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Table of Contents
Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire
I. Game Engine: Labor, Capital, Machine
	1. Immaterial Labor: A Workers’ History of Videogaming
	2. Cognitive Capitalism: Electronic Arts
	3. Machinic Subjects: The Xbox and Its Rivals
II. Gameplay: Virtual/Actual
	4. Banal War: Full Spectrum Warrior
	5. Biopower Play: World of Warcraft
	6. Imperial City: Grand Theft Auto
III. New Game?
	7. Games of Multitude
	8. Exodus: The Metaverse and the Mines
Document Text Contents
Page 2

Games of Empire

Page 168

Biopower Play 131

For MMO publishers, generating and managing player associations
are part of the “art of government” that Foucault (2002, 209) saw as
key to biopower. WoW is the corporate property of Blizzard; the end-
user license agreement (EULA), the click- through contract to which
every player must assent, is unequivocal on its near- universal preroga-
tives. In everyday gameplay, however, things are vaguer. Blizzard’s
governmental arm inside Azeroth is the Game Masters (GMs), who can
be “petitioned” to fi x technical bugs or discipline social misbehavior.
It is, however, a well- known feature of MMOs that what Edward
Castronova terms the “Customer Service State” is often remote and
ineffi cient (2005a, 210). As Foucault suggests, ruling large populations
over expanded territories requires an “ensemble” of “institutions,
procedures, analysis and refl ections” (2002, 209). Straightforward,
top- down monarchic sovereignty has to be parlayed into a variety of
institutions, multiplying and ramifying administrative power through
a diffuse complex of governmentality.

Much of the practical governance of MMOs is provided by guilds.
In WoW, guilds vary in size, from less than 10 to over 150. Some em-
phasize social activity, others player- versus- player battles, and others
large- scale raids on monsters that can involve forty- member teams,
last from two to eight hours, and be coordinated through VoIP sys-
tems and user interface mods that track the performance of team
members (see Taylor 2006b, 329). Most WoW Guilds are short- lived,
but some last years, developing elaborate social protocols, entrance
requirements, probationary periods, and complex divisions of labor
(Williams et al. 2006, 345). Guild- mates know each other, group to-
gether, and assist novices by teaching tactics, orienting them geographi-
cally, and bestowing gifts; they maintain codes of behavior, train play-
ers, and even administer rough justice. Famous guild exploits— or
infamous ones, such as the attack by the guild Serenity Now on a rival
group, CROM, as it gathered for an in- game funeral commemorating
the real- life death of one of their members— go down in the history of
WoW, building a body of lore and tradition that informs innumerable
fan sites and boards and deepens the ambience of the game.

Good MMO governmentality requires that constituted publisher
power manage constitutive player power. Guilds act as channels of
communication between the corporate sovereigns and their subjects,
airing grievances, providing sounding boards for opinion about game
changes. Guilds or other collectivities sometimes vigorously contest pub-
lisher decisions about disciplining players, changing (or failing to change)

Page 169

132 Biopower Play

rules, or other game policies. Though publishers may override such
protests, they sometimes back down. For example, when a Blizzard
Game Master threatened to ban a WoW player who publicized her Oz
guild as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender “friendly” for a breach
of “terms of service” about sexual references, the decision was met by
mass protests. Other gay- friendly guilds, Stonewall Champions and
the Spreading Taint, organized in game protest. Blizzard apologized
and sent its administrators to sensitivity training (Ward 2006).

