Friday Ephemera
Elsewhere (107)



I don't know which is funnier - the headline or the fact this berk can get hired as an economics editor.


Thank you Mr Mason: You have a suggestion that rivals "A TV show like LA LAW but with engineers" for brilliance. I'm sure gamers across the globe will be willing to lay down hard cash to play an MMORPG where you're a cog in a communist machine. Oh wait... So how do you plan to pay for this game to be developed and run again? Oh, you want to occupy someone else's game? That'll end well.


overthrow capitalism

Some people never leave the student union bar, do they?


Ooh I don't know. Imagine a game set up to mimic one of the Utopian communities, like New Harmony.

As this is a multiplayer game we have the first game choice: do you want to be an artist or a farm labourer? I imagine lots will opt for the latter! Next, we have to mimic the game play of community meetings. Imagine the excitement as you press the A button to stand up and speak, B to interrupt, X to vote. Riveting stuff. And what's today's agenda: what do we do with the free rider? How do you re-educate a player who just leaves the game, then rejoins under another name? And don't forget winning. Remember that one player cannot win on their own. Either everyone wins or no one. So a win has to be the game carrying on, without end and with nothing really changing. A defeat is any game that ends in chaos and acrimony.

On the other hand we could make the game work by creating the majority of characters as computerised content, easily led passive drones. That would leave the real creative people to master planning utopia. The computerised characters would democratically vote for the plans crafted by the real players and no re-education would be necessary at all because they would be pre-program to not be like real people.

Ted S., Catskill Mtns., NY, USA

Isn't Farmville already doing this? The farm part, not the overthrowing capitalism part, that is.

Ted S., Catskill Mtns., NY, USA

This probably belongs in the "Elsewhere" or "Friday Ephemra" threads, but:

Finnish doctor wants to ban high heel shoes

"I think that it should be required by law or EU directive that the height of heels be regulated," he states. "High heels could first be dropped to 40 millimetres and ultimately to 31 millimetres. Such a height maintains good health."

Every time I hear/read one of these control freaks, I can feel my blood pressure rising. I'm sure that can't be good for the health, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels such an effect. Can we ban the control freak nannies for the sake of the public health?

R. Sherman

For extra realism, we can add in the always exciting "Five Year Plan."

Steve 2

Sim Gulag
Super Marx Brothers
Farmville: Ukrainian Famine Edition
State Invaders
Manic Miners Strike
Grand Theft Property
Stasi The Hedgehog
Trabant Racer
Call of Cambodia
Katyn Forest Dizzy


For extra realism, we can add in the always exciting "Five Year Plan."

Good idea. Goes straight in the spec after "dialectical materialism". Players are awarded points for the length and accuracy of regurgitation and for not cracking a smile.


Mr Mason may be vastly unhappy to see this.

Wonder if this
could be modded to sim gulag?


I so want to play 'Sim Gulag'..!


There are a few games that might meet Paul Mason's tastes!

For instance, in "Papers, Please", you play as a "goodass" border guard in a communist worker's paradise, diligently trying to meet quota so you can keep your family from starving. Deny entry to the capitalist running dog subversives!!


Someone just start a publication named New-Speak and see if any of these cranks have the courage to write for it.

I mean, by now it's about that obvious.


instead of being a badass in LA, you can be a goodass on a communal farm

"It's just like watching grass grow for real!"


I saw that headline and burst out laughing. Yeah, dude, good luck with that one.

Mind you, there is some potential for games where you're 'a cog in a communist machine'. I haven't played Papers, Please (mentioned by Ken above), but I have seen a video LP of it, and I have to say it looks surprisingly entertaining. Though given how the communist society is portrayed in that game (basically as a grim, Kafkaesque dystopia), I suspect Mr Mason wouldn't approve of it very much.


I think he has a great idea. Let him and his buddies establish a Ministry of Gaming which appointment political officers to every gaming project to force it to conform to government standards. Should do wonders for liberty.

Charlie Suet

I'm pretty jealous of all those people in the comments who had computers issued to them by the US government. You know, all the ones who keep telling us that the State invented computers and that they have nothing to do with capitalism.


“It’s just like watching grass grow for real!”

Tsk. Cynics, the lot of you. Maybe an educational game about the virtues of collective farming and mutual self-esteem boosting is what the cool kids really, really want this Christmas. And given the evils of capitalism, which is just like carjacking apparently, games manufacturers are no doubt ignoring the enormous communist games market in order to suppress the truth. I’m assuming of course that Mr Mason’s ideal game wouldn’t depict communism at all realistically, which is a pity, as the violence, famine and immiseration would make a decent backdrop for a post-apocalyptic zombie slaughterfest.

Charlie Suet

Also this -

"Generally, you're right - except for CiF comments. There's no way that discussion and debate (and abuse) could develop in the BBC comments as freely as it does on the Guardian because, except for one or two Modzillas, the moderation on the Guardian blogs is way better. The BBC moderation strangles free debate."

