Video games are far better than reality. More things explode, the creators fix their universe when random bullshit is ruining things for good people, and emptying a machine gun into homophobic racists gets you a thousand points instead of 30 years. Besides, no one can truly criticize the escapism of games on a planet where people spend $15 to pretend Adam Sandler is still funny.
Games are far less damaging to society.
For millennia, alchemists tried to turn stupid lead into gold. Game developers have fixed that formula by ditching the dead weight of the eighth word. Demanding a continual supply of coins for pretend lives is fine for Mario, but it works less well with credit cards. Now even Duke Nukem Forever offers downloadable content, and that's the most perfect fusion of commerce, tragedy and desperate optimism since scientists went to work on pheromone sprays that would make them attractive to women.
"Instead of the cure for cancer, I decided to work on aerosol date rape. No, my mother doesn't admit I exist."
EVE Online is a psychological experiment to see if people will pay to work a second job when their cubicle is a spaceship. They will. The Incarna update tested just how much s**t those players would put up with, and the answers were "not that much" and thermonuclear explosions. The update allowed people to get out of their fantastic spaceships to walk around in the flesh and change their clothes, the exact opposite of what EVE had been offering for the previous eight years.
"Man, I wish I could stop engaging in titanic space combat and go clothes shopping" - No one, ever.
The new vanity items did nothing and cost so much that developer CCP had to introduce a whole new currency to deal with them. The resulting "Aurum" was a less sensible investment than Dutch tulips. The most ludicrous was a 60 (real) dollar monocle. Which was actually the most accurate virtual item ever created, as only people who can drop $60 on nothing without blinking are qualified to wear monocles in the first place.
Not blinking is a major part of monocle maintenance.
CCP suggested turning in-game ISK currency into PLEX (which has a real cash value), then converting PLEX into Aurum. The players counter-suggested by converting fusion warheads into f**k yous.
I would like to return these clothes. I include my receipt and several weapons of mass destruction.
The real joy of EVE has always been the incredible player responses, and thousands of human players suddenly went full Cylon on their own population centers. They blockaded major trade hubs, especially Jita, the most populated location in the EVE universe. Unable to destroy the hub itself, they targeted the nearby Jita memorial, a circular space station just sitting there absorbing ludicrous levels of firepower. And this is where it gets brilliant. CCP had erected the Jita memorial five years prior because they wanted to honor players who had solved an earlier quest, but they also fitted it with hit points and exploding parts, because they know exactly what players are like.
CCP acceded to player demands and changed their ridiculous update plans, even changing the plaque on the destroyed memorial to remember the riots as a new monument to the developer's true victory. Because when even the people who hate you are paying subscriptions to call you a douchebag, you've won harder than they can conceive of. To this day, the "New Jita Memorial" is still regarded as a monument to the players' triumph, proving that Crowd Control Productions:
a) are very well named.
b) make the Matrix Architect look like a goddamn amateur.
In RuneScape, the most important things are pointless jokes that do nothing and have only achieved value by hanging around for far too long. Which is a pretty brutal joke for a MMORPG server. Millions of players and a decade of history have evolved the game economy to the point of a stock-like market for items. The most valuable items are party hats from Christmas crackers, also known as phats (pronounced "p-hat," not "cool but dated"). Because they were utterly useless and rather silly, most players deleted them immediately, creating instant rarity and throwing away the absolute maximum amount of money a player could ever hold. This is because, like most popular MMORPGs, a few players have become too crazy and obsessive even for a computer code built to hold immortal shape-shifting skeletons.
You say Mahjarrat, I say lich, let's call the whole thing off.
RuneScape money is represented by a 32-bit signed integer with a maximum value of 2,147,483,647 (the integer includes negative values, halving the maximum). Blue phats are now worth that much, the maximum number of coins players can carry or stack, with an unofficial cash value of $1,680. The ultra rare phats have become units of exchange, cash storage and status symbols for RuneScape's 1 percent. The theft of a green phat was one of the most infamous crimes during the Falador Massacre. In a lunatic inversion of the real world, pretend paper has become the most stable and permanent repository for wealth. Which still makes more sense than the gold standard.
The Gordon Gekko of the virtual world.
Developer Jagex has stopped giving out novelty items because of these economic sinkholes. Primarily colored items haven't distorted a fictional universe so much since the red matter in Star Trek. It might seem insane to put so much value into something the people in charge could destroy or devalue with a few keystrokes, but since that's what we did with the real world, it just means the game is a great simulation.
The Grand Exchange
Making our stock market look like it's run by monkeys.
Valve created the best single-player shooter, multiplayer shooter and puzzle game ever made, but if idiots want to spend money on absolute bullshit, then by God, Valve decided, they'd be best at that, too. "Something Special for Someone Special" is a $100 virtual diamond ring and the least romantic computer programming since HAL 9000. The ring can be customized with a special name and given to another player, and on acceptance it broadcasts a message to every single player in every server of the game.
We could force every TF2 player to see the most expensive dick joke of all time!
It's the most doomed wedding proposal in existence. You're telling your beloved you can't be bothered to stop playing video games even when proposing to them, that you'll make large purchases without discussion, and that you're stupid. There's nothing wrong with spending money in games, but even if your other half is a TF2 player, they'll be even more pissed off that you wasted money on this instead of items that actually do things. (And if you don't know which class item set they'd want, you're not ready for marriage.) And broadcasting their name to everyone on a multiplayer killing-each-other game server is the exact opposite of what you do for someone you love.
