My partner and I spent $1000 on a game yesterday. We didn’t spend it on Pokémon cards, or Fortnite V-bucks, or decide to become whales in Genshin Impact. But, at my insistence, we combined some funds, downloaded the Robinhood trading app, and bought some stock.
I mean, why the hell not right? We’ve seen the news about billion-dollar hedge funds flinching because of an organized group of Redditors with an affinity for GameStop. We’ve seen just about every jokified explanation of what in the actual fuck “shorting stock” means. Hell, we’ve even seen all the rocket emojis and “TO THE MOON!!” memes taking over Reddit and Twitter.
In short, this shit looked fun.
We didn’t buy GameStop stock, the $300 per share price was a little too rich for our blood, and I didn’t want to court any potential conflict of interest quagmires in case the stock did indeed rocket “TO THE MOON.” AMC Entertainment stock looked nice at around $11 a share. The subreddit WallStreetBets started to throw around $AMC peppered with the rocket emojis in its daily discussion thread, suggesting it was about to become the next GameStop. So my partner put in the order, and away we went.
I should say, we didn’t invest anything that would hurt us to lose. Both of us had a clear understanding of what was at stake playing this little game together (so invest responsibly, kiddos!) We knew we weren’t gonna get rich if we did earn some money. And if we lost it all, well, that’s how the stock market goes.
There’s a phenomenon in gaming (and life) that people like to call “numbers go up.” It’s when satisfaction is derived from seemingly boring tasks like resource management or finding the right piece of gear to minutely increase a character’s stats because it makes numbers go up. And, unless it’s golf, numbers going up in a game is good. My partner and I are “numbers go up” people (him more than me) so watching that thin green line representing AMC’s stock price rise felt good. Conversely, when it went down, panic ensued. I could always tell when the stock price was doing something because I could hear my partner’s loud groans or “holy shits!” from my work station on the opposite end of our apartment.
I spent the day with an r/WallStreetBets tab open, occasionally refreshing its daily discussion thread to see if they had any wisdom regarding which stock to pick next or when to sell. I saw a lot of diamond hands (I feel pretty adept at parsing what memes are supposed to mean, but I could not figure this out at all), the standard “TO THE MOON,” and an endless spam of the hallowed ticker symbols $GME, $NOK, and my own $AMC. It felt like a weird cross between all of Michael Douglas’ scenes in Wall Street and 4chan.
It reminded me of my days lurking Trade Chat in World of Warcraft. Just being a fly on the subreddit’s wall felt like watching a vaguely funny and entertaining drama unfold (when they weren’t hurling ableist slurs everywhere).
Still, the subreddit evoked that same weird sense of community, that seductive feeling of camaraderie combined with the notion that not only are the people there making money, but they’re also doing so in a way that completely fucks the morally corrupt billionaires on Wall Street. I started to think that I could make a habit of this. I really liked the idea of keeping an eye on this subreddit over time and jumping in on the newest squeeze to make enough money to keep my savings padded with enough cash on hand to cover any catastrophes. No visions of grandeur, no million-dollar days, just a small way to make my little bit of money work for me in the short-term instead of waiting the decades it takes traditional investments to grow. And if it dicked over some billionaires—hell yeah!
I left the decision of when to sell to my partner. He pulled the parachute cord around $16 a share. We didn’t make a ton of money, maybe $250 bucks all told in a mere handful of hours. We could have made a little more if we held on longer, and I secretly lamented that he didn’t leave some money behind so we could try again the next day. But as it turns out, we made the right decision. We played on the last day the game was still fun. We got in on the joke, made a little money, and got out. Damn, were we lucky.
Now, those plans to reinvest are shot. We can’t buy any of the stock we want, and if we had left some cash behind, we would have lost out big. r/WallStreetBets is furious. Numerous top threads on the subreddit are threatening a class action suit against Robinhood (there’s now a dedicated subreddit for it) for blocking the ability to trade certain stocks, and almost everyone I follow on Twitter is crying murder most foul—Ja Rule too.
More than the spigot being arbitrarily turned off, the people really being hurt by this do not have the resources hedge fund managers do. They won’t be able to ask wealthy friends (like the government) for bailouts. They’ll just be left out. It sucks. All of this is so deeply fake, and now, before our eyes, the facade is ripped away. The irony that all of this is going down because of an app called Robinhood is not lost on me. Rob from the rich, give to the—no not like that.
When things calm down, maybe I’ll go back to Robinhood or find another app to do some longer-term investing. It seems like all the trading apps are capitulating to their Wall Street overlords, so it’ll be hard to find one reputable enough that still has a spine.
When you play a game like this, you gotta follow the rules. In a fair and equitable society, the rules apply equally to everyone. Not that I need a stock market parable to show me, but today’s shenanigans with Robinhood and the precipitous drop of all the hot stocks now that none of the “regular” people are allowed to trade them really does nail home the point that everyone can play this game so long as the right (i.e., rich) people win. They’re like the older sibling who begrudgingly lets the younger one play video games with them but gives them a controller that’s not plugged in. We figured out how to plug in the controller. So now the game’s been taken away.