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.
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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.