Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games

By Edward Castronova | Go to book overview

PART II
WHEN BOUNDARIES FADE

IN THE FIRST PART OF THIS BOOK, I ATTEMPTED TO INTRODUCE a hardheaded reader to the phenomenon of synthetic worlds. I tried to treat these places with more gravity than they usually receive. Even if you’ve heard of this kind of activity, and I am not assuming you have, you’re more likely to have connected to it through mainstream media reports than first- or second-hand knowledge. The typical media report about massively multiplayer role-playing games (MMORPGs) and the like has very much a gee-whiz feel to it. The man-bites-dog part of the story is usually something along the lines of, “Would you believe, people actually treat these gold pieces like real money!” The implied subtext is that only an idiot or a lunatic would do that. And then four pages later, the same newspaper reports in complete sincerity that a celebrity homemaker has been convicted of insider trading, a development said to have grave implications for her media empire. You would walk away from the paper thinking that the demise of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. is more important than the emergence of this MMORPG thing, whatever it is. My task so far has been to show you what the MMORPG thing is, on the inside, so you can make a reasonable judgment about it without having to spend hundreds of hours online. In my view, synthetic worlds are an emerging technology with considerably more importance than a cooking show.

In the first part of the book, two key conclusions emerged that should be kept in mind going forward. First, it is true: gold pieces are

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Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction: The Changing Meaning of Play 1
  • Part I - The Synthetic World: a Tour 27
  • 1: Daily Life on a Synthetic Earth 29
  • 2: The User 51
  • 3: The Mechanics of World-Making 79
  • 4: Emergent Culture: Institutions Within Synthetic Reality 100
  • 5: The Business of World-Making 126
  • Part II - When Boundaries Fade 145
  • 6: The Almost-Magic Circle 147
  • 7: Free Commerce 161
  • 8: The Economics of Fun: Behavior and Design 170
  • 9: Governance 205
  • 10: Topographies of Terror 227
  • 11: Toxic Immersion and Internal Security 236
  • Part III - Threats and Opportunities 247
  • 12: Implications and Policies 249
  • 13: Into the Age of Wonder 267
  • Appendix: A Digression on Virtual Reality 285
  • Notes 295
  • References 311
  • Index 319
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