The merchant’s line was artificially long, for two reasons.
First off, it was doubtful that everybody in the line even played the game much. Once the real-world economy had gone to shit, a lot of people had taken to speculative trading of VRMMORPG currencies.
A VRMMORPG currency was often most valuable early on in the game, when people wanted to have extra resources and cool powers that they hadn’t fought to earn. That led to an initial rush where people would play the game, accumulate as much cash as possible, then sell it.
Of course, there were all sorts of intricacies to figure out when it came to that sort of grinding — did you only focus on collecting currency? Or would you use some of the initial currency to buy better weaponry, which would make it easier to kill monsters and get more currency?
The other big problem was that VRMMORPGs didn’t want to be responsible for too much money changing hands too quickly. So they only had a couple merchants working, when in reality they could’ve had a million NPCs, making sure every player got what they needed instantly.
It helped the finance guys in the real world, who made sure the currency being exchanged had really been earned — that it really existed in Throne Quest‘s virtual world, and was thus able to be exchanged with other currencies.
For these two reasons, this part of Throne Quest required standing in a long line, waiting for one of the merchants to get to you.
The PC in front of me was an orc — big, cro-magnon-looking sort of guy. One of the things I didn’t like about lines was the way they forced you into close contact with other people. With enough close contact, you had to talk to them, or at the very least let them talk to you. Anything else was just too awkward.
“You trade currencies?” the orc asked me.
“You should, lemme tell ya, you’re missing out.”
“Yeah, I just…” What could you say to a guy like that? “I just like playing the game.”
“Sure you do, sure you do. I’m just saying, there’s not so many ways to make money these days, you know? I mean really make money. But the volatility of currencies? Hoo! The sky’s the limit! The thing–”
“Nice,” I said. The hope was that interrupting him would stop his train of thought, and he’d stop talking. No dice.
“The thing about trading currencies,” he said, pretending I hadn’t interrupted him, “is that it can be real dangerous, you know? First everybody loved the British Pound, then they loved the US Dollar, they’ve loved Bitcoin and Litecoin and Questcoin and Warcoin and RepCoin. Just about every little bit of data has turned into a supposedly valuable token of interaction, at some point or other.”
The line moved forward a little, but we still had a way to go.
The orc continued, “The thing is, it’s all jack shit. The US Dollar was just a piece of paper. Soon as we went off the gold standard, it didn’t really mean anything. The message was simple: this piece of paper means something because we fuckin’ say it means something. It was paper backed by power, and everybody was too scared to point out it wasn’t any better than toilet paper.”
I kept my eyes plastered to the healthy grass at my feet. Looked behind me and in front of me — this line was worse than the line at the DMV.
“‘Course, Bitcoin was a bit better,” the orc said. “Computational power backing up the dollar. It was a sort of value that made more sense for the day and age. But, well… It’s like my grandma always said. You’ve gotta throw the first pancake out.”
The line inched forward again. There were two merchants, each standing under canopied stalls. One was a dwarf, the other a human. How long was this orc going to keep talking?
He didn’t stop. “So of course Bitcoin didn’t work! The first real digital currency wasn’t going to work! Nothing works the first time. Too bad I couldn’t throw out my first kid.” The orc let out a big laugh. “I shouldn’t even joke. I get him to play all the kid’s games. You have no fuckin’ idea how much his Neopoints were worth.”
“No, I don’t.”
The orc continued to drone for a while, just like the line moved forward. The sun continued to beat down on me, and it was a real relief when I reached a merchant who could help me.
“Hi, sir,” the dwarf merchant said. “How can I help you today?”
I really had to tilt my head down to look at him — the little guy with a big brown beard and heavy-looking armor. But I strived to make it look like I wasn’t looking down at him. I sort of leaned against the table that stood between him and me.
The coin went out of my inventory and into my hand. I showed the dwarf.