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Ex-Valve economist says play-to-earn could be "the apotheosis of misanthropy"

Yanis Varoufakis talks NFTs, "a digital fiefdom in which Zuckerberg dreams of being the techno-lord", and more

Mostly, I want people to shut up about NFTs and cryptocurrency and the metaverse and play-to-earn games. Maybe if we turn away and pretend they're not there, it'll all burn out when scammers grow tired of being scammed by other scammers. However, one of the few people I do want to hear talk about it all is Yanis Varoufakis, who was Valve's in-house economist before becoming Greece's finance minister then an MP. In a wonderfully long new interview, he is not impressed by much of the hype, and it is DELIGHTFUL.

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The Crypto Syllabus recently interviewed the self-described "erratic, inconsistent Marxist", touching on subjects including Team Fortress 2 hats, NFTs, cryptocurrency, metaverses, and how so much of the current metahype is garbage. Honestly, brew a cuppa and settle down to read the whole thing. It is very interesting. He's not opposed to the technology (he's (spoken before about liking the principle of blockchains) but boy howdy he's not a fan of a lot of what's going on.

I'm going to dump random quotes to entice you into reading it. Yanis on things he learned from his time at Valve:

"Today, a decade later, it is clear that gaming communities like the one I studied at Valve have been operating as fully-fledged metaverses (to use Zuckerberg’s term). Gamers were drawn to them by the game but, once 'inside', they stayed to live out a large part of their life, making friends, producing goods for sale, consuming entertainment, debating, etc. Zuckerberg's ambition is to insert his billions of Facebook non-gamer users into a Steam-like digital social economy – complete with a top-down platform currency that he controls. How can I resist the parallelism with a digital fiefdom in which Zuckerberg dreams of being the techno-lord?"

The possibilities of blockchain and play-to-earn games improving life for people in the 'Global South':

"When I worked with Valve, ten years ago, there were thousands of young people in China, in Kazakhstan, and elsewhere making a mint out of providing services to members of Valve’s gaming communities. Gifted players made good money paid by other players keen to watch them play. So, there is nothing new to the idea of a parallel economy that allows people in poorer countries or regions to earn as they play, or from offering in-game services.

"Of course, it was good for a young person in Shenzhen who managed to earn $60k a year designing digital hats on his PC – instead of destroying his body in a sweatshop. The question, however, is: Could all workers in Shenzhen (and beyond) be rescued from sweatshops by migrating to a metaverse? The answer is: Not before we have robots working for all of us so that we can reproduce the material conditions of our lives. As long as we do not have these mechanical slaves catering for humanity as a whole (and not just producing commodities owned by the 1% of the 1%), the idea that people must now play like robots to earn a living so as to be human in their spare time is, indeed, the apotheosis of misanthropy."

Asking himself if NFTs have "subversive potential":

"Let's see. In a digital environment, NFTs are like all other commodities. They reflect the triumph of exchange value (with which capitalism trounced experiential or use value) within a metaverse (Valve-like or Zuckerberg-style). In that sense, NFTs offer nothing new within digital worlds, except perhaps that they turbocharge the ideology of capitalism (exchange value rules supreme). In the analogue world, NFTs have value only to the extent that bragging rights offer utility to those who care for them. Even though in so doing, they force outfits like Sotheby's and Christie's (which used to monopolise the trade in bragging rights) to change their ways, NFTs in no way subverts the structure of property rights creating and underpinning the oligarchy's exorbitant power over the many."

Objections to cryptocurrency:

"The environmental costs of crypto are very large, undoubtedly. But, even if there existed a magic wand whose waiving would make blockchain run on zero watts, crypto currencies would remain more of a problem than a solution – for reasons I explained above. In brief, within our present oligarchic, exploitative, irrational, and inhuman world system, the rise of crypto applications will only make our society more oligarchic, more exploitative, more irrational, and more inhuman. This is why, in opposing the crypto enthusiasts, I never even bother to mention their environmental repercussions."

Oh there's so much more. I'm glad he's out here agitating, and glad I get to read it. Do check out the whole interview.

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