Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games

By Edward Castronova | Go to book overview

3
THE MECHANICS
OF WORLD-MAKING

This book has thus far made the case that something new and of more than passing interest is happening in the area of video games. The bizarre behaviors and experiences that have become typical within online games are somewhat worthy of note, but they seem to deserve more serious attention when we realize that, by 2004, they’ve become part of the normal lives of at least 10 million people around the world. Analysts expect that number to rise rapidly for at least the next few years, and it may go on growing after that. One possible limitation on growth might be that the demand for these spaces might dry up at some point. But what if, as discussed toward the end of the last chapter, the synthetic world can really be seen as a substitute for the real world, one that might well have superior features, in some cases, and for some people? We don’t know how many people might find the synthetic world to be better, but it might be quite a few; the historical pattern has been that each new innovation in immersive quality has led to a leap in its population. And so we cannot rely with any confidence on a prediction of slackening demand. Put simply, if we could all live in a world that came closer to our fantasies than this world, how many would resist the temptation to do it?

The last chapter also assumed that those worlds of fantasy would eventually come online, brought to us by the new technologies that are the subject of this chapter. That claim needs to be examined very carefully. It seems likely in the short term that the makers of virtual worlds will become established as a substantial global industry. And that industry will certainly attempt to meet whatever the demand may be for more and different and better worlds. Whatever is the palette of experiences that people request, one can be fairly confident that a competitive industry will be able to provide it. One might conclude from this that

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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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