Ge Jin, a PhD student from UCSD, is making a video documentary of the gold farming phenomenon (preview here). The documentary preview shows some of his interviews with Chinese workers in various gold farming workshops. In our conversations over email, he has brought up some interesting points based on his observations. He's also looking for feedback and suggestions for important research questions and different points of view.
One interesting observation he makes is on the general atmosphere in these workshops:
When I entered a gold farm for the first time (tietou's gaming workshop in the preview), I was shocked by the positive spirit there, the farmers are passionate about what they do, and there is indeed a comraderie between them ... I do see suffering and exploitation too, but in that place suffering is mixed with play and exploitation is embodied in a gang-like brotherhood and hierarchy. When I talked with the farmers, they rarely complained about their working condition, they only complained about their life in the game world.
Although they have to work/play for 12 hours a day, they take pride in what they achieve and they seem eager to escape into a virtual reality richer, brighter, and more exciting than their impoverished real world lives.
In watching the video, I am most struck by the intertwined empowerment/disempowerment that is occurring simultaneously for these Chinese workers. Their lives in these virtual worlds are brighter, but yet their interactions with American players (and associated slurs) are a constant reminder of their inferior socio-economic status. The disembodied hypermobility granted by these virtual worlds is, to a certain extent, dispelled when they are labeled as "Chinese gold farmers". For them, it is a double-edged sword.
Other issues that he's also thinking through are:
- the role of brokers in this system (auction houses, gold farm owners, etc.)
- is this a new kind of labor based on disembodiment and pleasure?
- how do these Chinese workers interact with American gamers?
- what does this all mean to the Chinese worker?
Ge Jin is currently looking for feedback, and suggestions for additional research questions. He is aware of this thread and will be happy to hear any comments you have.