Angry Avatars: Political Activism in Multiplayer Games
is part of the
Agitate, Resist, Repeat: Dissent and Collective Action in the Digital Age
scheduled on Saturday, 11/13/2004 at 8:00 a.m.
Please read the abstract below.
Aaron A Delwiche
- Trinity University
Broadband connections, sophisticated graphics cards, and powerful microprocessors have paved the way for the creation of immersive, massively multiplayer games (MMO's) such as Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies and Second Life. Both popular and addicting, these virtual environments have gained the attention of scholars across disciplines (Turkle, 1995; Yee, 2003; Delwiche, 2003). With game characters and digital objects fetching thousands of dollars on eBay, sweatshops have been set up in developing nations to generate objects for these virtual economies. According to one recent study, the world of Everquest is the 77th richest "nation" on the planet, with a per-capita GNP that outstrips both China and India (Castranova, 2002).
The recent phenomenon of game-based activism parallels this intersection between virtual and physical economies. Last April, 350 residents of the imaginary realm known as Hibernia staged a demonstration in Dark Age of Camelot, demanding more attention from game developers. A few months later, inhabitants of Second Life protested a tax on user-created objects by dressing in Colonial garb, piling up boxes of virtual tea, and disseminating demands via fiery manifestoes. In both instances, game developers were forced to respond with concrete policy changes.
Gamers are also using these environments to speak out about events in the real world. Players of Sims Online, Everquest, Asheron's Call and Second Life (among other games) have organized virtual gatherings to memorialize those who lost their lives during the attacks of September 11th. During the weeks preceding the US invasion of Iraq, the "Polygons for Peace" rally drew more than 100 protesters in There. A more polarized conflict raged in Second Life, as players used the game's robust building tools to blanket the virtual landscape with pro-war and anti-war propaganda posters.
This paper investigates the trend toward political action in virtual environments. Building on ideas suggested by Grimmelman (2003), I argue that the relationship between players and game developers parallels the relationship between citizens and government officials. On-line protests are sometimes viewed as unhealthy diversions from electoral politics and traditional organizing, but this form of activism has the potential to facilitate collective action in the real world. For this reason, virtual assemblies should be afforded the same first amendment rights as physical gatherings.
Delwiche, A. (2003). MMORPG’s in the college classroom. Invited presentation at The state of play: Law, games, and virtual worlds. New York Law School. November 13-15.
Castranova, E. (2001). Virtual worlds: A first-hand account of market and society on the Cyberian frontier. The Gruter Institute Working Papers on Law, Economics, and Evolutionary Biology, 2(1).
Grimmelman, J. (2003, September 21). On the Second Life tax revolt. Law Meme.
Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Yee, N. (2003). Ariadne: Understanding MMORPG addiction. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.nickyee.com/hub/addiction/home.html