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Logging back onto World of Warcraft today was a huge flashback to my childhood – I don’t know how many hours I had poured into that game. My friends and I used to play all through high school until finally I made myself quit for the better. Yet this time revisiting my all-time favourite game, I had a completely new perspective. Much of this is down to the Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter’s article Biopower Play: World of Warcraft. They quoted Foucault: “The exercise of biopower makes possible the adjustment of the accumulation of men to that of capital, the joining of the growth of human groups to the expansion of productive forces and the differential allocation of profit” (124)

WoW to me before was nothing but simply a computer game, something that I can indulge myself on whenever I would finish my homework of have free time. Yet when I look at it now, I see what Foucalt is saying, a huge interconnected network of human groups that exercise this ‘biopower’, in order to foster life. To foster life within this hyper-real is to give it content, to be substantial, to have mass. As more and more people subscribed onto the game, it allowed the developers and moderators to pour more in-game material and expansions in order to suffice the needs of the gamers. “It is the constitutive bottom-up behaviour of player populations, the interaction of thousands of avatars, that gives this form content, animates its parameters and sometimes pushes against its preset limits.” ”. (127)

In short, Blizzard is creating a hyper-reality that mimics the real. What good is a society if there is no one living in it? There are cities that serve as hubs of the fictional world, such as Stormwind City for the Alliance, and Ogrimmar for the Horde. Likewise, in our own real world there is New York City, London, Hong Kong — central hubs of trade and business.  What all of these have in common is that they are recognised as their respective worlds’ social hub of interaction and activity. There is always someone awake and engaging in day-to-day life, or logged on, spamming the channels to look for groups to run dungeons or PVP (Player Vs. Player) teams; some even sell one-off items that garner the attention of everyone within the walls of the fictional city. The supply and demand never ends as the game keeps pumping out items that could be resold onto the market.

“Tapping into the collective creativity of millions of players can be highly profitable.” (148) This is resoundingly true as the practices of every player in the game allow a constant flow of new interactions, new experiences to be had, new missions and monsters to complete and conquer. The power of the people holds true even in this virtual reality. As a result, the joining of the growth of human groups allows the growth of capital as well – that naturally an organised society blooms in the face of biopower.

As we focus more on the notion of currency, or ‘gold’ in-game; we start to expose the boundaries of ‘preset limits’.  Like eBay, users sell whatever they want onto the auction house and buyers purchase whatever they feel like. When I used to play, I remember myself buying most of the cheap copper ore on the market. They were all bought at various prices, but I price fixed them so that the market value of the ore itself changed due to my own input and actions. Gamers bought my copper ore, and I made a healthy profit in the long run as I was able to undercut everyone else’s ore that was posted afterwards by a tiny margin as people would always choose the cheaper option.

Which leads to the main predicament of gold farming as posited by the original article. Subsumption “is the way capitalism gradually envelops the entire social environment, extending itself from the workplace into ever-expanding areas of culture, changing life habits, consumption practices, political practices, and interpersonal relations, creating what autonomists term “the social factory”.” (150).

As the access of gold becomes easier and cheaper, the incentive to just pay someone else for an absurd amount of gold that would’ve taken yourself ages to earn is proof that capitalism rules. The bigger the population, the bigger the chance of exploitation and of inequality. The tensions between gold farmers and regular gamers becomes amplified as the game becomes “a low-intensity resource war with echoes of ethnic cleansing” (147) People who do not take advantage of these services, which includes the option of purchasing rare weapons with real money or even high-level characters if you name a good price – all these serve to ruin the beauty of the game itself. This virtual world supposedly exercises the freedom of becoming anyone you want, rid of societal virtues. Yet capitalism envelops the entire environment, allowing WoW to become ‘the social factory’.

Therefore, as we overstep the limit of this bottom-up approach, we observe a ”dystopian realities of social existence so saturated by commodification that it is impossible to escape even in play.”  (150) In essence, we must ask – does biopower foster life? or disallow it? From the looks of it, not even in play of WoW can we escape the commodification that disrupts virtual life in itself – a tantalising parallel to us back in the human world.