Soon after its release, the class-struggle multi-player online computer game “Billions vs. Billionnaires” became a smash hit around the planet in game rooms and on the Internet. At every hour, elaborate matches were being played between teams hooked up in every time zone around the planet. Possible strategies and moves were being debated in chatrooms and Internet cafés to the point where teenagers’ arguments were beginning to sound like seminars in global politics. The young were increasingly addicted to this interactive Game where the Billionaires and the Billions played out their global class struggles bound by arbitrary Rules on a Virtual Planet – a planet modelled on a declining world into which these kids had not asked to be born and in which they felt out of joint, useless, and resentful.
The Game gave them the possibility of acting, at least virtually. The Game taught them the strategy and tactics of virtual conflicts that resembled the real struggles they saw taking place in their neighborhoods – and across the planet. Along with this planetary consciousness, the game gave them the habit of imagining they might have an actual chance – a slim outside chance – of making a difference, of having a future. Many of the gamers had been children in 2011 and remembered the spontaneous ‘Occupy’ movements that spread around the world from Tunisia to Egypt to Spain and Greece to Wall St and across the US via social media and Internet that year, with its slogans ‘We are the 99%!’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like!’ Although the world seemed to have moved backward since then, the memory of what for a moment seemed possible lingered on.
The symbol of the Billionaires in the game was an Almighty Dollar Sign emblazoned on the top hat of the Billionnaire’s mascot, Scrooge McDuck.
The Billions’ logo was an old ‘Wobbly’1) cartoon symbolizing the strength of workers’ unity : a composite image of a fish made up of a school of little fish eating a big fish. The Wobbly fish was a sign of recognition among fans of “BvB” who became known as “Fishies.” In real life, most Fishies rooted for the Billions against the Billionaires, but in the Game nearly everyone enjoyed taking a turn as a ruthless Scrooge McDuck – grabbing territories, monopolizing industries, crushing rebellions.
Little by little, players of “Billions vs. Billionnaires” began taking more of an interest in real-life struggles, understanding them through the sympathies and analytical tools they picked up playing the Game. The symbol of the little fish eating the big fish began showing up as graffiti in bathrooms, schoolyards, walls, and on bumper stickers. Bold taggers took pride in spray painting Wobbly fish on walls late at night even under the most repressive torture regimes. And when dawn came up, the dayglow fish showed forth like the Christian symbol of old – a threat to the rich, a hope for the poor, a sign of resistance among the young and wired.
As the Game grew more popular, it also became increasingly sophisticated. The Webmasters and programmers whose job it was to update the Program fed the latest statistics and projections on economic growth and ecological deterioration into the database. Wars and social conflicts were also taken into account. The updated Game of 20180 was more complex, more realistic than the one of 201709; the 202014 version even more so. With hundreds of thousands of Fishies linking their computers together, the Game Webmasters were able to run huge programs and model the complexity of a world where climate, industrial activity, agriculture, technology, politics, economics and social conflicts interact at many different levels. Specialists in various fields around the world began to note that certain predictions of the Game were tending to come true and that happenings on the Virtual Planet often foreshadowed events in the real world. Intrigued, some of the brightest brains in science, economics and cybernetics began contributing – often anonymously – information and new improvements to the Open Source program. Eventually, the complex, powerful Virtual Planet Game Program far surpassed all partial attempts by universities, governments and corporations to model the fast-changing world.
The commercial media had at first simply ignored this noncommercial, freeware game – partly because it was seen as ‘unfair’ competition to the expensive computer games produced by their advertizers. But as the fad spread around the planet, the media changed their tactic and began poking fun at the Fishies as a juvenile cult. However, when market research sooners indicated that this ridicule only provided free publicity, attracting new Fishies – including hundreds of thousands of adults – to the cult of “Billions vs. Billionnaires.” At this point, the world-wide Punditocracy was turned loose on the Fishies. The Game was denounced as a communist-terrorist infernal machine, the Fishes as victims of a dangerous cult. On the other hand, each time a Game Program forecast came ‘uncannily’ true, the ‘coincidence’ was commented all over the talk shows and chat rooms.