All this for me? You really shouldn't have!
Just like all computerized items aimed at specific human beings, it can't be bargained or reasoned with and absolutely will not stop. Because there's no way to return the ring if it's sent to you. Your only options are to publicly accept the proposal or permanently delete $100 of the giver's money, which is a slightly more emphatic NO than perhaps you were planning. Although technically they're the ones who just threw away $100. You just refused to be associated with it. The ring is also stupidly visible, which isn't a stylistic complaint but so stupid that it was actually a gameplay issue. Spies cloak to disappear, but the ring remained visible, drawing in all the other players to murder the wearer. Which will happen when you publicly transmit their name and "Haha, assholes, we can spend a fortune on pretend items that do nothing."
It's basically the opposite of Q branch.
On the upside, these rings are far less inflated in price than real diamonds.
Most MMORPGs ban the sale of in-game currency, leading to a shady market in illegal cash. MindArk realized that just means other people get the money and fixed the hell out of that. Project Entropia Dollars (PED) can be exchanged for real actual dollars at a rate of 10:1, and prove that English has serious problems with what it capitalizes.
"You're saying we invented a fake country with real money and WON'T be arrested?"
This real economy has led to some of the most spectacular purchases in gaming history, including the Crystal Palace space station by one player for a third of a million real dollars, and the Asteroid Space Resort in multiple portions for twice as much. Those aren't on this list, because they were sensible investments: Crystal Palace has already paid for itself, and both are constant sources of taxation income. Unlike the Atrox Queen Egg, a virtual paperweight in a world without paper that cost 70 grand.
I think I've seen this movie.
The egg resulted from an in-game storyline to hunt powerful Atrox, which are crosses between T. rexes and "coming up with stupider but barely different names to make them sound alien."
See, it has TWICE as many stupid little arms. Totally different animal.
It was first found by a player called Tzest0s, who sold it for $10,000 in 2006 and probably hasn't stopped fist-pumping yet. The alien monster egg was bought by wealthy entrepreneur John "NEVERDIE" Jacobs and proudly displayed in his space station nightclub. That's not even the plot of a horror movie, that's a horror movie parody. He nevertheless survived both doing that and being called that, selling the egg to David "Zacharum 'Deathifier' Emegen" Storey in 2010 for a profit of $60,000. He used the money to film a real music video in a roller disco. If you're noticing wire frame graphics in your peripheral vision, don't worry, that's just the borders between reality and fantasy breaking down.
"For an encore, I shall say 'There's nothing to worry about' and hold my face right over it."
New species are a major source of wealth in Entropia. The only problem is, this egg has a smaller chance of hatching into new life than a dead male robot. After eight years, that "in waiting ..." is more clearly flavor text than The Joy of Cooking. Spending six figures on it is demented, but unlike everything else on this list, it's brilliantly, gloriously demented. You might think it would be impossible for anyone to spend so much on trash for fun, as the necessary combination of reality disconnect, obscene wealth and lunacy died with Kim Jong-Il. But Deathifier isn't a lunatic blowing his life savings on trash. He's another of the Entropian elite, master of an actual Treasure Island, as in that's actually its name and its reality (it earns him $100,000 a year). It has a castle. It's a rare hunting preserve for unique species he created specifically for that purpose. And now he's using the egg as bait to organize an in-game treasure hunt and targeted extermination missions, awarding cash prizes to other players, just for fun.
He invented Chromangutangs just to kill them.
Instead of the tragedy of waste, it's Dr. Moreau-Taft standing on his castle battlements funding a space-club music producer's attempts to escape into our reality. Hell, real human nobles never dreamed of being that decadent because they didn't have William Gibson novels.
Many people mock Word of Warcraft, because many people don't have an income of $100 million a month with two loyal legions the size of Norway fighting each other for profit. Never mind businesses, most regimes can't claim that.
Man, I wish I had some night elves around here.
Player "Shaks" spent $9,000 on a Level 70 night elf rogue, back when that was as high as levels went, equipped with all sorts of amazing items that you either don't care about or already know.
World of Warcraft
Check out the warglaives on that!
The problem is that character sales are very banned in World of Warcraft, and a sale of this size was very guaranteed to bring press attention. "Covered by the BBC" levels of press, which is as pressed as you can get without being thrown into a printing machine by James Bond. Shaks had just committed the most visible electronic crime short of stealing someone's shades in the Matrix. He'd have more chance of getting away with standing on the White House lawn firing signal flares at the Oval Office, because the Secret Service don't actually control reality through programmed money.
That's right, we don't, citizen.
Shaks disappeared like he owed money to the Mafia and Men in Black simultaneously. Reports indicate his very brief existence had him using the character like a chimpanzee steering the starship Enterprise. He'd have demonstrated more skill if he'd webcammed himself burning $100 bills, and lasted longer. It's painful even to think about, because nine grand is way more than you need to buy a real life.
It's glorious that we've reached the level of wealth and technology to spend money on such pointless bullshit, but tragic that we actually do so. If you'd rather level up real people using real skills for real achievements, help Kiva fund microloans (there's a Cracked group). In memory of Matt, the greatest entrepreneur I've ever known.
Luke also examines The Most Amazing(ly Stupid) Spider-Man Reboots, and the targets the five assholes you see in every shooting game. He also tumbles and replies to every single tweet.
This should have resulted in years of therapy.
Sometimes it's just a matter of making the US Department of Defense look, like, REALLY cool.
Actual impending doom like global climate change or mass extinction just makes people bored.