Playing with Risk: Video Games, Virtual Goods, and Volatility in Markets

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 20:15
Oral Presentation
Martin FRENCH, Concordia University, Sociology & Anthropology, Canada

Theorizing the nature of derivatives in late capitalism, Benjamin Lee and Randy Martin (2016) argue that their volatility plays a key role in economic risk management and risk-taking. Derivatives can be thought of as “contingent claims”, and as “contracts among counterparties with a payout that depends upon some uncertain future event” (Lee and Martin 2016: 8). And volatility “is the randomness in things that is felt as the intensity of change,” as we approach this uncertain future event (Lee and Martin 2016: 4). With reference to derivatives and their volatility, this paper explores everyday practices that play with risk in markets. Instead of foregrounding the markets of finance capitalism, however, key cases considered will be the representation of markets in video games (e.g. the stock market in Grand Theft Auto V), and the real-money market in virtual goods associated with skins in video games (e.g. Valve Corporation’s Steam Marketplace). In these markets, users learn to play with risk in interesting ways, inviting a re-thinking not only of the role of play in the types of edgework and risk-taking characteristic of economic life, but also of the (derivative) linkages between markets of all kinds in late capitalism.


Lee, Benjamin and Randy Martin (eds). 2016. Derivatives and the Wealth of Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.