The efforts of various governmental agencies to suppress the Game by censorship and sabotage mostly backfired. The authorities had forgotten that the Internet is a foolproof, indestructable default communications network devised by the US military for use in case of atomic attack. As the would-be censors could have learned by playing “BvB” their feeble efforts only made them look weak and ridiculous, loosing them valuable ‘Prestige Power Points’ in the planetary struggle. In any case, the Game was unstoppable. Relayed by many different servers, some mobile, others in free zones, the Program was saved on hard disks in every corner of the world. Suppressed in one place, it popped up five others. Just like the fish graffiti, which the authorities dilligently removed from the walls by day, only to see them mysteriously return at night.
More and more, events on the Virtual Planet were reflecting, indeed foreshadowing events in the real world. More and more, young “Fishies” were taking social struggle more seriously. Individually and in groups or clubs, the Fishies began moving from debating virtual strategies on the Net to joining in the real struggles occuring around them. Fish banners began showing up at antiwar demonstrations. Fishies got active supporting workers organising at the Walmart, Starbucks, Amazon, MacDonalds and other outlets where many of them worked for nothing wages.
These young working people quite naturally linked into the existing radical anti-war and anti-globalisation networks, which were already hooked up to the Internet on a planetary scale. This accelerated growth in outreach and connectivity among the radical and wired soon bore fruit. Within hours of the U.S. bombing of alleged ‘narco-terrorist’ peasant villages in the Andean Republic, activists connected by these networks were able to mobilize half a billion demonstrators around the globe – far surpassing the first historical planetary demonstration (on February 15, 2003 against the U.S. plan to attack Irak).
Authorities were stunned. In many countries, the local police were helpless to intervene as thousands of militant protestors surrounded U.S. Embassies. In some countries, soldiers and policemen actually joined the demonstrators. U.S.-backed dictators around the globe were shitting in their pants as anti-war protesters in their capitals turned to problems at home and started demanding democracy and jobs. Panic-stricken potentates barraged Washington with phone-calls begging the White House to back off on the Andean incursion. In the U.N. the French Foreign Minister, the dashing Marquis de Poubelle de Table, was having a field day. Forty-eight hours after the crisis began, the White House flew the Andean President Gen. Corrumpido y Sucio to Washington for consutations. The next day, at a joint press conference, it was announced that the bombing had totally wiped out the insurgents. As a result of this victory, the planned landing of 50, 000 U.S. Marines en route to ‘advise’ the Andean military was being put on ‘hold’ at the express request Gen. Corrumpido y Sucio.
The success of this planetary anti-war action encouraged social movements to reach out to each other around the globe via the Internet. As Fishies and anti-capitalist activists linked up around the planet, news of scattered struggles in the underdeveloped and industrial worlds increasingly spread from one corner of the planet to the other. Thanks to the Net, the resistance of poor peasants in India, over-exploited textile workers in China, indigenous communities threatened by capitalist development in South America, worker-occupied factories in Argentina gained publicity and support.
For decades, the big computer manufacturers had been dumping vast quantities of more and more powerful used and “obsolete” computers into the ready markets of the Third World, where Internet cafés proliferated wherever there were telephone lines or satellite relays. Even in the most backward and repressive areas, as long as there was even one Fishie with access to the Internet their struggles no longer remained unnoticed and isolated. African, Asian, Latin American and East European Fishies and activists were able to inform one another about their conditions and struggles, and then, following winning ‘BvB’ strategy, to mass their forces against their common corporate opponants.
Thus life was imitating art. The Game had gotten young people used to believing in the possibility that they could change the system that was degrading their lives. The was no denying Game’s simple arithmetic of ‘we are many, they are few.’ They were beginning to imagine that ordinary working people, united, could very well make do without bosses, without corporations, without the police, without the military – and that they could create a more just, more peaceful societies by themselves. At the same time, the Game had gotten them used to believing the deadly evidence of their eyes and noses (pollution, storms, floods, droughts, heat waves) rather than the mediated reassurances of governments and ‘experts.’ Hope allowed them to step out of denial. They understood that the planet was doomed and that they would soon have nothing more to lose. They began to imagine another world – their world – was actually possible.