WHEN BOUNDARIES FADE
IN THE FIRST PART OF THIS BOOK, I ATTEMPTED TO INTRODUCE a hardheaded reader to the phenomenon of synthetic worlds. I tried to treat these places with more gravity than they usually receive. Even if you’ve heard of this kind of activity, and I am not assuming you have, you’re more likely to have connected to it through mainstream media reports than first- or second-hand knowledge. The typical media report about massively multiplayer role-playing games (MMORPGs) and the like has very much a gee-whiz feel to it. The man-bites-dog part of the story is usually something along the lines of, “Would you believe, people actually treat these gold pieces like real money!” The implied subtext is that only an idiot or a lunatic would do that. And then four pages later, the same newspaper reports in complete sincerity that a celebrity homemaker has been convicted of insider trading, a development said to have grave implications for her media empire. You would walk away from the paper thinking that the demise of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. is more important than the emergence of this MMORPG thing, whatever it is. My task so far has been to show you what the MMORPG thing is, on the inside, so you can make a reasonable judgment about it without having to spend hundreds of hours online. In my view, synthetic worlds are an emerging technology with considerably more importance than a cooking show.
In the first part of the book, two key conclusions emerged that should be kept in mind going forward. First, it is true: gold pieces are