Friday, June 19, 2009

Rastaman Vibration

I love reggae music. Actually, I love all the music from the Caribbean islands whether it is merengue, reggae, or steel drum music. Unfortunately, people often mistake the culture surrounding the music with the music itself. I sometimes joke that the most common lyric in reggae is “murder”. Only it’s not a joke. People want to think that the music is all about young black men with dreadlocks smoking dope and doing the limbo into the setting sun. Actually, the music is mostly about violence at the hands of white folk. It’s not coincidence that two of Bob Marley’s most famous songs are “I Shot the Sheriff ” and “Buffalo Soldiers.” Reggae musicians sometimes like to say the music is positive music for positive people. They mean being positive in the face of suffering, like the stories from the Bible the lyrics frequently invoke; they do not mean some hippy Nirvana commune.

They Say It’s Murder

While I don’t seek to propagate violence I am not a peacenik either, I think that point of view is naïve. The truth is that man is killer; it’s what he does, it’s how he lives. This reality is the backdrop to all we do. It’s an important point to remember.

One of the greatest myths of our time is that the way to peace is through interaction, particularly commercial interaction. But once the novelty has worn off, familiarity often leads to contempt rather than admiration. In fact the desire for contact and trade has been responsible for some of the greatest crimes (intentional or not) of our historical period. The first settlements in modern America (such as Jamestown) were founded on trade. And this trade lead to the decimation of the native population of the Americas through smallpox, to which their immune systems could not adapt. Indeed, much of the modern panic about diseases such as swine flu and Elboa is panic precisely because of the interconnectedness of the modern world. One of the reasons the black plague wasn’t as devastating as it could have been was due to the primitive transportation systems that limited it’s spread. In more obvious terms, African people where brought to the Americas precisely because of the slave trade. The reality is that while commerce may mean prosperity for some it frequently means destruction and even death for many others. Reggae music is intimately in touch with this reality.

A River in Egypt

I sometimes think that people who play Warcraft are in denial about what they are doing. We get caught up in the cuteness of our new Druid cat forms and forget that the Druid cat is a melee DPS monster designed for killing. The person who said that the Auction House was just a form of PvP is spot on. And in PvP somebody dies. It may indeed only be a virtual death but it is a death nonetheless.

It’s easy to admire the fact that Gevlon topped out the wealth o’ meter but the truth of the matter is that such wealth was built upon death. Not just the death of millions of virtual monsters that dropped loot but also the outright murder of the time of thousands of players who could have been doing something other than farming if they had gotten better prices on the Auction House. It’s a cogent argument that the “Morons and Slackers” killed their own time and Gelvon simply took advantage of it, but that’s only the difference between a tiger and a vulture. Both feast on death.

One Love

After my post The Good People of Azeroth went live someone sent me a link that lead me to a post from a few years ago about morality in Warcraft. The point of that post was that the morality of Warcraft lies not in the game design but in the social interactions of the players themselves. I agree. But I deliberately did not make that point in my post because I wanted to concentrate on the design of the game itself. The game is not designed to be a morality play (at least for us players). The fact that we choose to make something more out of the game than what the game was designed for does not change the reality of the design. That’s an important fact to remember.

In some ways what our minds do is the exact opposite of an oyster and a pearl. Instead of hiding a thing of great beauty under a plain gray shell we put lipstick on a pig. We employ ourselves with picking pretty flowers, mining rich nodes, crafting great jewels. We collect amazing mounts, curious pets, enchanted items. We help the orphans, get gifts from Santa, and have a jolly time getting drunk during Autumn. Yet behind this veil is one thing and one thing only: war. Vicious, brutal war. That’s an important fact to remember.

It’s an important fact to remember for the same reason that it’s important to remember that despite the groovy beat of reggae it’s music about suffering, oppression. It’s easy to get the wrong perspective on what’s happening if we buy in to the hype and marketing surrounding the product itself. Commerce and capitalism don’t lead to peace; they lead to war. The heart of the World of Warcraft isn’t picking herbs, going to gaming conventions, and collecting pets; it’s war. The Rastaman Vibration isn’t only the triumphant twang of the bedspring; it’s the shaking of the flesh being flayed by the whip, the pulsating heart tattooed by an Uzi.


