Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games

By Edward Castronova | Go to book overview

12
IMPLICATIONS AND POLICIES

I first started thinking about writing this book after considering a number of possible implications of synthetic worlds, eventually realizing that this network technology, appearing first as a rather cartoonish multiplayer computer game, might be the cause of some potentially wrenching changes in how we live. It occurred to me that synthetic worlds might also shatter the current view of objective reality and, for kicks, alter the nation-state system that has dominated international affairs since the Peace of Westphalia. Well worth writing about, I thought, if the trend is genuine. But I’ve never been sure that the trend is genuine, so I’ve left to chapter 13 the more forward-looking projections that come to mind.

Indeed, during most of my time reflecting on things in the past few years, I have been trying not to leap to conclusions, consciously downplaying the possibilities. But then the technology, even in the space of a few years, has kept coming up with eye-opening changes. The 2D cartoons of 1997 have morphed into nearly photo-realistic 3D images. And the water has gotten better, too; now it ripples and bubbles and reflects almost like the real thing. Trees that were once posts with two screens hanging on them are now oaks in full bloom, whose leaves reflect the sun obliquely in the twilight. When I began this research three years ago, you could fit perhaps 3,000 users into a shard; we now have worlds that can hold millions of users. When I started, all communication was chat; when for the first time I heard other gamers talking to one another live, it was awe-striking and a little bit frightening. Then there was the time I saw a pet with a pet for the first time; “pet” is a term for an AI agent that a player controls, and here in the world of Asherons Call 2 was a case where the AI was controlling another AI, an eerie reminder of how different things might be in the future. In Dark Age of CamelotI first experienced combat between armies of

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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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