Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Politics, Wellbeing, and that thing we call Currency.

One of the major reasons I haven't been spending all my time doing the work I should be doing, has been Affluenza by Oliver James [my sister bought it because it sounded psychological and interesting, the same reason I even started reading it in the first place]. It's all about how money doesn't make you happier, but it goes much deeper than just making that old statement.

Oliver James travelled around the world to interview people in different English-speaking countries, giving snapshots into their personalities and emotional lives, and showing how their environment could have contributed to each. He's also extremely anti-Selfish-capitalism, and by the end of the book I had decided I really dislike adverts that tell you that if only you had their product, you would be so much happier.

Funnily enough, his book also gives his suggestions to avoid the "Affluenza virus" [known symptoms include wanting to be famous for the sake of being admired, wanting to have lots of nice things that you don't actually need in order to keep up with the Joneses, and thinking of people as commodities - including yourself - who will help you in your career or else you're not interested, as opposed to friends you like to spend time with], thereby reducing your vulnerability to emotional distress, giving you a chance to be happier. The difference between me saying that and an advert is that, if you buy Oliver James' book, I won't be getting any money for it. I'm spreading the word, not selling a product - there's a very fine line. It's one of the reasons I thought Lostprophets were awesome when I went to go see them in Newport. One of them said to the crowd that he didn't care if you downloaded their new song illegally, so long as you spread the word. Then again, I suppose they know enough of their fans would buy it anyway.

So what's all this got to do with computer games, eh?

Well. I was thinking about the politics of it, what Capitalism was all about, and I realised I didn't really know a lot about it and it's alternatives. I knew my friend Tito likes to write political things on his blog, apparently he's an Objectivist, and again, I didn't have a clue what that meant. He wasn't about at the time, so I googled it to give myself a vague idea. Then I had a look at what Socialism, and Communism, was all about, and then it struck me: how come I've not heard of any virtual worlds that try to put these ideas into play in the game? [If you know of any I could look at, do leave a link for me to check out :D] The unpredictableness of some players would be useful in seeing how such systems would work [or not work].

I thought about WoW and how it seems to involve a lot of [virtual] materlism. You kill one thing and what do you get? Copper. Silver. Gold. Maybe an item. Complete a quest and you get gold, or items. As you level up you get more gold to buy better items to increase your stats. When you get to the end level, your focus shifts towards group work to gain items in raids that have better stats that help you get better items in raids to give you even better stats. It's similar in the Sims in one way too - they NEED money.

They need it, not just to eat, but it's also decided that their happiness depends on the items they own - the items that are the most satisfying to Sims in-game are the ones which happen to be the most expensive. And [ignoring the money cheat for a moment] if your Sim doesn't have a job, you can't meet your needs very well, your Sim gets unhappy, and then it can't get a job. Then it dies or something. I'm not sure, I've never done a deprivation experiment on Sims, but I have witnessed how difficult the game got for one Sim a long time ago, probably before Sims 2 or 3. He ended up very depressed, and angry, and his wife left him. It was endgame for him then, because he had no one else in the house to bring in money for food, and he wouldn't get a job because he was "not in the mood", and we didn't know the money cheat at the time so we couldn't save him.

It might sound like I've just been stating the obvious. But in real life, it's not always the most expensive things that make people happiest in the long term. "The best things in life are free". If you think about it, this system of materialistic punishment and reward is something many of us have taken for granted in games. I'm probably going to be spending a lot of time now considering what the alternatives may be and how they might be implemented.

I don't know if this post has made sense to anyone at all, seeing as this is all quite new in my head and I'm sure I have a few contradictory thoughts floating about. Oh well. Here's some more reading, an article I just stumbled across but have yet to decide on how I feel about it: Happiness, the new currency in France.


  1. for a study of politics in video games you might try EVE online. I remember that instead of guilds etc, you have Corporations (so that's Captitalism wrapped up). But while some are very much in it to make cash, some just want to have fun etc. I played it for about two years and I remember one group I was with for a bit had a policy of sharing and working for the common good (socialism). This including mining together as parties (yawn) in order to collect materials to go into a ship building pool.

    I'd also be intriguied to see how that new Star Trek game goes about handling the issue, as technically (and providing memory serves me) Starfleet does not use currency.

    And one final thing. When was the last time you played an MMORPG or the like where all the players were on the same side, working together to achieve goals instead of fighting one another?

  2. Cheers for leaving a comment Chris :) I have come across EVE online before, but I've not actually played it yet. Chances are I will give it a go at some random seeming time when I'm not working on a project.

    As for Starfleet not using currency... I feel like I should know whether or not they do from how many episodes I must have watched with my dad. I don't remember them ever using it now that you mention it, although I'm not sure how things work with Ferengies [yeah.. I don't know how to spell it] 'cos I always pictured them as money people. But that could just be a trade thing... I didn't pay enough attention to details hehe.

    Good question. To be honest, I think I've only ever played three MMORPGs; Silkroad, Twelve Sky and WoW, and all of those involve factions or oppositions of one sort or another.