Consolea said...

Thinking about it, I guess the warcraft is the reason I play this game. Sure, I smile at my little vanity pets and giggle while I do some herbing. But the core of my interest lies in the fact that you get to participate in a war. It doesn't matter if it's the Horde vs. Alliance, if it's my guild vs. Yogg-Saron.

The whole deal is that I can take a break from my silent normal life, and be a part of something cruel, harsh and murderous. Something new. I don't care that I'm evil or unfair, I care about the change of rules and roles. I go from normal girl on the street, to magical master slaying titans. And love it.

Klepsacovic said...

You give trade a bit too little credit, but perhaps you're also too easy on it. Greed can make people work together, but it can also make us turn on each other in a second.

As far as I've seen, the most effective prevention of violence is something to lose. Poor people are the easiest cannon fodder for revolutions. The rich like things just as they are.

To Gevlon's very very slight defense: wealth in WoW is almost unlimited. One can be rich without it being at the expense of others. Or perhaps this is actually a more complete attack, because it means that if it is at the expense of others, that it was chosen to be at that cost. Damn leeches...

I'm not really one for war. I find it to be stupid. Oh sure, sometimes it's defense. It would be foolish to try negotiating our way out of conflict with the Old Gods or Scourge. But one of the quests I rally hated. I wasn't annoyed or bored or inconvenienced, I hated it. The quest to 'avenge' the death of a Horde soldier who had died ambushing the Alliance while it was attacking the Scourge. That's the height of stupidity. I wish I'd had the the option to put my axe in his head and go explain to the Alliance that we are not all that stupid, so Varian keep your chin in check.

Ixobelle said...

I'm personally a huge fan of over the top rap. The best rap is usually someone who doesn't take the genre seriously, and is just ridiculous with it (Redman probably personifies this to a T).

There's enough drama in the world as it is, sometimes disconnecting from it is a relief.

mute said...

"One of the reasons the black plague wasn’t as devastating as it could have been was due to the primitive transportation systems that limited it’s spread."

Take a read and see if it was devastating enough or not. The only lands that have been spared from Black Plague are Australia and America. The main difference is not how much the diseases spread around. The main difference is how long it takes to spread. This is mainly because of two reasons:
1) Travelling takes longer
2) It can't be cured so it stays in an area longer.

The interconnectedness of the world and how diseases can be more devastating in this environment than in history is pure wrong. With our technology at its current state, we can stop a disease way way before killing 60% population of Europe. We have thermal cameras here in Turkey in the airports to catch people with high body temperatures which may be a symptom of swine flu. Don't mix today's scientists with those 21 year old blonde hot chick scientists of Hollywood movies. They are hard working guys.

mute said...

Other than what I wrote above, I liked the post and I can say I agree on most things.

What Consolea wrote above simplifies it in a good way. She wrote: "...I can take a break from my silent normal life, and be a part of something cruel, harsh and murderous... I go from normal girl on the street, to magical master slaying titans."

This is simply compensation and balancing an inner existence. What war in Warcraft compensates and what are the sides of the balance in Consolea's life (both RL and online) is something to be thought on. I know the answer myself. Do you?

Anonymous said...

I think people overlook that they are killing another player, due to their ability to resurrect with no harm done, other than their pride maybe.

Carra said...

Saying that commerce spreads diseases is a bit too simple. If commerce doesn't spread them we'd still go visit our families/friends or go on a holiday and still spread diseases. And of course technology also means that if we find a cure, we can also spread that cure much, much faster.

But I do agree that it's important to keep in mind that a lot of the goods we buy have blood on their hands. It has just been washed of.

And about Gevlon. Noone forces anyone to go farm stuff. Noone forces them to sell goods for a price they don't want to sell. Noone says they can't build their own trade empire. This isn't death, it's stupidity. Besides, those people are happy with the gold they get. It's their income and most would much rather farm then spend their hours doing "boring stuff on the ah". And if they see it as a death of time they should just stop doing it.

