March 2, 2013 by namaram
Meet the Merchant. He’s a man with a seemingly limitless amount of money and supplies able to buy your giant’s toes, raptor feathers, and other junk items any day of the week. He’s a staple of many games there to offer the player support. Then there’s the Trading Post in some MMORPGs that expands on that idea. It allows player characters to trade objects in the game for other items or currency. Both are these are diegetic elements of their respective games. The merchant lives in the world and your players are heroes of it. However, there is a game that takes this one step further and reaches beyond its own world. Enter the Auction House from Diablo III by Blizzard Entertainment. Cheap prices are all around and with that I mean around $50 and the players make all the profit. Question now is does that keep Diablo III a game? The Auction House of Diablo III challenges Jesper Juul’s definition of a game while questioning its presence within the Magic Circle that encloses the fictional world.
So what about the Auction House makes it so surprising? By using this feature players are able to buy and sell items between each other for in game currency: gold. They can get this in numerous was simply by playing the game. Sounds like a normal trading post so far but, and this is fairly important, it allows players to buy items using real world cash. Instead of using gold, players are now able to use their credit cards to buy items directly from the Auction House and boy will they need it with some items going up to thousands of dollars. Conversely players can also make real world money by selling items to these people. Diablo III essentially has its own stock market that floods over into the real world.
Now this is where Juul’s definition of a game comes into conflict. Juul describes that games have six discernable qualities for a game to be considered so. These are player effort, fixed rules, volarization of outcome, player attachment to outcome, variable outcome, and negotiable consequences. Most of these make sense in Diablo III. I can choose whether to take on a quest and I get rewarded if I complete it. I have to work with the abilities of the class I choose and I might lose if I don’t play well. However by using and making real money through the Auction House, we can ask if this undermines these six qualities. Does effort outside the game translate into the “effort” required when using a credit card to buy a helmet? Is it truly negotiable if you must use your piggy bank to buy an item? Through Juul’s criteria, we might have trouble fitting this part of the game within the definition he presents. However, I doubt few would question that Diablo III as a whole can be considered a game. Should we consider it a game plus a job then?
Not only can we to question whether the Auction House violates Juul’s criteria of a game, it also questions its role in the Magic Circle created by the game. The Magic Circle is a term created by Johan Huizinga to describe an area specially defined by its own rules. This can be from simple games like tic-tac-toe to more complex scenarios like battles and wars. Each of these have its own set of rules that keep it separated from what we consider the normal world that we live in. Video games have commonly kept this alive and for that reason their effect on our daily lives is limited. You can probably tell where I’m going with this once I bring the Auction House into the picture. In the Magic Circle of Diablo III we trade pixels and data for more pixels and data with the merchant and other player characters. But we can use cold hard cash to buy that armor with the awesome stats for the cheap price of $60. Or I can make thousands of Euros buying and selling a ton of amazing and powerful swords. This isn’t just the game world anymore. Now we’ve added the paycheck you earn working six days a week into the picture. The rules outside the game now affect the inside and likewise the opposite but only for in the Auction House. Should we just out this part of the game in its own magic circle then? With its own rules and its own rewards, it just separates itself from both the game and the outside world.
Now you too can buy that one handed hammer you wished for just the cheap price of $500! Or you can get that legendary mace for an easy $20,000. These aren’t false postings by the way. These are real items bought and sold on the market all the time. People make a living off this game with some making $36,000 a month. Is it a game to these people? And I don’t mean that condescendingly either. The Auction House portion of the game does not seem to be a game at all as it integrates with our daily lives so well. We can call Diablo III a game but the trouble comes and we may ultimately have to decide that the Auction House within is not.