Game over? negotiating modern capitalism in virtual game worlds

J. Harambam, S. Aupers, D. Houtman

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Johan Huizinga's claim that commercialization threatens the self-enclosed 'magic circle' of free play still permeates many contemporary games studies. Critiquing such generalizing and essentialistic assumptions, this article distinguishes four different 'orders of commercialization' that impinge on online game worlds and studies empirically how each of these is evaluated and negotiated by players themselves. Based on an analysis of World of Warcraft and Second Life, it demonstrates that some orders of commercialization - that is, the game itself as a commodity and the construction of its world as a virtual marketplace - are compatible with free play since they enhance players' in-game agency. Other orders of commercialization - that is, 'real money trading' and the colonization of the game world by multinationals - are experienced as commodifying and undermine the spirit of play. Contextualization is called for: while some orders of commercialization threaten the 'magic circle' of free play, others stimulate or facilitate it.© The Author(s) 2011.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-319
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


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