Reminder: Gold Farmers Are People Too

Reminder: Gold Farmers Are People Too

The vast majority of people playing a big-deal MMO probably view it as an escape, something to do when not clocking in on the chores of daily life. Yeah, folks make friends and fall in love dressed in avatar skin but most players don’t need it to survive. Some of them, however, do need to play a game to make rent or buy food. InRealLife shows what it’s like on the other side.

They’re in World of Warcraft, MapleStory or any other popular online game with a huge playerbase. The people with belief-defying amounts of gear, loot, and HP. And the other ones, silently scurrying and bustling in the sidelines while you go off on another raid.

How’d they get that stuff? How much does it cost, in terms of, y’know, dignity? What are they doing when you’re offline? This new book by activist/author Cory Doctorow — he also edits Boing Boing — and Jen Wang offers up a provocative look at where the juice in your average MMO comes from.

Reminder: Gold Farmers Are People Too

IRL‘s main character is Anda, a high-schooler who gets pulled into fictional MMO Coarsegold, as part of a recruiting effort to get more girls playing the game. Once there, she teams up with a high-level player to learn the ropes and becomes part of an underground economy where in-game missions churn out real-world cash. Sounds like gold-farming, doesn’t it? Is it ok if Anda does it?

Doctorow’s married to Alice Taylor — who played Quake competitively in the ’90s and was the only woman on the first English national team — and drew on his wife’s experience as raw material for creating Anda. But it’s slippery slopes that come with being part of an online community that give IRL its tensions.

Reminder: Gold Farmers Are People Too

The book touches on points that some people who play video games don’t want to think about, like the social attitudes or economic politics surrounding the delivery and maintenance of these experiences. The reluctance happens because it’s not easy to think about these things. “I am as guilty of this as anyone is. It doesn’t feel good to think about it. I think that life in the modern world embodies all kinds of contradictions that are difficult to face,” Doctorow said over e-mail. “We don’t decide to abandon our principles in a rush — rather, they slide away in a series of incremental steps, each of which seems like a reasonable compromise based on the LAST compromise.”

“We are most capable of detecting relative differences. Once you’ve made a little compromise, another little compromise seems like not much, and another, and another. No one wants to admit that the fun bit of plastic he unboxed from Amazon this morning is awash in invisible blood, especially because, as an individual, there’s nothing he can do about the blood, and not buying the thing doesn’t make it any less bloody. So you draw the curtains.”

Gold farming is the kind of thing that captured the public imagination for a while and is now accepted as par for the course in massively online games. When asked why he’d want to re-visit the practice now, Doctorow said that “science fiction isn’t about the future, it’s always about the present.” “When you contemplate the microscale phenomenon of a world-in-a-bottle like an MMO and the toy economy within it, it equips you with a graspable metaphor for understanding the macroscale world of monetary policy. In other words: thinking about gold farming is a gateway drug to thinking about money itself.”

Reminder: Gold Farmers Are People Too

The reasons you want money in a game are similar to why you want it in real life. Artist Jen Wang says that she’s felt the pull, too. “For me just levelling up isn’t as motivating as being able to micro-manage my fantasy life and acquire the perfect fruit trees for my fantasy house,” she admitted. “I thought that would provide an even bigger contrast for Anda and the goldfarmers as well if one could purchase property and the other couldn’t.”

IRL has a beautiful dream-like art style, one that eschews the hyper-realism fetish prevalent in so many games. “There’s a lot of uncanny valley out there, at least in console games. It’s so common we just kind of accept it!” said Wang. “What’s exciting is the emergence of mobile games and how that’s forcing designers to take a simpler, more graphical approach.”

Reminder: Gold Farmers Are People Too

“I’m seeing more games like Katamari Damacy and Journey that are completely unique. They’re not trying to look like anything else. Just look at Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery. Every background in that game blows me away! That’s not to say that something hyper-realistic like Skyrim can’t be beautiful, but overall I think we’re better working with our limitations than against them.”

Reminder: Gold Farmers Are People Too

Though part of IRL‘s premise is that plugging into a game like Coarsegold can paint you into some morally uncomfortable corners, Doctorow also thinks that the connected nature of massive online games creates a powerful force for real-world change, too. “As I write this, it’s almost the anniversary of SOPA, and that was astounding — eight million phone calls placed to Congress, [resulting in] a law that everyone agreed was inevitable nailed to the wall,” he offered. “We have never before had the ability to find people who care about the same things as us, to weld our efforts together, and to move forward in unison than we do now.”


