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Hot Wet Air Trading Cards

Oh please, PLEASE, do tell!

Steam has trad­ing cards now, as all my gam­ing read­ers will prob­ably know. The whole thing is a pro­foundly vacu­ous cap­it­al­ist enter­prise of the kind that cyn­ics gobble up for break­fast. You can get the cardies for free just by play­ing your games, but that’s because they don’t have any sub­stance apart from a data­base entry some­where. Sure, games are just a bunch of bytes too, but at least some cre­at­ive people have spent their browsweat design­ing the things, whereas the cards are just cropped bits of art from those actu­ally usu­ally pretty sub­stan­tial games. You can’t even play with the damn things!

So while the cards aren’t really much in and of them­selves, like any cap­it­al­ist’s dream item you can imbue them with value simply by mak­ing them sort of scarce, trad­able, and col­lect­ible. The going rate for the aver­age of these beau­ties is about ten to twenty euro cents last time I checked, and obvi­ously, whenever you sell one to another player, our friends at Steam get a slice of the cake to the tune of a few cents of actual money. For vir­tual cards that you can’t even play a vir­tual game with. Well, except for mar­ket spec­u­la­tion and the game of trad­ing for trad­ing’s sake.

While of course people are free to spend their money as they see fit, I can’t help but feel that I’d be cheat­ing someone if I were to sell them one of my hard-earned cards for a quarter. They get what amounts to a trivial pic­ture from a game while I and our bud­dies over at Steam get real cash — as rep­res­en­ted by a num­ber in an account some­where, obvi­ously. Real money does­n’t actu­ally exist.

Any­way, is there any way can turn this extor­tion scheme on its head and do some­thing slightly more eth­ical with it? Here are two of my light­ning-quick thoughts. Share yours here or on Twit­ter with the hashtag #eth­ic­al­steamtrad­ing­cards.

  • Don’t sell any of your cards; keep them for your­self and make those shiny badges, or trade them away for other cards. That way you won’t be tak­ing any­one’s money for noth­ing except to line Steam’s pockets.
  • Do sell all of those cards, and use the money you earn to buy games for other people that have less money than you, are hav­ing a rough time, or whatever other reason you can think of that makes you want to give them a gift. In this way, on aver­age, we take money from people who (appar­ently) don’t need it, and trans­fer it into gifts for people who do.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Steam as a com­pany most of the time, but we all knew that this trad­ing card thing was going to be iffy, right?