Is he being sarcastic or is he a lunatic? I genuinely can't tell.


I wonder if they'll be more successful than these 'communal farmers'...


"Against this, the world of competitive plunder on which most computer and console games are based begins to look boring."

Nothing can thrill quite like the pulse pounding excitement of growing virtual organic vegetables in an online atrigultural collective.



At the start of the game, all characters are equal. As play progresses, you can earn points to become more equal than others!


At the beginning of The Walking Dead, episode 2, you're given a few candy bars and other small scraps of food, and you decide who gets to eat and who doesn't. I suspect that experience has some relevance to living under communism.


Mr Mason objects to a “huge dollop of free-market ideology getting dumped into our leisure time.” He therefore asks,

What if you could choose to play any of these games without trying to gain wealth through conquest, violence or the mercantile capitalist strategy of buying cheap and selling dear? What if you could pursue a strategy to create things collaboratively, outside the market, and give the basic necessities of life away for free? Would you be able, singly or in groups, to screw the slash-and-grab economy so badly that you forced it into a transition state beyond destructive competition?

He could almost be describing the economic premise of Star Trek’s later iterations. And as we discussed not long ago, there are obvious problems with that premise, things it implies but which are never shown. In fact, it’s so problematic and entails so many unattractive assumptions, for decades the writers and producers of the series have somehow avoided any thought-out depiction of how it might actually work, despite it being the foundation of pretty much everything else. You can download “official” technical manuals and elaborate schematics of shield grids and plasma conduits, as if these things were real, but the fantasy economics that supposedly underpins the world of Star Trek remain a hell of a lot sketchier than quantum slipstream drive.


Actually, there's several entire groups (guilds) of people in World of Warcraft who pursue strictly pacifist strategies when leveling.

They're still happy to make money to fund their endeavors using the in-game auction house, though. Largely because if they're not actually killing things on their own to get raw materials, they've got to rely on people who are.

The whole idea of "give the basic necessities of life away for free" is actually hilarious in the context of cooperative video games, though. While single-player games often have upkeep mechanics that emulate hunger or a need for housing (Don't Starve is a game based entirely on these premises, in fact) or medical care, multi-player games--especially in the MMO genre--generally don't impose upkeep costs on the player because they're onerous and make play less fun. You can play World of Warcraft without ever touching a morsel of food, sleeping inside a building, or using a bandage (or having someone heal you) and you won't be significantly impaired compared to someone who does. In fact, of those three "basic necessities of life", shelter is freely available to anyone (you can walk into any inn in the game and no one's going to kick you out for not paying to spend the night there), and as healing someone only has an opportunity cost in combat people will frequently heal others for free outside of it--and just as often give food away freely, in the form of feasts anyone grouped with them can eat. If you want better or more reliable food or medicine, you can pay for it (or make friends with someone who'll give it to you), but then you don't even need them to play the game.

The most bleeding-heart liberal leftie friend I have in World of Warcraft is the very model of a ruthless capitalist when it comes to the in-game economy. She frequently "buys cheap and sells dear", and sees no reason to hand out items she spent time earning to people just because they want them. Given most of her big-ticket items are entirely cosmetic and have no real in-game benefit for players, I'm not even sure how Mr. Mason could object to her making money that way.


A Guardian commenter says, “Paul Mason is a journalist and economist that the BBC is lucky to know.” This praise is almost immediately followed by a comment from a gaming enthusiast who points out that the anti-capitalist modifications Mr Mason is so excited about and considers the stuff of popular revolution aren’t exactly popular with gamers themselves. He or she goes on to quote Mr Mason’s enthusiasm for economic saboteurs who “subvert” gameplay by destroying the value of objects within the game, then adds,

Those would be the trolls (the gamer type, not the Skyrim monsters). They get their kicks from spoiling other people’s games - in the real world they’d be the yobs who rip up the footie pitch turf with a dirt bike one night then spend the next week boasting about it.

Which rather puts Mr Mason’s pieties in context.

sackcloth and ashes

The number of times I read a piece by a 'Guardian' columnist and think 'Hmmm ... Saki wrote a short story about you a century ago ...'

In his defence, Paul Mason's BBC2 documentary on Northern Soul suggests that he isn't a total cock.


That is almost as sad, yet hilarious as the OccuTool neologism "downtwinkles".


In Soviet Russia, game plays YOU!!!

sackcloth and ashes

The Northern Soul documentary:


"Farmville: Ukrainian Famine Edition"



The Northern Soul documentary

The footage of people doing backdrops and spins triggered a heavily-suppressed memory of the early 80s TV series Fame. You can imagine how distressed I am.

sackcloth and ashes

I suspect that more culture and less economics from Mason would actually be a good idea.

