Exhausted Palu, Exploited Workers: A Dark Mirror in “Palworld”

“The most indispensable thing here is pallu. If you don’t work for it, there will be plenty of pallu for you.” Who would have thought that this ridicule of “PUA-type” leaders would one day be uttered by workers who have been hollowed out by their jobs. .

“Palu” is a magical creature in the first dark horse game “Palworld” (English name: “Palworld”) in 2024. This game, published by Pocketpair, a small Japanese game developer, became a phenomenon once it was launched. In the open world created by Pocketpair, Palu can fight and build homes with players as trainers.

Although the appearance of Pallu in the game is very similar to Pokémon, players who enter “Palworld” expecting a Pokémon-style adventure may be very frustrated. In this world, in order to survive, players may have to be prepared to sacrifice pallu at any time.

This “sacrifice” is seen by some players as a necessary “optimization” to improve productivity. Because Palu, who “works” for players, is too tired, he will get sick like ordinary people, and even get depressed.

Players can choose to treat them, but compared with direct “optimization”, the cost of treatment is high and the process is cumbersome. At the same time, Palu is not irreplaceable. There are many Palu that players can capture on this continent.

In this way, a considerable number of players have become “black-hearted capitalists” in the game, bringing the real-life “007” into the cartoon-style game, and enslaving Palu has become a pleasure after get off work every day.

However, this kind of catharsis is also a kind of “looking in the mirror” performance art to a certain extent, just like a high-profile speech on the Internet – “I (Palu) is just a piece of code, and you, my friend, at dawn It will become a real pallu.”

In the real world, migrant workers seem to share a social value system with Palu. What’s even more painful is that as a migrant worker who has invested heavily in education and vocational skills improvement, even if he is “stuck”, it is difficult to gain a sense of dignity as a human being in the abnormal social competition.

However, “people are ends, not tools” is not a distant ghost. When efforts are difficult to match with labor rewards, people’s need for reproduction will also be suppressed. The ending of “If you don’t do it, others will do it” is that “low fertility rate” is regarded as a blessing by young people.
Ultimate Stitch

When “Phantom Parlu” was launched, few people could have predicted that this “stitch monster” would become this year’s dark horse game.

This game was launched on January 19, and sales exceeded 1 million copies within 8 hours. The peak online sales of Steam exceeded 2 million, and revenue was 1.35 billion yuan in 5 days. Pocketpair, the developer that launched the game, issued an urgent recruitment notice, saying that all positions were “extremely short of people.”

The title “Stitches” can be seen as a bit of a tease, as it incorporates elements from many popular games. The reason why many players were more interested in it at the beginning was also because of its Pokémon-like style. To give Pocketpair some relief, there is currently no sign that Nintendo plans to sue it over the Pokémon similarities.

“Phantom Parlu” is an open-world survival game that requires players and their captured Parlu to collect resources, build a base, and produce needed items to overcome various challenges on this continent.

Although the Paloo in the game wears the skin of a simplified version of “Pokémon”, their relationship with their trainers can hardly be said to be that of fighting side by side. This game’s emphasis on survival and construction makes its gameplay closer to “Ark: Survival Evolved” or even “Stardew Valley”. To a considerable extent, Pallu is just a cuter-looking “tool”.

As PC Gamer and other media have said, Palworld has a way of encouraging you to squeeze your “friends” (Pals) to the point of exhaustion in order to maximize your output.

In the game, pallu with different attributes can bring different conveniences to players. Those with grass attributes are suitable for sowing, manual work, collection, etc., those with fire attributes are suitable for making fires and steelmaking, those with water attributes are suitable for watering, and those with hands Palu can even drive screws on the assembly line.

Although a high-level Palu can serve as the player’s right-hand man in combat, in survival games, only when the rear is stable can the player safely take risks in the front. The importance of the Palu who stay in the base to build homes for the players cannot be ignored.

This game also provides players with full freedom in how to command these pallu. Some players can make palus work from 9 to 5, and some players pursue a 007 work system, such as requiring pallu to work at a “very heavy” intensity. The icon for this option is a pallu that has become an illusion.
Players can choose to treat them, but compared with direct “optimization”, the cost of treatment is high and the process is cumbersome. At the same time, Palu is not irreplaceable. There are many Palu that players can capture on this continent.

Perhaps in the beginning, Palu, who is as simple as a newly graduated college student, will happily build a new home with the players, but over time, Palu, who has seen through the illusion, will become exhausted and even depressed, and will become passive and slow down at work.

When this happens, players who don’t want to heal the paloo can sell them to a merchant. If players don’t even want to waste time going to merchants, they can even dismember the pallu (coded in the game) to get sporadic materials. After all, creatures like Palu are inexhaustible.

In response to this game setting, the game promotion page on Steam does not shy away from it, stating that players “have no choice but to do whatever it takes to survive” and a warm reminder that “Palu is not subject to labor regulations.”

Even the animal protection organization PETA, which has criticized “Pokémon” and “Animal Crossing”, said that “Pokémon Pallu” made Team Rocket look like a group of good people.

Of course, no matter how cruel the game is, it cannot compare to reality. After “Phantom Parlu” became popular, there were up to one million players online at the same time. Although Pocketpair, a small gaming company, only employed one programmer for server maintenance at the time, the company’s president considered it an achievement worth publicizing, proudly stating on social media: “We only have one engineer. Responsible for building and maintaining nearly 1,000 servers, he is only 24 years old.”

Although squeezing Palu has triggered widespread discussion among players, in this open world, there are also many players who regard Palu as partners and choose to build a beautiful home with them.

