two class analytic questions about gold farming

1. A “socially necessary” question. Imagine a worker can gather 50 units of dielectric cell fiber in one hour. Changes in nature could influence this number, changing the socially necessary abstract labor time. No problems so far. Now recognize that dielectric cell fiber exists in the universe of SWTOR, and that the nature we are talking about is code created and managed by programmers at Bioware .

It is tempting not to think of code as a constraint like nature, since it can be changed with little to no cost. Compared to nature, code seems artificial and contingent. Lets leave fictitious dielectric cell fibers behind and talk about carrots. Consider two events that would make carrot production more difficult. Bad weather halves the amount of carrots a farm can produce. A politician creates a law limiting the amount of carrots a farm can produce. I believe we think of these two events differently. What is code like? My gut feeling is that most people’s gut feeling would be to say that code is like a law. Or:

Because dielectric cell fibers are just bits of code created by Bioware they have no socially necessary abstract labor time. Bioware could produce a trillion of them, and every other item in the game, in a moment.

I think this statement wrong. If Bioware actually did this, the dielectric cell fiber would not be plentiful. It would cease to exist. The code that constrains the stock of existing cell fibers to time and labor spent by players is not simply an external constraint – like the anti-carrot law. It is a part of what makes the cell fiber what it is. The game requires these constraints. Without them, the game ceases to exist, and as any reader (especially those who have never played SWTOR) knows – without the game, the cell fiber is meaningless/worthless.

Another way to come at this is to say that the code that restricts the amount of dielectric cell fiber a player can gather is different than the law that restricts the ability of people to pirate movies. In both cases we have some “law” that restricts production of a digital product, but in the former case the restriction is part of its production.

2. A class processes question: You hire me to work for you, paying me an hourly wage in US$. Each day I cross the border to Canada for 10 hours doing odd jobs to raise Canadian dollars (C$) which are appropriated by you. My Canadian jobs vary significantly. I gather and sell raw materials as an independent producer. I might even speculate, making money through arbitrage. Sometimes I might even work in a Canadian cooperative.

For example, you hire me to go to Canada, make maple syrup and sell the maple syrup to Canadians. You appropriate not the syrup, but rather the C$ which you then sell for US$.

What is going on? We have a circuit of capital where P (production) may involve something like a complete sub-circuit (M-C-P-C’-M’) itself and where the appropriated commodity is currency that is sold for other currency. The C’ of the overall circuit is the M’ of the “sub-circuit.” Can the sub-circuit really be non-capitalist if the main circuit is capitalist?

This is roughly how gold farming works. The workers are basically producing in-game gold that the owner appropriates and sells for real world currency. Best I can tell, the types of activities workers engage in within the game may be varied. BLA BLA describes how there was a struggle between workers and their bosses on what types of activities they engaged in – with workers wanting to engage in more engaging, group-based work, and bosses prefering more mundane tasks. On one hand this is a struggle over the conditions of P, but it is also a struggle over the types of economic relationships (possibly including those of class) that he workers experience as players.

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2 Responses to two class analytic questions about gold farming

  1. Ian J. Seda-Irizarry says:

    Ok, this is a huge coincidence. Four hours ago I took Harvey;s Limits to Capital, went over Chapter 9 on finance and credit system and decided I had to read it later again to understand it. Now I read this and I’ve decided to read it later after I eat and take a break (long day). The common things are that, a) I need to read both things again to understand them and b) both of you talk about circuits within circuits and how to evaluate them (mini-circuits in Harvey, page 274).

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