  • I think he originally published this story as Anda’s Game in his collection Overclocked. Good read.

  • I don’t understand what EXACTLY is this article saying? It doesn’t seem to make a single shred of sense in regards to the title.

    None of the comics where about gold farmers and there is certainly nothing wrong with PK’ing gold farmers EVEN if someone is paying you. It’s not even in the morally grey area it is perfectly WHITE and there are no if’s or but’s.

    It’s why this is confusing, unless I’ve misread something here, that is.

    • Yeh I didn’t understand what this article was about either.

      This paragraph seems out of place: “IRL has a beautiful dream-like art style, one that eschews the hyper-realism fetish prevalent in so many games…” which doesn’t have anything to do with gold farming.

      ” Anda, a high-schooler who gets pulled into fictional MMO Coarsegold, as part of a recruiting effort to get more girls playing the game. Once there, she teams up with a high-level player to learn the ropes and becomes part of an underground economy where in-game missions churn out real-world cash. Sounds like gold-farming, doesn’t it?”

      The above paragraph doesn’t sound like gold farming… It sounds like a promotional job. I kinda thought gold farming was explicitly playing the game (manually or using bots) to earn gold then later sell this gold to other players.

      I can’t even find any information on this MMO anywhere…

      • It’s not a great article, is it…

        Basically, Cory Doctorow wrote a story about MMO gaming ( and it looks like it’s been adapted as a comic. Evan has tried talk about the themes & interspersed it with comic panels, but you’d only really get what he’s talking about if you’re familiar with the story.

        Free download from the site above (legit as well), worth reading.

  • This sounded interesting but I can’t find a copy of this anywhere – is it even out yet? Is it even able for pre-order? Doesn’t seem to exist. Even a Google image search of the cover came up with nothing.


  • Of coarse they’re people. Unfortunately, they’re destroying the entire concept of an in-game currency which is killing the MMO genre, so I don’t give a rats ass about their feelings.

    • Exactly.
      And arms dealers are people too. For fuck’s sake, some people need to be judged, and judged harshly, thanks.

      Forgetting the ‘omg the price of my mats is being screwed’ aspect of 1st-world-problem status, a huge portion of the product that gold-selling sites trade in is from hacked/phished accounts. Someone had their privacy violated for that, thanks.

      Worse than that, an incredible number of accounts they purchase – you know, the ones which get instabanned as soon as they’re discovered as gold-farmers – are purchased using stolen credit card details. Now when these charges are reversed by the banking institution, do you think that’s it, end of story? No. The financial institutions charge the vendor who accepted the stolen card details. And they charge them quite a lot. It doesn’t just have to be stolen cards, either. You can set yourself up with a real card of your own, buy however many accounts you need to do your RMT-spam/farming, then advise the banking institution (fradulently) that services were not delivered, or that details were stolen. You get your money back, the vendor gets slugged with chargeback fees. A number of MMO devs have spoken out about just how much RMT affects their bottom line thanks to fraudulent credit card charge-backs and fees.

      Gold-sellers provide no benefit whatsoever to the game or its community, and anyone who purchases their services is only enabling them to keep fucking over the MMO and its players. If you’re one of them, take a good, long, hard look at yourself. And anyone who signs on to be a gold-farmer… fuck you. Go do something else with your life. “Just doing it for the paycheque,” has been used to excuse every single horrific, disgusting, or immoral thing humans can do to each other. You’re no different. Quit your excuses or expect to be called out for being involved in the parasitic business you’re in.

      • Something not touched on in the article is that the gold farmers in the story are from China/India etc – it’s basically an online sweatshop for next to no money in the third world.

      • On an incidental off tangent..

        I am rather bemused at what happened to the MMO Lunia during it last few months after it went full “free” game when the devs officially dropped the game. They kept the servers running and actually gave out “cash points” fortnightly “for the fans”(Granted they opened a “donation” service to help keep the server cloud running) While the game itself wasn’t getting anymore updates aside from the usual server maintenance it was still targeted by DDoS and became even more infested w/ gold sellers.

        It was to be expected since it’s for all purposes a “dead” game security became lax…. but I still find it rather confusing (for a lack of better term) that some people *still* paid these gold sellers even when you were literally given cash points for free already!

        Eventually game was closed down because the DDoS and whatnot was just getting to bad that it wasn’t worth the devs time to keep the server running for a defunct and dead MMO.

  • Check out Neal Stephenson’s book ‘REAMDE’ for a great take old goldfarming among other things.

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