You’ll just have to hear me out on this one…
Lately, I was thinking of a very easy to relate to description of how modern political economy — that is, capitalism, as maintained by statism — works. After a few beers, during a video game break, I had a moment of clarity.
If you’ve ever played Black Ops, a game in the Call of Duty series, you know how the online multiplayer goes. The absolute first people to play it started off with the most basic weapons, right? Sure, they had a range between sniper rifles, sub machine guns, and whatnot, but for the most part all were even. As one gets a higher score, they get access to better weapons, and thus more opportunities to kill the other players. As they obtain longer kill streaks, they get more devastating power ups as rewards: a spy plane that exposes the location of their enemies (the default is that ones position is only exposed immediately upon firing your weapon, and even then faded into irrelevance within a couple seconds; the spy plane exposes people in each pass regardless of what they are doing), a jet assisting by way of napalm strike, an unmanned sentry gun that fires on anyone passing a certain point, all the way up to a manned attack chopper from which you can casually blast damn near anybody.
The point of these power ups is obvious: kill more people, get more toys…which help you kill more people. The game helps those who are already established so as to maintain their dominance, simultaneously stacking the odds for newer players. You may be joining a game as a level 3, still with your m16 and its 3 round burst, meanwhile you keep walking into the buzz saw that is multiple dork players of the game toting HKs and AKs with extended scopes & faster reload as a perk. You may valiantly lift that M16, but by the time you have aimed, the guy with the AK has turned your digitally rendered body into mincemeat. If Kalishnakov Guy gets a killstreak? Oh, you might as well run and hide, because he’s got coming for you spy choppers, attack dogs, a remote controlled explosive, maybe even a freakin chopper toting a fully-auto gun. And what else do you have besides the M16? A smoke bomb? Hah! Half the dudes playing have masks, and their own flash grenades; you throw that, they step back and then throw a flash grenade, next thing you know you are firing blindly in a fucking circle, until they get behind you and happily slit your n00b throat.
This is an “economy” structured, by Activision, to reward and perpetuate the strong, and give the weak as many opportunities as possible to fail (in this case, as a digital character, to “die”.) In the gamer world, such a system is no big deal. I have yet to even win a single deathmatch, yet I don’t plan on ceasing my playing anytime soon. Why? Because unlike real life, there is zero real consequence. This life of mine is what it is, if I made the wrong move in meatspeace that could be the difference between having a roof over my head and writing this blog from the gutter, meanwhile terrible moves in a video game are just learning experiences without the blood.
The current global economy functions in a manner similar to Black Ops. If you already have an advantage, regardless of root, you have control. You get in as a noob, you’re expected to earn your stripes against Level 43 guys who seemingly play it every waking moment. Now, though they were first into the “market” for digitally rendered killin’, that doesn’t mean they’re the best at it in terms of strategy. It could be that they got their high level by picking a sniper rifle & then “camping”: waiting for the other players playing it as a pursuit. Sure, there’s still advancement, but the deck is intentionally stacked against challengers. The game has helicopter guns and napalm strikes for people with long kill streaks. The state has extensive subsidies for the politically well connected. The game has it so if you pick up the gun of another player, you can’t use it as well because of differing perks, and you lose it if you get killed even once. The state has IP law.
In a video game, this formulation makes sense. You’re not there to trade goods or argue the propriety of X vs Y, you’re there to blow each others’ brains out! Who cares what comes below that, as long as the graphics are nice and lag-free. The challenge is the point.
In an economy? We see the results: the entrenchment and shielding of the largest players, the costs of their failures placed on everyone else’s backs.
Activision deliberately designed COD: Black Ops to function like it does, and I’m fine with that. Collusion between political power and connected business interests deliberately designed the economy to function like it does, and I emphatically am not. On both I have a lot of company…