by Latoya Peterson
These are the notes for “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft.” The notes are for the keynote presentation given by Dr. Nakamura at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.
This article examines the racialization of informational labor in machinima about Chinese player workers in the massively multiplayer online role playing game World of Warcraft. Such fanproduced video content extends the representational space of the game and produces overtly racist narrative space to attach to a narrative that, while carefully avoiding explicit references to racism or racial conflict in our world, is premised upon a racial war in an imaginary world—the World of Azeroth.
This profiling activity is part of a larger biometric turn initiated by digital culture’s informationalization of the body and illustrates the problematics of informationalized capitalism. If late capitalism is characterized by the requirement for subjects to be possessive individuals, to make claims to citizenship based on ownership of property, then player workers are unnatural subjects in that they are unable to obtain avatarial self-possession. The painful paradox of this dynamic lies in the ways that it mirrors the dispossession of information workers in the Fourth Worlds engendered by ongoing processes of globalization. As long as Asian “farmers” are figured as unwanted guest workers within the culture of MMOs, user-produced extensions of MMO-space like machinima will most likely continue to depict Asian culture as threatening to the beauty and desirability of shared virtual space in the World of Warcraft.
Cartman: “I am the mightiest dwarf in all of Azeroth!”
Kyle: “Wow, look at all these people playing right now.”
Cartman: “yeah, it’s bullcrap. I bet half of these people are Koreans.”
With that, Nakamura starts the discussion on how Cartman’s off-handed comment reveals how many think of Asian players – specifically Korean and Chinese – as “not real” players in this online world and begins to explore how racial bigotry is manifesting itself in the World of Warcraft.
THE Cybracero MISSION
All the work – without the workers!
Cybracero Systems provides employers with innovative marketing and technology solutions that enable them to grow their business.
Founded in 2006 by a group of visionaries, Cybracero Systems was created with one objective in mind: to get all the work our society needs done, while eliminating the actual workers and all the difficulties that workers imply: health benefits, housing, IRS, INS, union conflicts, cultural and language differences etc.
Through our proprietary and patent pending technology, we combine the latest technology, Internet and state-of-the-art robotics and create “Telepresence”, a model that is about to revolutionize the planet.
Rent-A-Negro.com serves today’s changing nations by allowing you the chance to promote your connection with a creative, articulate, friendly, attractive, and pleasing African American person. This service comes without the commitment of learning about racism, challenging your own white privilege, or being labeled “radical.” In fact, rent-a-negro.com allows you to use your money and status to your advantage! In addition, your dollars go to support the African American community…
Both of these projects were jabs at society; however, Nakamura notes that both Rivera and Ayo actually received requests to rent a Negro or to purchase Cybraceros.
In her paper, Nakamura writes:
As Dibbell (2007) notes, WoW isn’t a game for everyone in a literal sense: for worker players it is a virtual sweatshop. Worker players in MMO’s produce informationalized property that they can neither consume themselves nor sell directly to those who can—in this sense, their high-tech labor in low-tech conditions more closely resembles maquiladora factory laborers’ conditions than it does other recreational or professional software-based activities.
Farmers work in shifts, playing WoW in 12 hour sessions and sleeping on pallets—their work exemplifies “flexible accumulation’s strategy of mixing nonmodern and modern forms of production” which as Hong (2006) explains “depends on and reproduces racialized and gendered exploitation” (p. 115). Gold farming is an example in extremis of informationalized capitalism, for the avatar is a form of property that is composed of digital code yet produced by the sweat of a worker’s brow.
While the market for gold is predicated on having both someone to purchase the gold and excess gold, buying is not as bad as selling – similarities with gold farming and sex work. While people like Ryan, the gamer profiled in the BBC segment, are considered cheaters, most of the administrative action and ire within the game is reserved for the gold farmers. Most anti-gold farmer rhetoric is anti-Asian.
“Where did all the doggies and kitty cats go
Since the gold farmers started to show
Don’t want to know what’s in the egg roll
And they keep comin’ back
Cuz you’re giving them dough
Take one down and I felt inspired
Corpse camp until
This China-man gets fired
That’s one farmer they’ll have to replace
Not supposed to be here in the first place.
I don’t know any other way to convey
How much we wish you’d all just go away
Server economy in disarray
Guess I’ll just fear your mobs around all day.”
“Ni Hao (A Gold Farmer’s Story),” Warcraftmovies.com, accessed 10/26/07
As is also evident in the readers’ comments to Yee’s essay, posters are eager to prove that their hatred of Chinese gold farmers isn’t racist, is not a prejudice against “biological difference,” but is rather a dislike of unsuccessful assimilation to American social norms, what the poster calls the “anticultural” position.
The problem with gold farmers isn’t that they are Chinese; it is that they “act Chinese.” The characterization of American WoW player behavior as self-sufficient, law-abiding, non-commercial, and properly social is belied by their role as gold buyers within WoW’s server economy: the purchasing of virtual property lies within the bounds of “American” gaming behavior while selling it does not. But this is only the case if one is Chinese—IGE is not targeted in racialized terms, if at all. The notion that it is permissible to condemn someone for how they behave, rather than what they are, is a technique for avoiding charges of racism, for “culture” is seen as something that can be changed, hopefully through assimilation to American norms, but race is not. However, as Yoshino (2006) notes, this neoliberal position results in a compulsion to cover one’s identity, to behave in ways that are normatively color-less or sex-less, in order to take one’s unchangeable race, gender, or sexuality out of play.
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
Keanu ReevesJohn Cho newsflashes.
Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at email@example.com.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.
Use the "for:racialicious" tag in del.icio.us to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.
Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.
Follow Us on Twitter!
- Rachel Kantstopdaphunk on Race + Higher Ed: Fear not, Suzy. You’re still #1!
- Shawn0680 on Table For Two: Star Trek Into Darkness
- Fifty Shades Of Erin Gray on A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness
- Hyatt on A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness
- Marie on The Rise Of Beyoncé, The Fall Of Lauryn Hill: A Tale Of Two Icons
- Race + Higher Ed: Fear not, Suzy. You’re still #1!
- Table For Two: Star Trek Into Darkness
- Watch: Fruitvale Station Has A Trailer And An Opening Date
- Short but Sweet: Kim Ho’s The Language Of Love
- Will Best Man Holiday Usher In A New Golden Era Of Black Rom-coms?
- Book Excerpt: “Seeing Things” from Godless Americana
- Race + TV: Four Summer Shows From Across The Pond
- A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness
TagsABC activism advertising african-american asian asian-american barack obama black blackface celebrities comedy culture diversity fashion feminism film gender glbt HBO hip hop hispanic history hollywood identity international interracial relationships latino media mixed race movies music muslim politics race racial stereotypes racism religion sex sexism sexual stereotypes stereotypes tv Uncategorized white youtube