Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games

By Edward Castronova | Go to book overview

8
THE ECONOMICS OF FUN:
BEHAVIOR AND DESIGN

Interlude: What’s Happened to Reality?

The commercial, political, and legal considerations of the last two chapters showed how ordinary notions of reality get warped once the synthetic world appears. At first, you might have said that the things on the Earth are real and the things in a synthetic world are not. Then you notice that money in synthetic worlds has all of the features of money outside synthetic worlds, and this fact (plus the political and legal validations that synthetic worlds receive) makes you conclude that everything is real, both inside and outside the membrane. And this is well in accord with the views presented in chapter 2, where play theorists were said to view daily life as having elements of play, and where media psychologists were said to have shown that treating events in the synthetic world as real is all but involuntary. But then in the last chapter, when considering the effects of commercialization on synthetic worlds, I gave arguments for keeping the membrane as solid as possible, lest crass market forces erode the precious fantasy atmosphere. But if everything inside and outside is equally real, how can there be any fantasy atmosphere to protect? Isn’t it inconsistent to claim that events inside a synthetic world are real, but that they are also unreal?

Well, no. It’s just that the word “real,” handy as it is in some contexts, is not very helpful here; the meaning of this word truly does have to be warped to capture the complexity that synthetic worlds present. Synthetic worlds are both real and unreal. They are real in the sense that they matter to people. They are also real in the sense that the institutions we find within them can be traced back to very ordinary human impulses. But they are unreal in the sense that the resulting patterns of behavior there are potentially different from those on Earth. Consider

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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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