My new game is better about earning me real-world loot, too. Every item we buy has a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip, so every shopgame knows precisely what you own, when you bought it, when it's about to wear out, and how much you're likely to pay for the replacement. But my new game tailors my character's quests so my victory earns discounts on exactly the stuff I need. Other companies can't beat that price. Even if they could, I'd buy it from my shopgame's companies so my character can earn a nifty experience-point incentive.

My new game is taking over my life, just like my last one did. If loyalty cards were the consumer equivalent of raw opium, good only for a mild buzz, today's shopgame is pure heroin, perfect Skinnerian conditioning. Breaking the addiction to my old game is already giving me the sweats.

Changing the Game
I really did enjoy my time in Wal*Mart World's superhero game. I ended up working there, in both real and virtual worlds, doing customer support in exchange for in-game equipment and experience (and Wal*Mart gift cards, of course).

But the World finally got me down. A persistent reward bug in one mission kept giving players fake coupons for free lawn furniture, and I had to face the rage of aggrieved customers denied their chairs. Rival supergroups spawned real-world youth gangs who fought in the store aisles for dominion over corresponding virtual turf. Worst of all, somebody hacked the employee database and got onto my system. It happened that a relative had given me some real money, and I'd gone outside the shopgame network to make online purchases of, shall we say, a non-worksafe nature. The hacker found the material and circulated it to all my friends. That was a big factor in my decision to leave.

More important, I knew Wal*Mart World, no matter how well I played, would not really help me advance - not in a way that counts. The World gameplay is mass-market casual, so its demographic is too downscale. All the superheroes I met turned out to be retail clerks and shelvers and greeters. Nice people, but....

I can hardly wait to start networking in OprahTime. The player base skews strongly female, so it's a great place to meet dates. The education level is higher, judging from the services players offer on their in-game blogs. (Need anything translated from Middle English?) The community news is filled with the doings of doctors and lawyers and university professors, all drawn by OprahTime's unique in-game tax shelters based in Aruba and the Little Caymans.

Like all major life changes, a new shopgame is scary yet exciting. I'll miss my friends at Wal*Mart World, and possibly if I see them in meatspace I may flash a recognition sign and say hi. But this is unlikely, because OprahTime works with BP, not Exxon - United, not Southwest - and Olive Garden and Red Lobster. I'll never bump into Worlders there. Already that old shopgame is fading fast. ...

But on the bright side, OprahTime is sponsored by Nokia, so it has a more global, cosmopolitan atmosphere. I'm meeting a lot of Finns and Scandinavians and trying to wangle invites to visit. Airfare to Helsinki shouldn't be a problem; if my clan defeats Athla-Borgo in the Despond Caverns, we get round-trip discounts on Lufthansa!

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