'High Tea': Reflex Economics, or a Twitch-Based Economy

"Boy low and sell high," and other frightening necessities for profiteering on addiction.

Economies are based on need. Need leads to demand. And what can be more needful than addiction?

The historical and social context of economics simulator High Tea is pretty precisely clarified in its opening text, which describes the circumstances surrounding the game: “1830, Britain is in the grip of a mass addiction to a foreign drug. TEA!”

This is the launching point for enacting what seems a pretty simple economic concept and obvious strategy in any economics simulation: “Buy low and sell high.” In this instance, the product that needs to be supplied to the British populace is tea. Given the historical situation, that tea can be costly, Britain is in need of a quick supply of cash to get its hands on a product that has become a growing addiction for the populace. What better way to raise cash then in order to feed an addiction, but to take advantage of another addiction? Since the Chinese market is demanding opium and Britain has the ships to move large quantities of opium from India, there is a lot of money to be made for any entrepreneur interested in meeting the needs of two addicted populaces.

The intriguing thing about the game is how uniquely it treats the gameplay mechanisms necessary to achieve its ends. While frequently economic simulations place a clock on the player's actions, rarely will one find a clock quite so demanding as the one in High Tea. While actions themselves in the game are simple enough to perform, click here to buy opium, click here to buy tea, click on a port to smuggle opium into China, because the demands of addiction in Britain grows so rapidly, keeping up with that demand requires a frantic amount of activity on the part of the player to effectively maintain these three simple clicks.

Markets in the game are constantly fluctuating with tea and opium prices rising and falling in seconds as you play. Assessing pricing and seeing where demand for large and small shipments of opium are the most profitable requires split second decision making, especially as the game requires greater and greater supplies of tea for a populace that you don't see in the game, but can clearly gather from the numbers that you are watching, are alarmingly feeling more and more needful of their drug of choice.

As a result, this economics simulator weds something like twitch gaming to a genre that is most frequently associated with strategizing, considering available options, and setting a broad plan in place in order to achieve the ends of profit. Here though, profit is as much a product of market analysis as it is of reflex, mimicking a kind of furious image of buying and selling at a stressful and insistent rate. This is not a simulation that encourages you to strategize, but instead to act on the aforementioned simple strategy that you already know to be true, “Buy low, sell high.” There is no time to ponder the implications of profiteering on the basis of an artificially stimulated need, like addiction. Instead, there is only time to satisfy a need that cannot be satiated. Indeed, in the ludic context of the game, the demands on the agent supplying tea and opium (the player) grow substantially more difficult because the historical context demands it. The more tea that is supplied, the more need that there will be for it.

Completing the game is more of a relief than anything else, knowing that you will not have to supply an incrementally larger shipment for the last time and being able to “retire” having grown rich off of misery is simply gratifying. Not so, for those still caught in the cycle of feeding their own demands.





Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.