Don’t Hate the Player Hate the Game?

After reading Lisa Nakamura’s article ‘Don’t Hate the Player Hate the Game: The racialization of labor in World of Warcraft’, in Trebor Scholz, (ed.) “Digital Labor: The Internet as playground and factory” it reminded me of a game my friends used to play called RuneScape a fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) very similar to WoW (World of Warcraft). In her article, Nakamura addresses the topic of gold farming which has recently sparked a very interesting debate on online racialization. “Gold farming” is playing a MMORPG to acquire in-game currency that other players purchase in exchange for real-world money. Despite the majority of gaming operators expressively banning the practise of selling in-game currency for real-world cash the gold farming business has become very lucrative. This is supposedly because nations such as China where a reported 100,000 full-time employees work (an estimated 80% of all online gold farmers) take advantage of the economic inequality of the vast online community. Through cheap labour and hours of extensive online gameplay, gold farmers trade to players in richer, more developed countries who’re wishing to save hours of online playing time. The problem being, that gold farming is a shunned and semi-illegal trade causing serious negative connotations on the Asian and Chinese gaming community who are constantly being besieged with racial abuse, whilst simultaneously threatening the primary games market as a source of revenue.

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Whilst doing some research I spoke to a friend (who we’ll call Rob) that used to play RuneScape, and he told me that he’d been muted for 3 days for commenting on the “Asian plague” whilst he was in combat levelling a skill. Rob went on to justify that this was just the norm on RuneScape chat and that he never thought he was being racially abusive; it was simply 15 year old gaming lingo. The question is, is a 3 day mutation an adequate punishment for what Nakamura describes in her Ted Talks speech as “Anti-Immigrant Racism in Virtual Worlds”: her fifth classification of online racism. Nakamura goes on to state in her article that MMORPG’s much like MUDs (multiplayer real time virtual world) and MOOs (text-based online virtual reality system) have encouraged the development of racialized personae in a supposedly race-free medium. Personally, I’ve known Rob for many years and he isn’t an abusive human, let alone a racist, but his previous online persona articulates otherwise. So why is this, why do people moderate their language in real life if they’re going to remain uncivil online? And more importantly who is to blame for the development of Anti-Immigrant racism in virtual worlds- who’s responsible for regulating and controlling the user’s conversation, is it the producers of these games, the users or the parents?

As Nakamura suggests, I believe these games are simply encouraging the development of racial behaviour online by not moderating their users activity to a significant degree. RuneScape users who average an age of 16 have no restrictions on what they say or do, and can therefore be openly racially and verbally abusive. At such an apprehensive age, where teenagers thrive in unregulated scenarios and are constantly trying to push the boundaries it’s simply irresponsible that these programmes aren’t supervised more. Similarly, conglomerates such as Microsoft the producer of the Xbox light-heartedly enforce their user’s content policy in the Xbox Live code of conduct by asking users to “be polite and treat others with respect. Just because you’re online doesn’t mean you should be a jerk” and that’s about as far as they take the matter. I believe this is a significant contributing factor to the rise of “voice profiling of users”, Nakamura’s 2nd type of online racism which has increased rapidly due to users wearing headsets. In conclusion, the subject of gold farming has left me heavily questioning the governing bodies behind the producers of these games. Anti-Immigrant Racism is just another form of cyber bulling, and just like in Web 2.0 abusive anonymity online is serious matter that needs to be addressed and acted upon.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Hate the Player Hate the Game?

  1. In order to gain more information upon the subject so as to answer your questions I typed ‘racism on online games’ into Google and the 4th result on the page was the following:

    http://www.resist.com/racistgames/

    A page of games where you can ‘shoot fags’ and ‘bomb Arabs’ with the caption of ‘I will not be held responsible for what -FEELINGS- this page provokes’ provided by the creator. My question is why has this page has not been taken down? Governments have banned multiple websites for illegal downloading, porn and many more reasons so why are racial discriminatory games coming up on our Google searches when racism is one of the most daunting social issues we are facing? So in answering your question about whether a ‘3 day mutation’ is adequate punishment I’m going to say no. Whether it is the parents, the education systems or the actual game’s responsibility to ensure non-racial and harmless play, players who project harmful behavior online should be banned completely. The title of Nakamura’s article genuinely sums it up for me; ‘don’t hate the player hate the game.’ However until someone changes the rules of these games, it is the players which need to be monitored and made to change their gameplay. As Naomi Alderman writes in her article for the Guardian, ‘Games don’t cause racism. But the real-time chat makes nasty comments hard to moderate, and easy to spread.’
    In my opinion it is also the player’s fault for indulging in such games and depicting racist or aggressive behavior online which has been made easy by the use of headsets, so why have they not banned the use of headsets or monitored the platforms? Whenever they detect racism or abuse, they could easily fine the player a sum of money, which will guarantee that they will think twice before doing it next time. The governments have the means to make all these regulations so why aren’t they? Social Media consultant Laura E Hall claims that ‘with games such as World of Warcraft, you can be in a guild with good people, or choose servers and [chat] channels with the same.’ This shows that players are given the opportunity to indulge in harmless online gaming but who’s to say that other players won’t abuse them against their will?
    Therefore I fully agree with you when you say that ‘anti-Immigrant Racism is just another form of cyber bulling, and just like in Web 2.0 abusive anonymity online is a serious matter that needs to be addressed and acted upon’ but for some reason I believe its going to get a lot worse before it begins to get better and before we see change on these online game platforms.

  2. Nakamura says that the position of virtual workers mimics that of illegal immigrants and other low-end workers in service economies in the global South. They are routinely racially profiled and harassed by other players in MMORPG’s, producing a climate of anti-Asian sentiment. And it is completely true. But let us think out of the game for awhile. Racism as such existed for a long time before MMO’s were even created. It was based on many things that provoked hatred and one of them was a question of well-being, work and occupation of someone’s territory by people of another race. When in some cases it was relevant, in an environment such as MMO games, it is completely illogical to hate someone because of their race. Yes – the most of gold farmers are Asian and this is a statistical fact. The question is why it is so and do they deserve to be discriminated and abused on a racial ground?,

    What actually make Asians to earn for a living by farming gold in MMO’s? I suggest you to read this article from “The Guardian” about Chinese gold farmers: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/mar/05/virtual-world-china. Basically it says that gold farming is just like a work at the factory except it is virtual, but what is the most important is that it is a lack of working opportunities that make Chinese young people to become gold farmers.

    “After leaving university, Yuan was unable to find employment in the “real” economy. Now, the £250 she makes every month at Wow7gold allows her – with a bit of help from her parents – to support her one-year-old son.
    “We face unemployment in some areas and China has a large population so the challenge is severe,” she says. “These firms provide the employee with a place to live and money to earn. When I came there were just 100 employees, now there are over 130. This is a new and innovating area for the economy”. I ask Yuan whether she thinks her job is worthwhile. “Everything that appeals to some people in the world needs some people to produce it. We are allowing people to buy what they want, and we care about that.”(The Guardian, Thursday 5 March 2009).

    In a certain way it is the Chinese government that is one to blame for such amount of gold farmers from this country. Yes, there is people’s negative reaction and bullying of Asian players in game but I am in doubt that if they had an opportunity to obtain a well paid job after finishing their education they would end up farming loot in The World Of Warcraft. So here is another side of the question: Is the government responsible for it’s people’s representation over the world and how they are being perceived, or is it just online racists and bullies that are the ones to blame?

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