October 30, 2004

State of Play II-04 NY Law School, online economics

by Mary Flanagan · , 8:56 am

more from Day 1, State of Play II.
The economic and work aspects of gaming were analyzed in depth on the panel Virtual Property/Real World Markets: Making a Living in a Virtual World. Aside from the current economic practices such as exchanging characters and materials on ebay (and this ebay market has been said to be significantly large enough to affect real economies, see Castronova), further economic implications lurk for all of what is being called “the play economy.” While raising far too many questions than could be answered in a 90 minute session, the issues brought forward in the discussion resulted in a compelling conversation about the social impact of games.

Virtual work was most interestingly addressed by Julain Dibbell, who noted that in games, one could make the choice to include *real* work within — such as analyzing xrays for cancer screening — into game environments, thus effectively transferring real paid and skilled labor into a game. Dibbell even goes on to suggest that games represent the brink of a revolution akin to the 19th century industrial revolution.

The trick would simply be a design issue – how the activity works within the play rules and game narrative. We can always trade money for time, so perhaps developers can, should and will incorporate the game economy into their games. While this idea may — even to Dibbell — be somewhat “science fiction” in nature and tone, it may have serious overall cultural implications about the amorphous continuum between work and play. In other words, if players are receiving steady rewards, but these activities into work, and it blurs the lines between these categories completely.

I’d like to take this back to the design table, however, to issue a challenge to we game designers:

Could we use these themes of mixing work and play to benefit others’ social situations– in other worlds, for activism? Could a game be designed to incorporate “real work” that is “real fun” that also changes the living situations of real people for the better? I think so, and would like to invite people who are highly engaged in game design and interested in collaborating on this to contact me — let’s see what’s possible!