5 Totally WTF Times Real-World Problems Invaded Video Games
In a world once filled with fun and promise, people now struggle with collapsing infrastructure and racial tension. There are mass demonstrations in the streets, widespread unrest, and moral collapse. We are, of course, talking about video games. Games can be great, but virtual worlds can also be ruined by shitty circumstances and shittier people -- just like the real one. For instance ...
Gentrification Nearly Ruined Final Fantasy's Housing Market
Gaming gives us the ability to escape into a fantasy life where we can chase cactuars, tear the valuable parts from dead cactuars, and ... experience the social unrest resulting from a lack of affordable housing in those cactuars' neighborhoods? That last one seems out of place for a video game problem, but that's recently been a real issue facing players in Final Fantasy XIV.
The game's housing system only has a limited number of building plots per server, and they're given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. Unsurprisingly, the players with a disturbing amount of room in their lives for Final Fantasy XIV have been buying these plots for themselves and then constructing lavish mansions and holiday homes. The disenfranchised masses which can't spend as many hours killing demon walls and magic pots are left with nothing. Well, nothing except for a land of wonder in which ancient beasts fall to their sorcery. But no pretend-home!
The frustration came to a head when two players, called Altima and Igeyorhm, bought 28 homes between them. The homeless players argued that access to virtual housing should be equal, as they all paid the same real-life fee to play. They demanded that more houses be made available, or that maybe a limit should be placed on the number of houses a single player could own. The two landowners argued back that they worked hard to get their houses, and that the other players should work harder to get their own. They contended that the homeless were nothing but entitled Millennials who had never worked a day in their li- wait, this sounds really familiar.
The game's developer, Square Enix, soon responded to the controversy by adding 720 more homes ... which were all immediately purchased. To be fair, the game's creative director seemed to realize there was a problem, and a recent housing update with a new set of rules and restrictions went pretty well. Even in a fake world with benevolent, hard-working gods, affordable housing is a troublesome subject.
And Final Fantasy isn't the only MMO with a dramatic real estate market. The last part of this sentence is going to sound made up, but in 2011, a company called SEE Virtual Worlds purchased real estate in the game Entropia Universe for $6 million. As in, six million real dollars. For make-believe land in a video game no one has heard of.
How much virtual land can you buy for the GDP of Guyana? Well, to be fair, it was an entire planet. And since landowners in the game can tax a proportion of the gross revenue generated on their land from user-to-user interacti- you know what? All you need to know is that Entropia Universe's currency has an official exchange rate with U.S. dollars. Meaning you can spend real money to buy Entropia's currency, but you can also spend Entropia's currency to buy real money. Which might mean we are one potion shortage or space genie wish away from global economic collapse?
It's better not to think about it.
Racial Tension Is An Issue in Rust
Rust is a crafting/survival multiplayer game in which you gather and build while also hunting your fellow man. It's sort of like Minecraft crossed with serial killing. The game really wanted to create the immediacy and immersion of wilderness survival, and one of the ways they did that was to randomly generate an avatar for each player that can never be changed. You can neither pick nor change the way you look.
The idea was to make each person's character a unique, instantly recognizable individual. Everything, from height to weight to hairstyle to skin color to even penis size, was dictated by random chance. Yes, the developer's made the most naive, unrealistic decision possible: They genuinely expected a community of anonymous young people NOT to be racist shitheads.
Players immediately complained. Some argued it was unfair that they weren't allowed to customize their own character. They complained that they didn't want to play as the "wrong" race. They said terrible things sorely lacking in self-awareness, and often right after the words "I'm not racist, BUT ..." It's weird that there were so many non-racists, because the game's developers noted a statistically significant increase in racist language in the game's chat. They internally discussed whether they should police the game's language, but quickly discovered the community was doing it for them.
In a happy twist of fate, players using this kind of language would be tracked down and killed (in-game, of course) by a multi-ethnic, randomly penised posse of racist hunters (as in hunters of racists, not hunters who were racist, obviously). Within a few weeks, the issue died down to nothing but a murmur. The racists were afraid, like back before Trump made America great again.
Of course, controversy flared up again when the developers introduced the most hated minority of all ...
Racists can apparently handle playing as an ethnic (after you threaten them with death), but sexists will not play as a woman under any circumstances. "SJWs!" they screamed into the ether. "Feminazis!" they whimpered at the void, their pleas unheeded by the pantheon of omnipotent gods that is Rust's development team. They were stuck being who they were, while non-idiots enjoyed the irony of racists and sexists arguing how unfair it is that race and gender are beyond their control.
To make matters worse, the power of this social tool seems to have gone to the head of Rust's lead developer, Garry Newman. In an interview with Polygon, he said, "I am pretty confident that if we found a way to separate races into different villages, then gave one race power over another, we'd start to see some events closer to the world we live in." Yikes. He not only thinks he's figured racism out, but he's also considered, you know, playing around with it.
Newman later said, "Whether women will get attacked more because they're perceived as weak, or whether they'll get attacked less because they're perceived as vulnerable ... that stuff is interesting to me."
So the guy who started off making the 900th version of Minecraft Meets Something is now mulling recreating apartheid in a virtual world with unwilling test subjects.
Strategy Gamers Created A Social Security Net To Deal With In-Game Poverty
Throne: Kingdom At War is one of those free strategy games you might have seen promoted in banner ads, probably with a weird amount of unrelated cleavage. It's a clone of a game ripped off from another game made for people who don't usually play games. Despite being fairly low-quality and impossible to distinguish from one another, games like Throne can have an incredibly committed base of players. And they have formed a strangely complex political system.
