Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games

By Edward Castronova | Go to book overview

9
GOVERNANCE

After business and economics, another realm in which outlines are blurred in noticeable ways by synthetic worlds is politics. Chapter 6 gave an initial example of strange politics at work, in its discussion of fairness issues and how they drive powerful if informal political movements outside the synthetic world. There, the point was to illustrate how the movement of interests back and forth across the membrane tended to validate community interests involving virtual occupations. In this chapter I consider a different dimension of politics, the issue of governance.

As with economic activity, the existence of political activity in and around synthetic worlds is not something we should be surprised about. Where there are people, there is an economy and also a polity. However, while to my knowledge no one has written about economic issues as they appear in cyberspace, many have written about political issues. There is already a growing literature on the problems of maintaining social order in cyberspace (Rheingold 1994; Smith and Kollock 1999; Mueller 2002; see especially Reid 1999 and Smith 1999), as well as increasingly sophisticated thinking about the nature of sovereignty and law in cyberspace (Lessig 1999; Ludlow 2001). Even though the issues of community management are well-known, world-builders (actually, their marketing departments) sometimes proclaim that their world is unique in that it allows “player politics.” In truth, of course all worlds allow player politics whether in the synthetic world or somewhere else. Any collection of people will have conflicting common and individual interests, and some politics or other will have to be generated so as to regulate those conflicts. One could argue that the code of a synthetic world is effectively its law, but we will see that there is more to the state than just code in these places.1 However, the unusual forum in which politics occurs here seems to have a dramatic effect on how things work. In particular, there 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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