Anyo, a ruthless magnate driven by greed and a worship of technology, sits on the board of directors of Corpus – the second oldest enemy faction in Warframe, a merchant cult of merciless traders with the sole goal of accumulating wealth and technology. As such, Digital Extremes have been criticising rampant capitalism and the blind pursuit of progress for some time now. In turn, a lot of Warframe players are seemingly receptive to these messages, manifested in their support of Digital Extremes in the face of crunch.
Fortuna, though, is on a whole other level. Not only does it dissect the rot of late stage capitalism by exposing how workers suffer under unchecked oppression, but it also reaches the only logical conclusion in the way it tells the story of the Solaris: an emphatic call to arms for unionisation.
Solaris: The Price of Debt
As I bullet jump through Fortuna, I hear something. Something I don’t normally hear in a virtual space, nevermind a space within Warframe.
I hear an NPC utter the words “nominative determinism”. Stopping in my tracks, I turn and see two workers taking a break. I hear them wonder why the names they were given are so utilitarian. I hear two Solaris rue their names, their lives, their debts, their seemingly unending servitude to Nef Anyo.
And I hear something else. An Ostron visitor this time, lamenting the situation Solaris find themselves in:
Social pressure drives modification, modification drives profit, profit drives debt, debt drives control. These Solaris, they are all working to pay off their bodies, which they sold to the Corpus, to work for the Corpus to pay for their bodies which they never owned. Oh, these Solaris, I weep for them.
Solaris owe Nef Anyo, and in order to pay off their debts they buy expensive augmentations to work in the mines, driving them deeper into debt. When they can’t pay, Corpus agents repossess not only their augmentations, but also their organic body parts.
*Spoiler warning* Because, you see, Solaris are not robots – it may only look that way at first glance. Once you grind to the highest level of reputation with them, the horrifying truth emerges – Solaris hide their human heads within their torso, as every other body part is augmented.
I thought for a while about the fancy labels I can use to describe this: necro capitalism, hyper capitalism, biocapitalism, post-capitalist corporatism and etc. but ultimately this, of course, is a just a metaphor for the late stage capitalist reality we find ourselves in. It’s not even that of a stretch – profit-seeking corporations forcing body augmentation on workers is the logical next step within a capitalist system that has been exploiting our bodies and labour for generations.
In fact, it will take quite a lot to convince me that Fortuna is not just one big, elaborate metaphor for Uber. Like Nef Anyo and Corpus, Uber is a tech giant that escapes government oversight as it blindly rushes to replace its mistreated workers with robots in its quest for profit.
The parallels don’t stop there – Uber leases its low-paid drivers cars that have to be paid off WEEKLY via its Xchange program (still in operation despite stories about its closure), bonding them to the company and re-centering their lives around Uber, as some drivers resort to living in their cars to make payments.
Oh, and then there is also this:
So, while our labour, bodies and living spaces are commodified by Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Fiverr and others, while we sell our plasma to old rich people just to get by, while our lives literally depend on big corporations like Amazon, while we try to tackle the mountains of debt we will quite possibly never pay off within our lifetimes – Digital Extremes makes it clear who’s to blame, and how to fight: united.
After all, as the phenomenal Fortuna theme song goes, “And we all lift, and we’re all adrift, together, together…”
Solaris United: the Price of Resistance
When you enter Fortuna for the first time, you meet the local leader, Eudico, and two other central characters, Biz and Thursby. In doing a few missions, you learn about Solaris, their internment and their history – you learn that Eudico once lead Solaris United, a group of organised workers who fought for their rights and resisted the greed-driven Nef Anyo, that is until he slaughtered enough Solaris for Eudico to stop the resistance.
Your arrival is a catalyst – as you wreak havoc topside, Biz urges Eudico to re-establish Solaris United in a renewed effort to oppose Nef Anyo. Reluctant at first due to the memories of earlier bloodshed, she relents as Thursby’s body gets repossessed and Anyo demands underperforming Solaris workers for a public execution.
This is the real message behind Fortuna, encapsulated by Biz: “When you rise up, people get hurt, but if you let that fear divide us it will only get worse”. Fighting back against capital is messy, it’s costly and it requires sacrifices, but in the long run, if you don’t, the result is always the same – annihilation.
So, when myself and others call for unionisation of the games industry, we are fully aware of the potential costs – closing of opportunities, firings and layoffs, for activists and workers. But, just like Solaris United, Game Workers Unite provide the only way forward, the only way to gain leverage within a capitalist system that is designed from the ground up to benefit only those with existing capital, to extract surplus value from our labour and to alienate us from it.
The only way forward, that is, until enough people realise how the system is designed.
Right now in the game world, Solaris United has re-emerged, and Nef Anyo was forced to accept new terms. The players are busy running missions for Eudico, grinding out reputation and disrupting Corpus operations.
What of the future, though? Unionisation may be the answer in the medium term, but how do we go about dismantling capitalist systems? It seems that at least in Warframe’s case the answer will soon be revealed – according to the developers, a new quest will be introduced in the next update, and completing it will “change the political state” of Fortuna and Orb Vallis.
God, I really do hope that “changing the political state” will involve me kicking Nef Anyo right in the nuts.