtual economies may appear to be an accelerated growth of the entertainment and online services industry, but it is not that simple. It also appears to be a new economy – new relations – new virtual hopes. But – nope!
Virtual economies are subject to the same abstract structural domination of capitalism that is seen in material economies because value still have the same function.

We are witnessing a new transition in capitalism, a transition to a virtual economy that transforms the way capital is exchanged, labor is sold, production is organized, and value is created. Although, this new economy is not as new or different as it may seem. It reproduces the basic structures of market capitalism. The accelerated growth has rendered virtual economies to become incredibly complex, in that the actual economy of virtual worlds embodies and reproduces the very capitalistic structures of production and organized labor that Jin Ge explores in his documentary.

What’s also interesting is to think about how a thing becomes "valuable" in traditional Marxian analysis versus more Structural Marxian analysis – I think the latter can give us a more holistic understaning. Moishe Postone has written about value in a capitalistic society that is completely dominated by its very own structures of the capitalistic culture. For Postone, surplus is not just about the laborers overproducing for owners to reinvest, surplus is the actual measurement of wealth. So when we peg the model to the goldfarming industry, we can think of value of the gold not only as valuable for its worth in the gaming economy, but as an actual measure of wealth that structurally dictates the actual set up of even producing gold in the first place! So this global gold farming process is not just about the Chinese laborer’s being controlled by a big bad gaming factory owner, its about this abstract notion of value that we have in a capitalistic society that determines what is valuable – which is equated with wealth. So in this schema, to be able to purchase gold points from Chinese goldfarmers, is a measure of wealth for the purchaser and it shows the extent of capitalism’s domination in that anything can be commodified!

So the alienation is structural, in that every individual is alienated not only from the products they consume and produce, but an individual is alienated in the endless climb to reach the end goal of wealth, yet the end goal is one without a finish line, a ever moving mirage. For a virtual gaming economy, the structural domination of capitalism is revealed in the changing value of intangible gold, which was originally meant for in-game points, has now climbed its way out to have value in out-of-game contexts. Even intangible in-game gold points could not evade capitalism.
So I am sure Marx would have been surprised to see how much capitalism dominates and can capitalize on, and avoids self-destruction by constantly finding new "things" to attribute "value" to– for the goal of increasing overall wealth. I am definitely sure he would not have been surprised to see how this process creates extreme prosperity in the face of extreme poverty.

So however virtual this seems to be – it is still an economy that takes place with real people. There is a lot of out-of-game processes happening – I argue it is the virtual transaction of labor and assignment of value to entertainment goods that truly exaggerated the alienation, mystification, inequitable relations that render the entire market exchange process invisible to a high degree we have yet to see even in complex material capitalist economies.

For info on his documentary about Chinese Goldfarmers, go to their Chinese Gold Farmer’s website.
To read more about virtual economies, check out Terra Nova, a collaborative blog. Edward Castronova, one of the bloggers, has just written Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games.…

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