Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games

By Edward Castronova | Go to book overview

11
TOXIC IMMERSION
AND INTERNAL SECURITY

We close part 2 with two chapters about the use of force. The previous chapter considered the use of synthetic worlds to project force in the outer world, and found that they could be very useful indeed. Given that, it is possible that a synthetic world or a network of them might become a tactical objective in a conflict. One side or the other might want to disable a synthetic world, prevent access to it, or control what is happening there. Even without a prior conflict, there might be some independent desire on the part of an external agent to influence events in a synthetic world, and this intervention might not be desired by those who own the world or who spend time in it. Either scenario shifts the locus of security concern from the outer world to the synthetic world itself, and, predictably, things get somewhat strange at that point. Like other issues of political economy, force projection takes on added complexity when interests cross the membrane.

In brief, if an outside actor wants to disable a synthetic world for some reason and does not intend to seek the consent of owners or participants, such an actor has only two methods for shutting it down: work outside the membrane or inside it. Working outside the membrane is not all that unusual; as in Kerr (2003), we would take an external perspective on the network, viewing it as boxes and wires, and then move to disable the boxes and wires. Working inside the membrane is where things get strange, for here we would have to take an internal perspective, trying to project force into the virtual world, a world that, as we’ve learned, operates under different rules. This chapter argues that, on the one hand, working inside the membrane may be our only choice at times. But on the other, projecting force to the inside of a virtual world may be a very destructive thing to do. And yet because there may eventually be incentives for governments to move into

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