Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Do Interactive Online Role-Play Games Teach Economics?

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Do Interactive Online Role-Play Games Teach Economics?

Article excerpt


In 1999 a division of Sony launched an online game called Everquest. As referenced by Castronova (2001), Sony revealed that the population of Everquest's world was 400,000. Those who played the game acquired virtual assets that were tradable, and some players auctioned these virtual assets for U. S. dollars (and other currencies) on Internet auction sites. Combining the auction data with data from surveys, Castronova estimated that per-capita GDP of Everquest's world was roughly the equivalent of Russia's per-capita GDP. Game players who sold in-game assets online in 2001 received an implied real wage $3.42/hour.

According to surveys by the PEW Institute, 70% of teens play online games (Lenhart, Madden, and Hitlin, 2005) and 39% of all internet users play online games (Fox, 2004). Also, from 2000 to 2002, the number of people who had played a game on the Internet grew by 45% (Madden and Rainie, 2003). Grobelnik, Holt, and Prasnikar (1999) muse that online games can "increase interest in and decrease skepticism about economic theory" (p. 211). The PEW surveys concerned all online games, including card games and board games. Grobelnik, Holt, and Prasnikar (1999) refer to basic game-theoretic exercises played over a classroom computer network. We contend that more attractive games in a more natural setting could, in some respects, more effectively accomplish Grobelnik, Holt, and Prasnikar's aims. As Robert Shapiro (2003) asserts, "The similarities to real-world market behavior certainly owe much to the fact that EverQuest players know how real markets work and probably believe in markets."

Literature on interactive online role-play games aptly defines and describes the games and the game experience (especially Castronova 2003 a; but also Castronova, 2001; Castronova, 2003b; Lo, Wang, and Fang, 2005; Hines, 2003; and Stephens, 2002). The customer base has been described briefly by Castronova (2001) and more extensively by Griffiths, Davies, and Chappell (2003). These games are called by many names, such as "virtual worlds" (Castronova, 2001), "Massively populated persistent worlds (MPPWs)" (Castronova, 2003b), or "Massively Multiplayed Online Games (MMOGs)" (Sony, 2005a; Sony, 2005b) or, simply, "online games" (Choi and Kim, 2004). Many of these names have subtle differences in meanings. In this paper, we will use the simple term "online games" to refer to the specific class of games which we will now describe.

As we shall use the term, "online game" refers to a game such as Castronova defines (above) in which a player assumes the role of a person and interacts over the internet with other players who have also assumed roles. The role that the player has assumed can be referred to as the player's "avatar" (a standardized term that is used in virtually all the literature on these games). We contrast this concept with more familiar concepts in other types of games. When we refer to a player's "avatar" we do not mean "white" in chess, "Xs" in tic-tac-toe, or "Britain" in a WWII wargame. A player's online persona or avatar is a single individual such as "Zahira, the ruler of the planet Vega 2," in a space-based online game, or "Cambren, the wizard from the burning sands," in a fantasy-based online game. The concept of the avatar is fully developed in Castronova (2003a).

This research focuses on the possible contributions of games similar to Everquest to economic education. We raise two questions. The normative question is, "Should games such as Everquest be used to teach the national standards in economics?" The positive question is, "Do games like Everquest teach the national standards?" With regard to economic education, we focus on a subset of the twenty national curriculum standards for economics, developed by the National Council on Economic Education (in partnership with the National Association of Economic Educators and the Foundation for Teaching Economics) and attempt to show examples of how examples from these games can be used to teach economics. …

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