Ownership and Exchange

Yehuda Israeli | January 2022

What comes first? The subject that has psychic drives and wishes or the object that is the target of that desire? What comes first, is the possessive drive or the possession. I take a firm position on this issue. The subject precedes the object. Possessiveness not only precedes the possession, it actually creates the possession, just like desire creates objects in the world. 

As humans, we rely not only on our instincts and urges to define objects and possessions. We live in language and exchange words with others so that we inspire each other with our possessiveness to relate to objects as desired possessions. It’s a common site in children’s parties that a kid grabs a candy from another kid even though they could have taken it from the bowl earlier. It’s the desire of the other kid that defined the candy as a desirable possession and only then the second kid feel their possessive drive directed at the candy.

Candy, gold, or bitcoin, the value of objects as objects of possession depends on the value that others attribute to it, even when it has no organic value like nourishment. The anthropologist Marcel Mauss studied the exchange of gifts among the dwellers of the Trobriand Islands between Papua New Guinea and Australia. The islands are dispersed in a ring. Kula is the name of the gift and Kula Ring is the name of the custom where islanders travel by boat between islands and bring their friends adorned seashells. The receiver holds on to the gift for many months until it's time to travel to the next island and transfer the gift again. Mauss identified that when giving the gift, the giver tells stories. Stories about the adventures of his predecessors and his own adventures, fighting the elements when traveling in the open sea between islands. Mauss understood that the true value of this custom is the discourse itself, the comradery among the givers and receivers of the stories. The seashells are just props for the real possession – the community.

The value of possessing assets is first of all, like sweets, a source of pleasure in the game, to enjoy my object. Second, the value of truly owning it so it can be transferred between games. Being surrounded by my objects of desire reflects on me as a desiring subject. Third, if other people find my object as valuable to them and I relate to their objects as valuable, I belong to a community that is defined by the exchange that connects us all. The process that begins by owning belongings, continues to the marketplace of exchange so that ultimately the value is to belong.


Totem Game Development Network 2022