Klepsacovic said...

@Carra: Commerce doesn't just move people. It also moves huge amounts of plants and animals. Those are often what carry diseases or invasive plants.

No one forces them to farm, except the fact that trade goods are needed. Reposting items doesn't hurt them, but it does hurt buyers who have to deal with higher prices. Unless someone is adding value through either farming or crafting, any profits they make are undeserved and harmful to others.

whatsmymain said...

Most of Gevlon's income comes from the glyph industry. In that case he is actually providing a service to the community in addition to making money.

Make no mistake Gevlon runs an industry. He just does things on a much larger scale then other players consider doing. Often times his glyphs drive down the prices so he is in fact offering a service to those who buy them.

Think of it like Walmart. They are often viewed as scum because of the large succcess and getting products from other countries through cheap labor. But you know what?

To the person who is struggling to meet ends meet Walmart is a blessing. Buying food to support your family cheaper isn't evil. It is unfortunate that other people can lose their income because they can't compete... but that unfortunately is part of life.

Elnia said...

@Klepsacovic, @Carra. I'm not attacking Gevlon, only using him as an example. I've made plenty of money on the AH too.

@mute. I don't think I'm "dead wrong" but I willingly concede that it's more nuanced than I make it out to be. But a WoW blog post is not a place to have a long winded discussion about disease migration and mitigation. Not without putting most people to sleep.

Anonymous said...

I reached gold cap using jewelcrafting and enchanting in Burning Crusade because I provided services much cheaper than the competition.

Yes, I hurt the competition and in fact completely destroyed many small time AH players selling at high margins.

Yet, I also made many customers happy by selling affordable merchendise.


A typical example. Eight players were selling Austere Earthsiege Diamond when I paid my last visit to the AH. All these were prioced between 75 and 105 gold. I put 10 up for 45 gold, 55 gold buyout. Eight were already sold out when I checked my mail this morning.

I made over 250 gold profit on these eight sales, a good chunk of change for 5 minutes of work.

My customers also saved at least 160 gold, assuming they would have bought the next cheapest item.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for the players who lost sales because I undercut their super-inflated prices.

Eaten by a Grue said...

"pulsating heart tattooed by an Uzi"

You mean the Pulsating Hydra Heart from Gesharahan?

Klepsacovic said...

@Whatsmyname: Goods from other countries have a hidden cost: they're not made in America, so rather than being part of the economic cycle here. Greater unemployment means on average lower earnings and the relative cost is then higher. We respond by demanding even cheaper goods, shifting more jobs overseas...

@Elnia: Tisk tisk.

Eaten by a Grue said...

"Commerce and capitalism don't lead to peace, they lead to war."

Say what? Commerce leads to war?

Elnia said...

@Eaten by a Grue. I'm sure the Innkeeper will be back shortly.

Kromus said...

Great post-- i dont mind reggae music :D My uncle hasa popular reggae band.

Life and death is really hard to understand, i still don't quite understand it.

Your post kinda brought this up to me, we should treat a caterpillar and spider the same as a human if a soul is currency, but if anti-matter and matter is currency then really we all lose.

Its strange. The soul is a way of taggin' the importance of something. We have souls. Unless your animistic spiders and insects tend not to. So. I totally agree that

a tiger and vulture are the same.

Larísa said...

The game can be played in so many ways and focus put on so many different things. What is there that says that picking flowers, crafting and doing peacefull silly achievements, focusing on vanity and childish careless playing, not kiling stuff, isn't a valid way to see the game? You don't really have to participate in the war perspective unless you want to.

On the other hand I DO think that I'd be more excited about the game if I was deeper into lore and roleplaying, indulging the atmosphere in Ironforge in another way. I should tremble with fear and anger over the war activities rather than wondering if I'll be able to get all the flowers I need for the midsummer title... It would give me more reggae feeling in game.

But that's just my personal view, my own wishes to explore the darker sides of myself.

I don't expect everyone else to embrace the war concept.