When pay-to-play becomes pay-to-win, the classic model of video games—paying for time or access to the game—turns into something much more insidious. In The Baffler, game designer Ian Bogost asks us to consider which extracts a higher social cost: the explicit violence of Grant Theft Auto, or the addiction and sly financial drain of Candy Crush?

FarmVille’s mimicry of the economically obsolete production unit of the family farm, in short, proved all too apt—like the hordes of small farmers sucked into tenantry and debt peonage during the first wave of industrialization in America, the freeholders on FarmVille’s vast virtual acreage soon learned that the game’s largely concealed infrastructure was where all the real fee-gouging action was occurring. Even those who kept their wallets tucked away in their pockets and purses would pay in other ways—by spreading “viral” invitations to recruit new farmers, for example. FarmVille users might have been having fun in the moment, but before long, they would look up to discover they owed their souls to the company store.

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The Baffler in the Longreads Archive

Photo: Conor Lawless, Flickr (CC BY 2.0).