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Runescape and communism: How did the two meet? Emilie Rākete has the lowdown.
Runescape and communism: How did the two meet? Emilie Rākete has the lowdown.

Pop CultureMarch 29, 2019

Free armour trimming: The Communist revolution inside Runescape

Runescape and communism: How did the two meet? Emilie Rākete has the lowdown.
Runescape and communism: How did the two meet? Emilie Rākete has the lowdown.

Before Fortnite, there was Runescape. And well before Runescape, there was an eternal class struggle. Emilie Rākete writes about the moment the two collided in the most unexpected way.

RuneScape was once declared the world’s largest multiplayer online game. Millions of people were entranced by its blocky graphics and repetitive gameplay. Like many young people in the early noughties, I was naively drawn in by RuneScape’s promise that hard work, industrious labour, and a lava battlestaff would allow me to earn enjoyment and success.

Capitalism, too, has promised the workers of the world that faithfulness to our employers is the path to contentment. Yet the relation of exploitation between the capitalist and working classes has led the proletariat into open revolt against our rulers over and over again. RuneScape, like capitalism, has repeatedly entered into periods of crisis in which the people have demanded change. And as I learned today while procrastinating, in RuneScape just as in capitalism, the people have turned to communism to build a new world.

An ancient fan wiki revealed to me the lost history of class struggle in RuneScape, and now I bring it to the world in the hopes of developing our class consciousness as workers.

In 2007, a communist RuneScape clan was formed to bring proletarian rule to Server 32 of the world of Gielinor. In a context of scattered clan infighting, the RuneScape communist party was a rampantly victorious social force. Under the wise leadership of SireZaros, the communists waged a revolutionary struggle against reactionary and bourgeois clans that saw more than 5,000 player characters killed in the fighting.

Where the other clans, though, were motivated by base self-interest, the communists were driven by something more, something higher. With the weight of history on their side, animated by the might of the worker-peasant masses, armed with both the revolutionary science of Marxism and dragon battleaxes, the RuneScape communists were militarily undefeatable. Within three months, the communists controlled 95% of Server 32. It was thus that the working class of Gielinor became, for a brief and beautiful moment, masters of our own destiny.

Oh, old Runescape graphics. Bless ye.

The RuneScape communists quickly set about building socialism. They established a series of soviets, elected local councils tasked with determining the needs of the working class. These councils appointed members to a people’s parliament who deliberated the issues of the day, and approved or denied the decisions of a cabinet of more than 20 ministers. This socialist government was responsible for planning and administering every aspect of the world’s economy. Redistributing wealth, shepherding the collective wellbeing of all, RuneScape socialism flourished. SireZaros, once the leader of a revolutionary army, was now president of a peacetime government. The world, for a time, was peaceful.

This was not to last. In early 2008, the party fell into a period of brutal civil war. Led by Redsteel136, a more junior party member, a small group of coupmakers scrabbled for control of the government. After vicious brother versus brother, sister versus sister, player versus player combat, Redsteel136’s plot was successful.

The new leadership of the party found the deposed cabinet guilty of crimes against humanity–an accusation which history, unfortunately, does not illuminate either way. SireZaros, hero of the revolution, along with the entire overthrown party cadre, was executed. With Redsteel136 as the new General Secretary of the party, the communists pursued a strategy of market reforms to build a powerful economy. Funding the state from the proceeds of the sale of high-level items, Server 32 was a commanding force.

The changes initiated by General Secretary Redsteel136 were not only economic. Karamja is an in-game island populated by NPC pirates and (in hindsight, more than a little racist caricatures of) indigenous people. The presence of pirates hints, I think, at an in-universe history of colonialism perpetrated against Karamja by the now communist-controlled Kingdoms of Asgarnia and Kandarin. In a display of admirable anti-imperialist solidarity between socialists in the imperial core and colonised peoples, General Secretary Redsteel136 acknowledged the virtual island’s right to national liberation. Administration of the island was handed over to a Karamjan clan who have, unfortunately, gone unrecorded in history.

Life in Server 32, it appears, settled down for a time after the chaos of the civil war. However, measures implemented in late 2007 by the developers of RuneScape to control real-world money trading had set a catastrophic chain reaction in motion. Some light is shed on the disaster by Tanla E. Bilir’s 2009 thesis on RuneScape’s relation to the non-virtual economy. Jagex, the company that produces RuneScape, needed to counteract the issue of virtual marketplaces such as eBay allowing the sale of in-game items for cash. In order to prevent players in-game from handing over valuable items for nothing, a clear indicator that payment had been received in US Dollars rather than Gielinorian Gold Pieces, Jagex set the prices of all in-game items at fiat values. All items were then required to trade for a number of gold pieces within a fixed range above or below that fiat value. That value could vary up or down as items were traded, but it could only increase or decrease by a limited amount over a given period.

The effects of this dastardly economic imperialism by the capitalist running dogs at Jagex were devastating to Server 32’s workers’ state. The unbelievably rare, highly sought-after items such as colourful paper Party Hats or the (inexplicably priceless) Half Full Jugs of Wine had had their fiat values set orders of magnitude lower than their market value. Items which had once sold for billions of gold pieces were now impossible to trade–and because General Secretary Redsteel136’s market reforms had founded the communist economy on these items, the economy imploded.

In October, the economy bottomed out at its historical low. Nevertheless, the communist party continued to hold out, hoping that the tradeable price of high-level items would eventually grow high enough to allow for an eventual economic recovery. Sadly, this was not to be. In the grip of total market collapse, the communists were incapable of extracting enough tax revenue from players to meet the clan fees necessary for them to maintain power. As the sun set on the final few days of December 2008, after almost a year of working class rule, General Secretary Redsteel136 dissolved the party and returned power to the bourgeoisie.

RuneScape’s first experiment in socialism ended, regretfully, in the restoration of capitalist domination. This should not, however, be taken as a sign that capitalism is inevitable or uncontestable. The revolutionary fervour with which the proletariat of Server 32 ganked and teabagged their way to power demonstrates clearly that the objective conditions for communism in RuneScape can and do exist. Likewise, while General Secretary Redsteel136′s ascent to power came through backroom politicking and anti-democratic plots, his policies towards Karamjan national liberation were progressive and internationalist. The crisis which snuffed out the flame of socialism was the result of a concerted attack by a powerful capitalist foe.

RuneScape’s communist revolution was defeated a decade ago. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels taught in The Manifesto of Communist Party, “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

The struggles we face, in the workplace and in the family computer room, result from the internal contradictions of the capitalist world system. The rich need us, in order to exploit us for our labour. With nobody to extract profit from, capitalism could not exist. But we do not need the rich. There is no reason we cannot break the mithril chains of exploitation, come together as workers, and share in common the sweet loot of our labour.

Keep going!