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Stephanie Boluk & Patrick LeMieux: "Skin in the Game"

Date and Time: 
Monday, January 14, 2019. 05:00 PM - 07:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Roble Arts Gym, Lounge
Workshop: 
Digital Aesthetics: Critical Approaches to Computational Culture
Meeting Description: 

In 1987, a pyramid scheme called the “Plane Game” funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the pockets of “passengers,” landing at least six of the game’s “pilots” in jail. In 2018, more ubiquitous money games are played with smaller stakes across far wider fields. From the Valve Corporation’s Flatland to grey market gambling with Counter-Strike gun skins, this talk will move from the Steam Workshop to the Steam Marketplace to series of third-party websites that explore the way in which money operates as a game mechanics and how game mechanics have come to operate as money. Although strict distinctions are made between gambling and gaming in both United States law as well as 20th century philosophies of games and play, these terms’ etymological roots are tightly bound. In a post-2008 age of precarity, the wage has once again become a wager. In 2012, Alex Galloway proclaimed “we are all goldfarmers,” but gun skins and skin gambling represent an even more complex and complete financialization in that players have moved from one mode in which labour time is exchanged for a clear wage (even if it’s grinding in World of Warcraft) to one in which labour time itself becomes a wager. Ultimately skins are not simply texture files that wrap around the polygonal geometry of virtual weapons. Instead, they are objects of affinity and status, digital cash and casino chips, and a gun skins’ procedurally generated pattern, determined by a 9-digit floating point number selected upon unboxing, is more cryptocurrency than art asset. In this talk we follow the money, the skin, the flow, and the flight of new “plane games” as metagames become money games.

Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux join us from UC Davis, where Stephanie is associate professor of English and of cinema and digital media, and Patrick is assistant professor of cinema and digital media. Boluk and LeMieux are scholars, critics, and artists who work largely around video games and digital art. Their book Metagaming (Minnesota, 2017) wrenches open the “texts’” of video games to consider them as tools, materials, platforms, and stages for all sorts of new social practices. Their new project is tentatively titled Money Games.

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