Theory in a Digital Age: A Project of English 483 Students, Coastal Carolina University

The Fetish in Gaming

            “A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood” (Marx 1). A commodity fetish is something that will affect you immediately, and you’ve been taught it your entire life. The fetish is reassigning meaning and giving an object certain power based on its origin, background, or even the time needed to be made. But what does that have to do with the virtual and the actual? Empire at Play discusses video games and the relation between cost, labor, and the effects of the market. “Such simulation is vital to a power system engaged in the high-risk military, financial and corporate calculus required for globalized control”. The fetish of the virtual world impacts the actual world, and although this is the beginning of hyper-capitalism, it might also be the end of the world, or at least an end with people departing.
            Video games will always be in business. Whether it’s an RPG, Role Playing Game, or some type of combat simulator, people of all ages will be captured. RPG’s allow the player to live a new life that would never exist in the actual world, which may be the focal point of their success. But altogether the gaming industry is worth over fifty-five billion, and that’s a lot. That’s “five times the annual additional expenditures necessary to provide basic primary education to every child on the planet.” But that’s just it, “gaming is no longer a youth pastime; and while its testosterone bias has not vanished, it is declining, as online casual gaming and the Wii attract more girls and women”. This is where all gaming has been fetishized.
            Why are video games such a hot commodity? And how do they manage to survive considering the consumer’s cost? With the industry valued at over fifty-five billion, each game can be rather costly. However, consumers are still purchasing these outrageously priced games and the consoles they are played on. Why? Because that is the worth, right? I guess this is why products become commodities, there is labor involved to make every game the best possible version. Just like any object, its value is represented by the labor, and the labor time represents the value. There are other forms of value, but this is Marx’s labor theory of value. There isn’t really a way to declare if relativity outweigh desire on two completely different objects. How does pricing come into play with two abstract emotions anyway? So that’s when you have to take into consideration the time spent making the product. I guess this is why video games will always be big in the market, aside from the minerals that skyrocketed in price a few years back, they are relative, desired, and the price seems reasonable in comparison to the labor spent making it. The fetish of playing a game that multiple people and computers created is worth so much more than anything the actual world has to offer; a fetish.
            Although Marx did not originally come up with the theory of value, which was taken from David Ricardo, Marx does take an entirely different direction with the nature of value. Labor is something that plays an effect on the price of fetishized objects, that’s not the only thing. Marx goes on to describe how a new product could be valuable to the creator but will only be valuable to the public based on the common denominators or the aspects that set it apart from other products. “Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic” (Marx 3). Every object has an exchange value and that isn’t in relation to the people exchanged, but of the object in comparison to other objects. Of course because commodities are all about pleasing a human’s wants and desires there is the use value - does it satisfy you?
            There are several video games that came out over the last 3 decades that succeeded because of their unique qualities that stood out over competing video games. Grand Theft Auto III came out in 2001, its success was due to it being a sequel, but when the first one came out, it was vastly different to other games of its time. In this video game that makes almost an open sandbox of the world; you can do anything. Although there are goals to this game and missions, you get to do whatever you like including terrorizing the town, and running from the cops. There isn’t really an end to the game, and I think that’s why people love playing it. Personally, I prefer some kind of reward, victory, and accomplishment for spending hours on my time completing something, but perhaps there’s more to life than that. Escaping the real world to do mindless activities can be very relaxing I suppose.
            You can view just about any video you like on YouTube, including videos of real people in the actual world playing games, Grand Theft Auto being one of them. Although this video doesn’t include everything I’d like to show, it shows you a lot. In this particular video you will see the screen of one player and he is playing with four of his friends and you can hear them all planning. One of the most popular features of this video game is running from the cops, and you’ll see on the top right of the screen the amount of stars he is receiving; you’ll hear him mention it throughout. The stars are the amount of fame you have. Of course if you’re gonna be on the run, you want to be running for a good reason. One thing this video leaves out is after so long of not being caught by the police, it all goes away, which is an awesome feature. You can follow the player as he destroys police cars, shoots at people, and eventually takes an airplane on his getaway.
            Grand Theft Auto was a popular game when it was released, but nothing compared to when The Sims game hit. Regardless of age or gender everyone (at least in the United States) will know this game; whether you played it yourself, or your friends or children played. Unlike Grand Theft Auto this game has also continued with popularity even to this day. This game is similar to Grand Theft Auto in the sense that there is no ultimate goal, and you are playing for simple enjoyment. However The Sims is more of an actual escape. If the actual world is not what you like, you can have everything you want in this virtual world. You can create yourself, your friends, or make people however you like. You can be married or single, have a child, adopt, or even reject the adoption as soon as the child shows up to your house.
            I chose to include this picture because I think this is how you can look at video game. Granted there are only so many video games like the Sims, but there are several out there where you can have an avatar to custom build. This picture displays a family on a background that will more than likely remind you of a family portrait. In the picture there is a mother, father, and their three children. This picture is reinforcing the idea that you can have any life you like while playing video games. Whether you play a mindless video game and forget you even have a life for an hour or two, or decide to build your own. In this game, you can have the perfect family, a husband that listens, and children that do what they’re told; living the dream.
            I could go on and on about video games that are fetishized. Growing up with two brothers, I’ve always been a gamer, and naturally liked games that they have introduced me to. There also came a point where I ventured out and tried new things, which is where I got my own taste. With video games, they’ve all been fetishized in a way, because this is something distilled in us. We heard about them from our friends who heard it from theirs, or we saw an advertisement of cool kids playing this rad game, or whichever. And when picking up a game you’ve never heard of, it has to either be similar to what you know or stand out to grab your attention, which is exactly what Marx was stating, that’s where an items value and worth comes from. That’s why this market is huge, and that’s why consumers will always be willing to pay top dollar to play.

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