THE ECONOMICS OF FUN:
BEHAVIOR AND DESIGN
The commercial, political, and legal considerations of the last two chapters showed how ordinary notions of reality get warped once the synthetic world appears. At first, you might have said that the things on the Earth are real and the things in a synthetic world are not. Then you notice that money in synthetic worlds has all of the features of money outside synthetic worlds, and this fact (plus the political and legal validations that synthetic worlds receive) makes you conclude that everything is real, both inside and outside the membrane. And this is well in accord with the views presented in chapter 2, where play theorists were said to view daily life as having elements of play, and where media psychologists were said to have shown that treating events in the synthetic world as real is all but involuntary. But then in the last chapter, when considering the effects of commercialization on synthetic worlds, I gave arguments for keeping the membrane as solid as possible, lest crass market forces erode the precious fantasy atmosphere. But if everything inside and outside is equally real, how can there be any fantasy atmosphere to protect? Isn’t it inconsistent to claim that events inside a synthetic world are real, but that they are also unreal?
Well, no. It’s just that the word “real,” handy as it is in some contexts, is not very helpful here; the meaning of this word truly does have to be warped to capture the complexity that synthetic worlds present. Synthetic worlds are both real and unreal. They are real in the sense that they matter to people. They are also real in the sense that the institutions we find within them can be traced back to very ordinary human impulses. But they are unreal in the sense that the resulting patterns of behavior there are potentially different from those on Earth. Consider