The game uses a predatory business model that gives addicts who spend actual money a huge objective advantage, but sometimes you can overcome this with the sheer power of time and loneliness. And one of the leaders of the most powerful faction has barely spent any money at all. His name is Gamble, and he singlehandedly managed to breach the game's impenetrable paywall. How did a lowborn peasant like him rise to become the most influential political leader in the cutthroat world of Throne: Kingdom At War?
By establishing a welfare state.
Throne has a system whereby players can send other players resources in their times of need. From this primitive foundation, Gamble managed to establish a rudimentary tax system. Every member of his faction had to donate their spare income to a central "clan bank," which was a human player acting as a banker and holding all the money. Players who spent real money on the game were encouraged to donate more. The clan bank would then redistribute these funds to players who needed them most. It's something the developers never would have predicted back when they described their game as "YOUR WIFE WILL HATE THIS (100 PERCENT FREE) ADDICT STRATEGY" underneath a picture of tits.
It sounds like an almost utopian example of socialism in action. Players overcome poverty by instituting a voluntary progressive tax system. People of all creeds and nationalities, banding together for the great good! Maybe there's hope for a Star Trek future after all!
And then you learn more about the people who spend money on apps like Throne: Generic Name Of Game. They ... they are not people who should be spending money on video games.
The faction's main financier, Ulfi, admitted that he was unemployed and often spends way too much money in the game when in "tight situations." Another player, Azzam, admitted to spending $25,000 over the course of four weeks. Fadi claimed to spend $600-$800 a week to help alleviate his real-life addiction to auction houses and gambling. It's a strangely wholesome community of mutual support and cooperative spirit ... stuck inside a game that exists solely to extract an endless stream of cash from unwitting addicted players. The point is that when we do create utopia, it probably won't involve taking money from the poor and redistributing it to the lazy underneath a banner of giant boobs.
Thousands Of Virtual Rabbits Starved To Death Because Of A Legal Battle
Second Life is a virtual simulation in which players can role play as whoever or whatever they like, fulfilling their deepest or darkest desires. Some act out deviant sexual encounters, while others live out seemingly impossible dreams, like owning a house or having a steady job. Still others simply want to own and care for a virtual pet. Virtual rabbits were a popular choice -- adorable bunnies that required love, attention, and (most importantly) food to "live."
The rabbits were part of the "breedables" craze within Second Life -- players were tasked with caring for and breeding various creatures. These "breedables" ranged from realistic cats, dogs, birds, and rabbits all the way up to dragons and the worryingly humanoid "dwarfins." They were produced by a company called Ozimals, which shut down in 2016 and was taken over by a user named Eldritch. Then Eldritch received a cease and desist letter from another company which claimed to have designed the rabbit's visual assets.
Without the money or time to fight a legal battle over bunnies that didn't really exist, Eldritch complied. He stopped selling the rabbits and, more relevant to our story, their food. The adorable virtual rabbits slowly starved over the next few days, their owners looking on in impotent horror. "This sort of reminds me of when we forgot about our babies during the last World Of Warcraft expansion," they thought to themselves. "Help, mother. Help, father," their babies thought to themselves.
Technically, the rabbits can't die, so they now exist in a permanent state of starvation-induced slumber, never to awaken. Some users managed to save their rabbits by getting an "Everlasting Timepiece" from Ozimals -- an item that makes your rabbits immune to starvation, but also sterilizes them. But would you really want to live forever if it meant unseen gods melted your genitals off?
If you don't like the idea of thousands of beloved pets slowly suffering, then good news! Everyone's birds died instantly the moment the Ozimals servers went down. You know, we might have been talking about so many sad things that we've forgotten what good news sounds like.
Political Protests Erupted In Black Desert Online
The 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests were the culmination of decades of economic inequality, resulting in a movement which tore down the veil over the unfair class system of modern consumerism. The 2016 Black Desert Online protests were basically the same thing, but with more elves. It might read like a crappy Netflix original film written by an accused sexual predator, but these virtual protests truly happened, and were spawned by genuine grievances about class inequality.
In 2016, Black Desert Online announced an update that allowed players to sell items bought with real money for in-game currency. Players weren't happy with this. They perceived it as the game turning toward pay-to-win, allowing you to buy your way to a clear advantage. So the disenfranchised masses took to the streets to protest.
Now, usually when gamers complain about an "unfair class system," they're talking about adjusting the power levels of paladins or dino-pilots. But this time, they were talking about the class balance between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat ... and the giant nerf the bourgeoisie were getting. Town squares in the game were filled with angry wizards and giants brandishing signs that read "Pay 2 Win," a video game crime nearly as egregious as "tolerating women."
It didn't end there, as major guilds changed their emblems to protest as well. Banners on homes, flags on castles, and icons on territory were all used to express player outrage.
None of this was great for immersion. If you don't play games, picture this: You're watching Big Bang Theory, and Raj and Sheldon are making a cake. Sheldon starts setting up a joke, then stops and asks for your credit card. The rest of the cast enters and complains about how much that sucks. A viewer gives money to Raj, who then delivers a limp, lifeless punchline, to the delight of a fake studio audience. While the cast shrieks and protests, Raj then goes on to finish every joke in every episode, while Sheldon helplessly repeats the setup to a cake joke he'll never finish. This is your show now. It wasn't very good before, but now it is hell.
Virtual protests aren't only about virtual issues. During the 2016 presidential election, Second Life became a hotbed of political unrest. Donald Trump's virtual army invaded Bernie Sanders' Second Life headquarters and erected a giant pro-Trump billboard on a neighboring lot.
Similarly, anti-Trump players established the group "Avatars Against Trump," using in-game fundraisers to generate thousands of dollars for groups like Planned Parenthood. Because if you're not campaigning for your candidate in computer-generated sex dungeons filled with comatose, emaciated bunnies, are you really campaigning at all?
Bunnies are still at their most adorable in the form of pure sugar.
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