Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games

By Edward Castronova | Go to book overview

2
THE USER

The introduction claimed that games, especially virtual world games, were becoming serious business. Chapter 1 then offered a tour of a typical virtual world of today. Some effort was made to show how easy it is for a user to become immersed in the virtual space, with feelings closer to “I am there” as opposed to “my character is in the game.” That transference of identity and place is not exactly remarkable, however, now that the Internet has been around for a decade or two. Ever since text-based chat rooms began cropping up in the 1970s and 1980s, many writers have described how virtuality works, how it affects identity and presence, and how experiences online can be so meaningful for those who pursue them. The literature on cyberspace in general is in fact very large and it would be distracting to get into it too deeply. The point is that many a hardheaded and experienced reader would react to chapter 1 with a healthy “So what? It’s been done.” The mere fact that practical virtual reality has moved from glowing green text to a graphical, games-based interface does not necessarily imply that anything important has happened. I would argue, on the contrary, that these changes make virtual worlds much more immersive and, by deepening the level of social realism, much more like real life, a factor which is in my view quite significant. But let’s accept the point: Someone made a cool Internet video game; so what?

Here’s where significance really starts: the users. This chapter will discuss the scope and practice of synthetic worlds usage as we observe it at the start of the twenty-first century. The basic message is that there are many more users than you might imagine; their numbers are growing rapidly; they are located in places you’d never suspect; they are not the people you thought they would be; and their motives seem to be both sensible and loaded with heavy implications. In other words, you might think that once a fantasy world appeared, there would be a few rather nerdy people who would use it; they’d probably be high school kids from

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