Over coffee and cake, my little brother's eyes light up as he waxes poetic about his internet shop and gaming. There is a real underworld of zombie players, from little babies to full grown adults, who answer to the siren call of joints like his. For the life of me I still cannot quite understand the attraction. I was never into gaming, the closest I got to addiction was playing the Sims, and I didn't really even play - I just liked building, designing and decorating houses.
Apparently this little underworld is a lifestyle of sorts. He jokingly talks about the cult which often congregates in the shop across his. The players who come to his place come in groups. It is a social thing - this gaming. Where before boys congregate in the plazas to play basketball, socialise and test their mettle as young men, these days they battle it out in front of flickering screens.
I have been witness to this ritualistic behaviour. It is rarely ever quiet, with a lot of good-natured heckling. There is an entire generation of young people out there whose idea of leisure involve hand-eye coordination and tremendous cognitive mapping skills. The popularity of online gaming is such that it has spawned a real industry. I still can't quite wrap my head around the fact that the virtual economies of games like DotA have spilled into reality. The fact that someone will actually shell out real money to purchase a virtual sword to be used in a virtual world is mind-boggling. I noted the same bizarre thing when I tried to send a virtual gift to a friend the other day on Facebook. The pink birthday cake cost $1 dollar. I thought the price tag was just there for kicks. Imagine my surprise when, upon clicking on the image, I am prompted for my credit card details.
Like the fuzzy world of high finance, there is real value created in the virtual. In the case of Facebook, the $1 dollar birthday cake's value rests not on its utility but on its representation. It carries with it symbolic value - a code that lets the receiver of the gift know that the sender values their friendship. The difference between 'real' gifts and the Facebook cake is that the entire set of friends networked around the two also know of this symbolic gesture. Oddly these kinds of symbolic exchanges mirror pre-modern practices. For example Papua New Guinean tribes' highly ritualistic pig festivals - from the animal's slaughter, preparation, cooking and finally how it is eaten - communicate to the entire tribe a multitude of things. It serves to emphasise hierarchy by apportioning the best parts to the perceived most powerful member of the tribe and worst bits to the least important. It serves to reaffirm kinship ties between and among members - kinships which are almost always based on real economic ties. In today's weird wired world, the same principles still operate. Symbolic exchange is still embedded in real economic losses and gains.
Apparently betting is quite popular in gaming. Throughout the years my little brother has invested quite a lot of his lunch money (and I suspect a number of his "lost" cellphones) in practice playing and bets. The Philippine gaming industry is not yet as developed as South Korea's - which can actually support professional gamers. I have heard of cases where there are actual fights and fatal injuries where players are unable to cough up the money.
My brother talked about hackers inflitrating RF online and infecting its entire virtual economy. When he launched into technobabble (something about .dlls and .tlls or some such thingamajiggy), I was obviously lost in translation. Apparently this hacker (or hackers) opened up a discussion board somewhere and leaked the holes in the game. He said he suspects this guy (or guys) may be seeking employment in the same company that runs the game as a security person. How anyone can secure employment by keying in codes is almost mystical to me.
I suppose just as mystical is achieving rockstardom via YouTube (hat tip to Butch). First was Charice Pempengco. Now here is Arnel Pineda's 'journey' told on CBS' morning news:
On the way home from our jog this morning we saw a bright bold sign on one of the corner stores. Along with the requisite tingi-tingi goods sold in the sari-sari, they now sell mp3s at 2 Pesos per song.