Is currency in WoW is giving the wrong idea of how money works in the real world?

The system for currency in WoW is pretty simple. 100 copper makes 1 silver, 100 silver makes 1 gold, and that’s all there is to it. In our society it isn’t too much more complicated, 100 cents makes a dollar, and that’s it. We just happen to have different types of change and different valued dollar bills. So the simplicity of how WoW presents its money isn’t really a problem, since it’s simple and doesn’t in my opinion say anything about the game or what meaning the game holds. Instead, I’d like to focus your attention to the formal method of obtaining gold as opposed to the method of obtaining money in our world. In WoW, every enemy you kill can drop some amount of money, at lower levels it will be some copper and as you level up so too will the stronger enemies drop more and more money. In addition, any of the items they drop can be sold to merchants or other players, and sometimes they will drop upgrades for your armor or weapons.

So that’s how money gets introduced into the market in WoW. The obvious difference between that system and the real world is that there is a theoretically infinite amount of money that can be generated by players. In the real world, the money you make doesn’t just come from machine generated characters, there is a circulation of money and a limited amount that we have. You could compare the generated enemies to animals and plants in our world, but they don’t inherently have a monetary value, they simply have the resources, which like in WoW, can be sold to “other players” for a profit. In the real world, generally farmers will produce the food and everyone else will buy the food. In WoW, everyone can “farm” for resources, and the people who need those resources at the time will buy them with the money they have earned in similar ways.

So, the key difference here is that in WoW while everyone has money and everyone can be a farmer, in our world only a select few people are farmers providing resources, and we are forced to buy from them to survive since we would not otherwise have food. The reason that is so important is because it is teaching people who play WoW that anyone can be successful by producing their own resources and selling them to people who need them, while in reality only a few people can be successful by producing resources, because unlike real life, you don’t need to buy any resources to continue living. In the real world we need food and utilities, but in WoW all you need for living costs are consistent upgrades to weapons and armor, which often can be found without spending any money at all. This is teaching players that just by being a producer of a resource, you can become wealthy and successful, and furthermore that anyone can do it just by doing what they would be doing anyway.

This is not true.

Not everyone can be producing a resource that others will buy on equal terms, there are different levels of quality, whether it be talent, luck, skill, or whatever, no two people will produce exactly the same product, and as such there will be varying willingness to buy products from certain producers. Some people might be able to be successful just by selling whatever it is they want to do, but others might not be. As we discussed in class, WoW is certainly a dreamy ideal of what capitalism should be, but certainly is not a realistic one.  I don’t believe that any aspect of the game really displays that fact as well as this ideal that all people will be able to produce the same quality products with the same amounts of time invested.

Another nuance of this is that as you level up and fight higher leveled enemies, they drop more gold…does this sound anything like how promotions work to you? It certainly does to me, at least in theory. Again though, WoW I perpetuating the idea that just by investing more time you will definitively always  “level up” or rise up in the ranks, and make more money, and be more successful as long as you work hard enough and spend enough time focusing on your job. Plenty of people never rise through the ranks like this in their own companies, because not everyone can be at the top. That is just a fact of the system our society uses, there have to be some clear leaders and some subordinates. If everyone was able to be a leader, they would not have anyone to lead because no one would be left to be lead. It would defeat the purpose. In WoW however, there is never going to be a situation where you can’t reach max level because too many other people have already done that. Anyone can achieve the highest level and as such the maximum amount of money and gear earned. In the real world this is an ideal that has long since been lost, but perhaps not to the type of people who play WoW still. It’s a very bad thing to superimpose an ideal system onto a non-ideal world, and even go so far as to ignore the flaws because in theory it should be working; or even worse, to ignore the failure of others and think it is because they are not trying hard enough. This kind of thought process is promoted just by playing WoW, and yet so many people still play the game. I don’t think anything can really be done about it on a larger scale, but by keeping this in mind perhaps we can help to stop the ignorance that is being promoted and open our eyes and the eyes of those around us to what is really going on.

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4 Responses to Is currency in WoW is giving the wrong idea of how money works in the real world?

  1. pittpanther8 says:

    There are a few ideas that you raise here that I would have never noticed. I agree that the WoW economy is unrealistic because there is a limited amount of money and and not everyone can have a job in he industry they want. What I am most intrigued with is your analysis of sustaining life or lack thereof in the gaming world. Personally, I don’t believe that a video game needs to incorporate every aspect of real life in order to teach a message about life. If there is lack of eating, would you expect there to be period reserved for hours of sleep too?


  2. plorei says:

    I’ve thought about the same points as well, and I concluded that the best way to think about WoW is not as a simulation of capitalism, but as a product. Blizzard made WoW to make money. Drawing from Bogost’s chapter on Habituation, it is apparent that the most successful games should take up a familiar theme and can be played repeatedly, without losing value. One of the accessible themes in WoW is capitalism, but it is molded in a way that allows newer players to advance fairly quickly, and provides older players with continued enjoyment so as to provide an incentive to keep paying their monthly fee, rather than retire from the game when they reach the top.


  3. narrativeandtech says:

    I mentioned the practices using bots and buying in game currency with real world money in my post on deviance within WoW, but I think it is just as applicable to this topic as well. Not only does the game promote the capitalist fairytale through infinite resources and opportunities for promotion, the common practice of buying game money with real money and using bots to do the work for you puts forth the false notion that the path to success is quick and effortless.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Steph Roman says:

    Very perceptive, nice post. If you were thinking of writing your essay on this, you could probably reference the AH’s method of bidding and how people can farm materials and control the markets (refer back to Scott Rettberg’s essay). I have a friend who said he monopolized some material or another and made huge money off of it. That’s not quite how it works on real farms though, is it?


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