However, the reason why this kind gesture can exist is not only because of the starry sky above the head and the moral law in the heart, but also maybe because the game “Phantom Beast Parlu” currently does not support cross-platform online play. In addition to single-player offline mode, the game currently only supports online play with limited friends on the same platform.

Whether to choose to squeeze Palu is a personal choice in a relatively closed state. If “Phantom Beast Palu” supports server interoperability, the resources in the open continent will become primitive capital that needs to be accumulated through competition, and different Palu camps will compete with each other. In such an environment of the jungle, “kindness” will become An anachronistic quality.

In the world of Palu with interconnected servers, more players will regard squeezing Palu as a necessary means to enhance competitiveness and survive, just as in the capitalist market, companies pursue efficiency and minimize costs in order to maximize profits. .

Maybe the player has wavered when faced with moral and ethical choices, but as long as he does not question the system itself and does not violate the rules of the game, a seemingly more friendly gesture cannot change his alienation, that is, he becomes a slave to the logic of capital appreciation. the result of.

Like going back to the current game setup, is being a good trainer a more “kind” way to play?

As a trainer, he is still essentially on the opposite side of Palu. Before trainers ventured into this land, Palu was a free creature living in the wild. As an “outsider”, the trainer establishes contact with Palu by attacking it and then throwing a Palu ball to capture it. Even if the trainer chooses to live with Palu like a friend, it will not change the nature of captivity, even if the approach is more “humane.”

Just like the inherent contradictions and problems of the capitalist system itself, they are not affected by individual morality or choices, but are determined by the entire economic and social structure.

No matter what kind of mentality he has, when the player enters this game, he has already acted according to the hidden game rules. In such a world, pallu is just a tool that can be replaced at any time.

It’s just that “If you don’t do it, there will be Parugan” can be a joke. After all, squeezing a piece of code will not have any consequences in real life. But the “if you don’t do it, others will do it” approach is unsustainable. When workers cannot earn a dignified life through their hard work, especially when it is difficult to meet their own basic needs, talking about the next generation is an untenable proposition.
“Korean” response

In Capital, Marx analyzes two conditions for the reproduction of labor power, which are key to understanding labor power as a commodity.

Reproduction of labor force refers to the process of restoring and renewing the physical strength and energy of workers themselves, as well as cultivating the next generation of qualified workers for the capitalist production process. This means that “reproduction” includes not only simple reproduction, but also expanded reproduction, which often involves the expenses of starting a family and raising and educating the next generation.

In the process of labor reproduction, these two needs of workers are not static. On the one hand, with social development and technological progress, the market’s requirements for the quality of the labor force have greatly increased, and workers’ economic investment in the education of the next generation is rising rapidly. On the other hand, the development of society has also increased the reproduction needs of the labor force itself and has higher requirements for labor remuneration.

However, in order to maximize profits, the capitalist’s first consideration when paying the price of labor is to meet the needs of the labor force itself. As for the needs of workers to raise the next generation, capitalists will try their best to reduce it.

South Korea, which is most often discussed, is a “model” example in this regard.

South Korea has stood on the edge of the “demographic cliff” for many years. According to statistics from the United Nations Population Fund, South Korea’s total fertility rate has been at the bottom of the world for three consecutive years. In 2022, its total fertility rate will be only 0.78, far below the generation replacement level of 2.1 that can maintain the total population unchanged.
When workers cannot earn a dignified life through their hard work, especially when it is difficult to meet their own basic needs, talking about the next generation is an untenable proposition.

Faced with this situation, the South Korean government has elevated the fertility issue to an important national agenda.

At the meeting of the Committee on Low Fertility and Aging Society in 2023, South Korean President Yoon Seok-yue said that in the past 15 years, the South Korean government has invested a total of about 280 trillion won (approximately RMB 1.5 trillion) to solve the problem of low fertility. “astronomical” budget. In order to see results in a short period of time, the Korean government continues to increase the standards for infant family subsidies.

However, Chosun Ilbo quoted Hong Seok-cheol, an economics professor at Seoul National University, as saying that a monthly subsidy of 1 million won to parenting couples would have little effect on directly increasing the fertility rate. After all, there are profound socioeconomic reasons for this situation in South Korea.

First of all, even in East Asia, the level of educational anxiety among Koreans is “unparalleled.” According to data from the Korean Ministry of Education and the Statistics Office, the extracurricular tutoring rate for Korean students in 2022 is as high as 78.3%, and Korean families spend nearly 26 trillion won (nearly US$20 billion) on tutoring classes. According to CNN, this is almost equivalent to the GDP of countries such as Haiti ($21 billion) and Iceland ($25 billion).

In addition, although the country has the highest proportion of college graduates among young people in the OECD, the employment rate of young people in South Korea is well below the OECD average due to academic involution and the dual structure of the labor market. level. Young Koreans who do not want their initial investment to turn into a sunk cost are reluctant to enter the secondary labor market where there is a labor shortage. However, dignified and decent jobs like chaebol company employees or civil servants are limited after all, and it has become common to be unemployed and prepare for exams. choose.

In such an environment, childbirth is regarded as a high-risk investment, which not only involves huge economic and time costs, but also requires bearing extremely high uncertain risks in the future. Weighing opportunities against current resource allocations and potential future rewards is something every rational adult would consider.

When more and more young Koreans choose not to have children, South Korea will have to face the consequences. South Korea’s central bank, the Bank of Korea, issued a report warning in December last year, stating that if South Korea cannot take effective measures to boost the sluggish birth rate, South Korea’s economy will fall into negative growth in 2050.

While the South Korean government maintains a short-sighted vision on measures to stimulate fertility, ordinary people who do not have the right to speak in the public sphere are also influencing the development of the country through private choices. As for whether South Korea will really become “the world’s first disappearing country” as demographer David Coleman predicted, only time will tell.

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