Running an MMO thus requires careful governance. And to what
end is this elaborate apparatus of biopower, with its administration
of vast territories, management of complex populations, and elabo-
rate negotiations devoted? Why, for “the adjustment of the accumu-
lation of men to that of capital, the joining of the growth of human
groups to the expansion of productive forces and the differential al-
location of profi t” (Foucault 1990, 141). For WoW is all about profi t.
Blizzard has played an important part in turning the fortunes of its
parent company around from near bankruptcy in the late 1990s. In
2006 Vivendi declared the dramatic 25 percent increase in its prof-
its was “primarily driven” by the success of WoW (Thorson 2006).
Three years later, Vivendi chief executive Jean- Bernard Levy ascribed
his company’s relatively strong performance even in the midst of the
fi nancial meltdown to the fact that 70 percent of its revenues are gen-
erated by “phone, Internet, pay- TV and online video games subscrip-
tions,” which help shield the company from economic crisis (Reuters
2009). “We expect video games to continue to show a nice growth,”
Levy said, adding, “We started the year with 12 million subscribers
for World of Warcraft, which is a good base” (cited in Reuters 2009).
It is therefore no surprise that Blizzard’s most energetic exercise of
biopower in WoW is directed at preserving this profi tability and that
the fi ercest struggles about control of the virtual world hinge on issues
of accumulation. To understand the scope of these struggles, we need
to step outside Azeroth’s boundaries and look at a more terrestrial
exercise of biopower.

China: The Planet Wobbles

WoW is not a highly original game, but it is a groundbreaking one—
the fi rst MMO to operate on a truly global scale. It achieved this status
by bringing together the previously largely separate worlds of Western
and Asian online play. Other MMOs— Final Fantasy, Ragnarok

Page 335

298 Index

war on terror, xxii, 99–100, 117,
122, 195, 197; games related
to, xiii, xxviii, 101, 105–6

WashTech (Washington Alliance
of Technology Workers), 63

Watkins, S. Craig, 167
wealth: extremes of, xxix, 160,

162, 170, 171
Web/TV initiative, 75
WELL (Whole Earth ’Lectronic

Link), 11
Wii game consoles, xvii, 68, 88–92,

94; energy use, 237n2; remotes,
81, 91, 92, 93

Williams, Dimitri, 42
Williams, Raymond, 125
Williams, Roberta, 232n3
Willis, Paul, 157
Wipro Technologies, 64
women: education of, 233n4;

employment of, xxvii, 19–20,
32, 54, 62; as gamers, 21–22,
83–84, 232n3; in games, xvii,
21–22, 23, 81, 90, 110

Wong, Glenn, 59
work: games as refuge from, 27–28;

training through games, 28–33.
See also labor

work-as-play image, xxix, 12–13,
23, 30–31, 35, 55–56. See also
playbor force

working anarchy, 41–42, 55, 60,

World Empire, 231n2
World of Warcraft (WoW, game),

xv, xvi, xviii, 30, 123–52,
221; biopower in, 128–32;
discipline in, 140–42; Glider

code, 141–42; global character
of, 132–33; gold farming in,
137–51, 203; governance in,
131–32; Playbor power and,
25, 26; solo play of, 234n7;
statistics regarding, 128, 132,
133, 141; terms of use, 140–41;
U.S-China relations in, 147–48;
vertical-horizontal interplay,

Wozniak, Steve, 12
Wrath of the Lich King, 133
Wright, Will, 66, 200, 202, 220,

232n1. See also Sims, The,
game series; Spore

Xbox game consoles: controllers,
81, 84, 93; development of, 27,
71–72, 75–77, 233n2; energy
use by, 237n2; hacking, 85–87,
90; hard-core appeal, 81–84;
Internet tunnel, 85–86; launch
of, 69–70, 74, 232n4; mechanic
surplus value from, 78–80;
military use, 104–5; 360 model,
xvii, 78, 79, 87, 88, 90–91, 93

Xbox Live network, 78–80, 82–83,
85–86, 87, 89, 90

Xiaoliang, Wei, 144–45

Yee, Nick, 146
Young, Neil (EA studio head), 58

Zelda game series, 16, 89, 232n1
Zelnick, Strauss, 177
Zhao, Yuezhi, 133
Zhu Xian Online, 149
Zizek, Slavoj, 181

Page 336

Nick Dyer- Witheford is associate professor and associate dean of the faculty
of Information and Media Studies at University of Western Ontario.

Greig de Peuter is a doctoral candidate in the School of Communication at
Simon Fraser University.

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