To quote classicist author Edith Hamilton from her book The Roman Way to Western Civilization, “The comedy of each age holds up a mirror to the people of that age, a mirror that is unique.” Nowhere is that statement truer than when discussing the comedic genius of the hit animated television series South Park, now approaching its twenty-second season.
In its 2006 Primetime Emmy Award-winning episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft,” South Park delved into video gamers’ obsession with the wildly-popular PC game World of Warcraft. One of the show’s plotlines focused on a player whose in-game character had become so powerful the game’s developer had to devise a way to stop him. The developer’s solution: give another player the legendary “Sword of a Thousand Truths,” a unique item that might even the odds.
Eight years later, South Park lambasted so-called “freemium” games in its Primetime Emmy Award-nominated episode “Freemium Isn’t Free.” This episode, too, took a hard look at gaming culture, paying particular attention to “freemium games”—in which players can play a videogame for free, but to obtain certain desirable upgrades or items they must pay real-world money. In this episode, an eight-year-old character spent thousands of dollars on freemium upgrades, much to his father’s chagrin.
Not surprisingly, South Park’s observations about videogame culture were right: gamers will place a premium on certain virtual items, and are eager to spend big money to get them.
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“Loot Boxes in Videogames: Gambling by Any Other Name?” by Jeffrey N. Rosenthal and Ethan M. Simon was published in The Legal Intelligencer on April 24, 2018.