The ability to make money online is an enticing idea. There are countless ways to buy, sell, and make that ca$h online ranging from the rudimentary (eBay) to the revolutionary (bitcoin). The opportunity to make, and save, money is there, but at what cost?
The relations of wealth, race, power, and play are all touched upon in Julian Dibbell’s, “The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer.” Chinese gold farmers are the exploited underground workers of the MMO black money market, that “produce the bulk of all the goods in what has become a $1.8 billion worldwide trade in virtual items” (Dibbel, 2007). Most of them born into humble beginnings in rural China, these workers are constantly on the grind for a measly $1.25 per hour – putting in the hard work required to gain glory and power in a virtual wonderland and handing it over to those who haven’t earned it, but rather have paid for it. This “economic injustice” is the source of a heated tension that often violently surfaces during gameplay. However, aren’t these “goldfarmers” victims of real-life economic injustice?
As told in the story of Min, goldfarmers are resented by seasoned gamers who have earned their place and power in the game through time and dedication. They view the goldfarming profession as an abomination of everything the game means to them, making goldfarmers themselves the targets of violent “exterminations.” Much of the language used in discussing goldfarmers is laden with racism. These gamers are in it for play, whereas the farmers are in it to make a living. That’s not to say that farmers don’t particularly enjoy their work, as many of them “play” the very same game in the short few hours they have in between lengthy “work” shifts. However, the workers are not awarded the same luxuries of their western “playing” counterparts. They live in different worlds, or perhaps a confluence of different worlds, yet still with the same dynamics. Goldfarmers are exploited workers and easy targets with little economic means. Gamers hunt them, and gaming companies shut them out – leaving goldfarmers, struggling to make a real life living, wandering and working in the hidden corners of various virtual worlds.
Linden Labs sells their creation, Second Life, in a business release that outlines the company’s relationship with tech conglomerate IBM. The title sets the tone for the copy of the release, an obvious and near-desperate attempt to show companies how IBM changed their entire workforce into “virtual world believers”… and they saved money doing it! Of course, this sounds idea enticing to the company elite – who wouldn’t want to cut costs AND escape the annual company meeting in Ft. Lauderdale? The release is crafted to speak to the executive, reserving 5 sentences that show how they changed the “skeptics into true believers” (Linden Lab, 2009). The argument could carry some weight if it wasn’t