In the article “Working as playing? Consumer labor, guild and the secondary industry of online gaming in China”, Lin Zhang and Anthony Fung analyze online gaming guilds, or the “intermediary between the corporations and the community of gamers” (Zhang & Fung 2), which have now become a secondary industry in the online gaming world in China. They hold significant importance not only as the point of negotiation between commerce and the online community, but also a subject of debate regarding “the assumed link between digital production and sociological empowerment” (Zhang & Fung 14) that provokes more thorough study on the politics and neo-liberal economics in China.
They argue that the widespread of this secondary industry will introduce “the rise of individuality, self-engineering and self-reliant mentalities and a growing sense of competition, insecurity, and precariousness” (Zhang & Fung 14). Along with the “participatory culture” (Zhang & Fung 4), this industry, linked to MMO games communities in general, can result in a collective effort to achieve Internet freedom. The authors bring up the dilemma of “exploitation or empowerment” – are MMO games communities a way for the government and entrepreneurs to economically and socially exploit gamers? Or are these communities a platform for a collectivism that empowers young Chinese people to reclaim their rights? Will MMO games be the government’s threat and freedom’s gift?
Even though China has imposed strict censorship and protectionism on foreign-imported MMO games (for example: World of Warcraft in 2009), these censorship and protectionism mainly focus on the content of the games itself. They claimed that “game makers are obligated to be responsible corporate citizens for providing healthy cultural environment for young people” (Takahashi), while neglecting the role of game players. MMOs have been given young Chinese people a considerate amount of digital freedom: guilds that provide new occupations and economic markets, communities for information-sharing, and in-game communication interfaces that offer virtual interactions.
To me, the Chinese government is/or can only exploit these online games economically as MMO gaming is a robust market. Simultaneously, the gamers are given a tool of empowerment. The real problem in my opinions is not the government’s surveillance and censorship, but rather the gamers’ detachment. MMO games create a virtual reality that offers a way to escape. For changes to come, there have to be initiatives. Perhaps gamers can reconfigure this virtual reality to be an actual reality in China.