Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Edward Castronova's Guide To Synthetic Economies

This is the first entry in a trilogy of posts on MMO's that tries to engage with the culture and business more than just rambling off stats or game design stuff. The other are write-ups on T.L. Taylor's discussion of Everquest and Julian Dibbel's guide to gold farming. I'll probably be spacing them out but I think together they paint a solid picture of MMO culture. For the record, I used to play MMO's when I was younger but can't really afford to bother with one now. It doesn't look like much has changed except how addictive they are anyways.

If there is a single unifying idea to this book it's that people will turn to whatever culture or mode of life offers them the most fulfillment possible. Even if that means creating one out of thin air. I see a fair number of people complain about this but I can't shake the feeling their concern mostly comes from the fact that as people go to other cultural value systems, their own social capital decreases. The transition from print to internet for news comes to mind as an example, but I think an MMO represents a much more profound shift. We're not talking about where someone gets their news, this is the question of whether or not a person respects or even gives a shit about you. If you are not powerful in their world, the answer is that they probably won't.

Castranova draws his own conclusions about all of this and uses it as a criticism of capitalism itself. I broke down all the essential elements he outlined for an MMO economy and the problems that crop up. It might be dry even by my powdered milk standards but it really helped me to understand the genre and what it has become today.

Money, even in virtual worlds, is a drag.

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