The considerable reality of the virtual is beginning to unravel the dichotomy entirely. A designer of a video game sits perched adjacent to simulation, commerce, and arts and is pulled equally in each direction devising their “operas made out of bridges”.
Last year the platform Steam banned all video games implementing blockchain technology. Without knowing for sure, we can speculate this is not an ideological position but instead a legal obligation. Steam cannot admit that the transactions of goods on their servers pertain to real world value—but how long can we all remain in on the joke? Policing the borderlands of the virtual and the real is becoming more difficult as the incursions increase in number, which bubble will pop first?
Video game economies aren’t so different from dark pools, private and anonymous exchanges off of the public stock market, each discrete entities with their own flow of goods. However, most video game economies are more prohibitive, illiquid dark pools that only support a one-way exchange. The financial vehicle behind every video economy is a transaction between a sovereign simulated world populated by non-sovereign individuals.
Sovereign digital identities aside, interoperability aside, the real trespass the metaverse commits is the financialization of play, presenting a moral hazard for the game designer. However this would only present a problem if we thought video games actually constituted “play”, an intellectual hurdle that we trip on. Ian Bogost got it right, games are work—their virtuality has become heavy and burdensome, having retreated into pantomime and pastoral fantasy, a mimesis of play itself. The dictate of play then, that in games the player can choose to stop playing at any time, is broken. The virtual game enters into the real world, the game of life, the room without a door, the game you can’t opt out of. Gamer theory, ludic century, either or.
To play a video game is to be an individual competing in a market. You are not a stranger entering the game circle, some ludic avatar, but rather the subject of your own life. Is the figure of the game designer capable of working their way out of this conundrum, or do they balk and cling to the virtual? Video games create different commercial mechanics every few years, loot boxes are not so far in the past, why not take it one step further. Or do video games stay in their dark pools, in caves away from the sun.
Liquidating all play and hastening its demise is the best project at this time.