When Disney bought Lucasfilm and all of its concomitant intellectual property in late 2012, it wasn’t out of a sense of nostalgia for Tauntauns and Doctor Cornelius. Disney saw, within the Lucas hivemind, an opportunity to do what it does best – exploit the beloved childhood memories of adults. And though George Lucas already famously hosed Fox for billions in merchandizing rights; in commditization terms, Disney is the Lebron James to Lucas’s Jackie Moon.
Which brings us to Disney-Topps mastermind project, the Star Wars Card Trader app. This app is the Darth Vader of obsessive collecting types — and it got me from three different angles at once: my interests in collecting, in Star Wars lore, and in digital commodities. Before we delve too deeply into my subconscious, though, let’s do what we do — and view this game through the lens of a prominent YouTuber.
Today you’re in for a real treat, as our featured YouTuber is the AllGoodThings (AGT) network, a thinly-veiled soft core Pr0n network masquerading as a reviewer channel.
There’s a level of nostalgic absurdity to this review video which, indicentally, is a clear omage to the classic 2012 YouTube video, Hot European girl enjoys Sports Cards:
I have many questions. Firstly, was the AGT video an extended sponsored ad by the unholy Disney-Topps alliance? Or was it perhaps the brainchild of some third or fourth party marketer trying to raise the app’s standing at launch? Does Lauren often lounge around in a sports bra and sneakers in her living room? What does Olivia mean by the ‘super-er’ green insert cards? Is Lauren a retro gamer via the GameCube sitting in her otherwise immaculate LA apt?
What is this beatific world of lounging towheaded models trading digital properties? Have I died and gone to bitcoin heaven? Is this the final resting place of Dr. Laserfalcon (no relation to the Millenium Falcon, and its laser munitions)? Have we finally fought for the fantasy-themed, babe-populated, crypto-trading, condominium paradise that we all deserve?
As if her tutorial of the Star Wars Card Trader wasn’t enough, Lauren magnanimously puts aside her Jedi training so that she can share with us her own, personal, Star Wars trader account, that she may guide any future Padawans in the art of collecting insert cards and chasing limited edition sets.
“I’m trying to get all the Force Awakens cards, so trade with me. My screenname is Lolowood.”
With unbridled enthusiasm, I look up Lolo’s in-app card inventory…
You are decidedly not trying to collect all the Force Awakens cards, Ms. Wood. You have not opened up a single pack of cards other than your beginners’ pack. You have not made a single trade. You don’t even <gasp> you don’t even have that Gold Jabba variant that Olivia traded you!
(White Denim Hot) Pants on fire, Ms. Wood! On fire! What kind of a world do we live in where we can’t even believe the monotonous, cue-card dronings of a luscious blonde with a camera in her face?!? And I wanted to be your SWCT app friend. Well, shame on me, I guess. For as much as I would love to emblazon a scarlet letter ‘E’ for exploitation on your pink sports bra, this isn’t your burden to bear. Nor is it the burden of marketing sexploitation warehouse, AGT. George Lucas did this to all of us when he made the first made-for-TV Star Wars Christmas Special in 1978. This predated Jar Jar Binx by decades. This was just the first little inkling to squeeze a bit more out of a property that was once a labor of love. This inkling snowballed into toy lines, board games, faux lightsabers, Yoda sippy cups, to a new Topps brainchild in which the product being sold is completely virtual, a JPEG with a limited release that exists only within a digital account.
Or in the words of Topps digital producer, Ian Hundiak,
We want you to always feel like the thing you’re getting in this pack, yes it’s digital, but it’s every bit as much a card. We’re very conscious of making sure our cards feel like collectibles and not like files on your phone.
They have to feel like collectibles, and not like JPEGs that live on our phones. Because without that feeling, I’d be hard-pressed to justify having spent seven dollars on Ebay to acquire a Black Stormtrooper Halloween variant; the last needed to complete my set and qualify for the upcoming reward card. Without that feeling, we would all be hard-pressed to justify our own exploitation of countless companies through Tapjoy, with whom we feign the behaviors of customers, signing up for free trials of streaming services, pretending to order men’s grooming products, taking life insurance eligibility surveys, all as a giant end-run towards amassing more credits, more pack-buying fuel.
We’re all complicit in this process. Topps wants us to sell the cards to each other for Ameribucks, as it gives the cards implied value. Twitter wants the incentivized signups and registrations, so that it can brag about its skyrocketing Monthly Active User (MAU) numbers. The perhaps most insidious example of this is the ironically named CARE – Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy, an advocacy group for fracking and oil drilling interests, which has its own Tapjoy incentivized credit-feeding campaign to add addicted SWTC hoarders to the ranks of its ‘member’ base, that it can brag about the hundreds of thousands of people who support its agenda of polluting California’s dwindling water reserves.
This is America folks, a perfect ecosystem of exploitation. Whoever can get away with the most, the fastest, wins. And, whatever you do, do not, EVER, give up your willing suspension of disbelief. The moment you see the facade for what it is, it crumbles. Not only do JPEGs on your phone become instantly valueless, not only does the most anticipated movie in a decade become solely a supremely well-funded marketing ploy, but the dollar itself, based on nothing but the fiat power of its government, turns into useless paper. Speaking of which, have you seen the price of virtual currency Bitcoin lately? I guess everyone has to pick the fiction that they are most comfortable with. And for an increasing number of us, that fiction is a very compelling competitive collecting game, where the things that you collect, don’t actually exist.