Virtual Shit: The Symptom of the Metaphor

Online gaming merged with online shopping and selling to create a new brand of commerce in the form of the virtual garage sale. From virtual services equating to real life time [usually spent in game power leveling another character] to virtual objects to whole accounts associated with a MMORPG [massively multiplayer online role playing game]. The moment of transaction of virtual goods illuminates as it explodes the global pastime of selling. From the hardest to find collectibles to everyday goods, it doesn't take much for one to become a virtual “Sanford & Son” outlet using a third-party application in games such as Asheron's Call: Dark Majesty to sell all one's virtual wares. Trading in-game items for other in-game items seems normal enough, but when virtual items become worth real life dollars we must consider what triggers the obsession for items that only have value so long as two factors co-exist: the game servers are running and there is a demand for the items by the player base. How could so many people value something that is so seemingly worthless because of its virtuality—value it enough to buy it from an auction site such as eBay for real dollars? I propose to make a connection with the phenomenon of selling virtual items for real life dollars using Freud's case study of the Rat Man. The Rat Man's own obsession with shit [in dreams, ironically symbolic of money for Freud] and genitalia helps us consider not only the gaze of the shopper, but also the allure of the transaction.

This is the abstract. Paper forthcoming.


Friday 20-aug-04