The Home Invasion

The Home Invasion
Theory of the Gaming Class

Mark Wallace | 29 Nov 2005 07:01
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Gamers might ask themselves similar questions. Do I dig those Flying Tiger Goggles because I need the +4 stamina and spirit, or because they make me look sharper than all the other Undead rogues out there? Which is a better two-handed sword, the Truesilver Champion, with its holy shield, or the Warmonger, because it's so much cooler looking?

The fact is, we make a lot of our gaming choices based not on whether they help us get ahead in the game, but as a way to mark ourselves as different - usually better - than the "noobsticks" who are always getting in our way. MMOGs especially are great places to see the kinds of distinctions at work that Veblen had in mind. What level 40 character in WoW, having just saddled up his first steed, isn't gripped by more than a twinge of envy when that 60 warrior rides by on her flaming-hoofed epic mount?

Games, after all, are designed for this kind of thing; they're competitive spaces where a large part of the point is claw your way to the top - and make sure everyone knows that you have. Easy "pwnage" isn't the only reason uber weapons are desirable. Even if you've never made it halfway through a high-level instance, the rare item you like to flash in front of the Ironforge auction house says, "I'm uber and you're not." Imagine for a moment an Azeroth in which every sword and shield, every weapon, every piece of armor, and every item of clothing looked exactly the same. You'd still try to get your hands on Typhoon as soon as you could, but I can guarantee you it wouldn't be as exciting. Game companies are well aware of this - which is why your epic mount has flaming hooves in the first place: it's not enough to be uber, you have to look uber too.

The one-upmanship of gaming extends outside the realm of any individual game, as well. If you want evidence of a gaming class, look no further than Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendell and the rise of competitive gaming. Microsoft has now brought us a tool that anyone can use to distinguish themselves from their lesser peers, with the introduction of their Xbox Live service. Just beating Painkiller isn't the point; now it's where you rank on your favorite Painkiller server. It's almost as if there's no such thing as a single-player game anymore; no matter what you play, you're not just playing against the AI, you're playing against the background of all the other gamers out there who are playing the same game - and mostly you're coming up short.

The gaming class values such distinctions even outside the realm of play. You can see it in the premium we place on information. The two favorite words of gaming news sites and magazines are "exclusive preview" - even if all they're really showing you is a couple of stills from a trailer that has nothing to do with the actual gameplay. Knowing something no one else knows yet is what's important. Who really cares if that knowledge is in fact useless, or even wrong?

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