Regarding games themselves, Mason's article contains a heavy dose of 'false consciousness' ('we can educate the masses through their entertainment, and stop them from being corrupted by capitalism'), combined with a po-faced puritanism and a kill-joy sentiment best associated with Mr Gradgrind in 'Hard Times'.

Games, like films and popular fiction, are meant to be entertaining and escapist. Thrillers are supposed to be thrilling, which is why they feature spies, terrorists, serial killers and rogue coppers. Games are supposed to give people a vicarious sense of adventure that they don't necessarily get in real life. It is fun to lead a special forces team in a make-believe battle against spetsnaz, or to pretend to be a criminal, or a medieval warrior or an assassin. Playing at being a farmer is the opposite of fun.

In 'Hard Times', the circus owner Mr Sleary tells Gradgrind 'People must be amused, squire', and that apparent fripperies such as his show actually fulfil an important purpose. It's a lesson Paul Mason would do well to reflect on - indeed, his passion for Northern Soul suggests that if he abandoned his commissar instincts he'd probably have a more enjoyable life.


I suspect that more culture and less economics from Mason would actually be a good idea.

Well, nostalgia for one’s teenage preoccupations is practically inevitable as middle age takes hold, and is fine in very small doses. As Anna said, it’s when people won’t let go of their knucklehead Student Union politics that things get tragic and obnoxious.


I keep coming back to the question of why we have such knucklehead Student Union politics, or even un-knuckleheaded, in the first place. Did Plato's Academy have such? Well, possibly...but Newton's or Adam Smith's? I suppose there was some such, but I suspect the subjects were forced to grow up when they entered the real world. Except for maybe the priests and politicians...I suppose I'm answering my own question but still, I suspect there's been quite an amplification brought on by excess resources and comfort factors that created a late 20th century problem if it's not just a late 20th century phenomenon.

Sam Duncan

Has he never played Sim City? There's your Leftist utopia right there. The citizens are faceless drones fit only to be milked for cash, and placated with stadiums, zoos, and parks, built by you, and you alone. The drones have no will or ability to provide these for themselves. Nor can they educate or heal themselves without your provision. On that note, a public smoking ban has only benefits. Commerce is a mysterious blue blob on the map in which you take no interest except to tell it where it may occur. Industry exists primarily to provide jobs for the citizen-drones, its principal product being pollution which can be controlled by executive fiat.

Actually, thinking about it, I wonder how many of today's political class grew up playing it...


The most bleeding-heart liberal leftie friend I have in World of Warcraft is the very model of a ruthless capitalist when it comes to the in-game economy.

I've always been surprised by the number of players at the top of the competitive environment in WoW who espouse leftist and socialist economics. I understand "it's just a game" and most resources are very easy to come by, but the higher level PvE and PvP games require commitment, performance, and accountability.

Maybe they conflate the escapism of murder and pillage with the non-existence of a minimum wage. Maybe their personal environment is sufficiently insulated from the economic consequences of devoting a significant amount of time to leisure that they don't consider the effects of the latest health insurance regulations. Maybe the future of online gaming is socialist elites playing at laissez faire because they're the only ones advantaged with the money and time necessary.


Joe, I'd assume it's a corollary to Star Trek fans and writers never bothering to come up with a realistic economic model for the Federation. It's enough to have the right ideas about how a Just Society should work; putting in actual time and effort to figure out how it would work is unnecessary tedium. Linking one's pretendy-fun-times to how the real world works requires a similar (if reverse) effort, so successful WoW capitalists who are RL socialists don't usually see the striking contrast between their playtime activities and their--er--serious and mature ethical views.

I don't know, though. Because it's my pretendy fun time activity, too, I try not to question people too closely or pursue political debates beyond idle sniping in chat. After having a pair of dedicated SJW/Occupodpeople completely ruin one of my previous guilds I'm also a lot less open than I used to be, as well, because the level of aggression and toxicity that goes on in circles supposedly devoted to "justice" and "compassion" is horrifying.


That circles back to the "I believe you're wrong" vs "I believe you're a horrible person for believing a wrong thing" or, if you prefer, "I am intolerant of intolerance!" For the children. Or the oppressed. Or the middle class. I keep forgetting...


Playing at being a farmer is the opposite of fun.


Interested Observer

Re Paul Mason's northern soul documentary...

Jake Haye

A glib tongue and an incapacity for reason seem to provide a significant advantage when it comes to meeting a target wordcount.


Hey, there's nothing wrong with enjoying farm sims. (Or train sims. Or anything else that gets you going, as sims go.) It's YOUR pretendy fun time, whatever is fun for you to pretend to do is okay by me.

But without objectives, which are apparently inherently capitalist or something, there doesn't seem to be much point to games. Are bubble-popper or jewel-breaker or card games also inherently about conquest and capitalism?

sackcloth and ashes

'Re Paul Mason's northern soul documentary'

Oh right ... nice one.

I stand corrected.

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