[iDC] introduction from Lisa Nakamura

Lisa Nakamura lisa.lanakamura at gmail.com
Wed Jun 10 14:30:03 UTC 2009

I'm writing this short email to introduce myself to this list, at Trebor's
request. I think that Trebor's idea to have a conference on virtual labor
and the Internet as playground and factory is an excellent one.  I work on
race and digital media, and have been thinking about this question for a few
years now in relation to digital games and virtual worlds as sites of labor.
If you go to
you can get a copy of my article entitled "Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the
Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of
came out last month in a journal called Critical Studies in Media
Communication I'm hoping to develop it into a longer piece.  It's about the
racialization of labor in World of Warcraft, and how Chinese worker-players
make and sell gold to leisure players who are too busy to earn in-game money
for themselves.  This chapter has been extraordinarily unpopular among most
games scholars and game players, who are after all fans at heart and don't
like to hear criticisms of their game.  The rhetoric of merit, equality, and
"play" that pervades games studies is challenged by the rapid growth of grey
market economies, predominantly sustained by emiserated workers who play for
12-hour stretches in "workshop" conditions in mainland China.  Richard Heeks
estimates this trade in virtual goods to be worth as much as
500million/year.  These forms of transnational gamic labor are undoubtedly
racialized, hence the term "Chinese gold farmer," a new ethnic slur of the
virtual world "citizen" who wishes to defend this world's virtual borders
against illegal immigrants, but who is happy to use their labor.   As Vijay
Prashad wrote several years ago of the plight of S. Asian transnationals,
"they want our labor, but not our lives."  Projects like Stephanie
Rothenberg's School of Perpetual Training and Invisible Threads/Double
Happiness Jeans expose the laboring side of virtual worlds and the traffic
in virtual goods by inviting the user to participate in sweatshop labor in
Second Life and through the WII--play platforms that show us that "we are
all farmers," as Alex Galloway wrote in 2007.


Lisa Nakamura
Director, Asian American Studies Program
Professor, Institute of Communication Research
Professor, Asian American Studies
University of Illinois, Champaign Urbana
1208 W. Nevada Street, MC-142
Urbana, IL 61801-3818
office phone: 217 333-3928
fax: 217 265-6235
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