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.
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.