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!

4 Responses to “State of Play II-04 NY Law School, online economics”

  1. Andrew Burton Says:

    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?

    You mean like VERTU?

  2. Espen Aarseth Says:

    This reminds me of the idea back in the 90s to use the language play that goes on in MUDs for foreign language learning (e.g. http://lingo.uib.no/dreistadt/).

    Not a new completely idea, in other words, but still brilliant.

  3. josh g. Says:

    VERTU looks like A Good Thing, but it seems to me that it’s simply asking for funds via an unusual mechanism. That doesn’t seem to really incorporate “real work” or “real fun” in itself. Or to put it a different way, donating in-game funds to VERTU doesn’t seem fundamentally different to me than translating your in-game funds to real-world currency and then donating to the targetted non-profit. VERTU is simply doing the currency conversion step for you.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure I see any deeper way of involving in-game work in a process of real-world benefit. Right now, the entire virtual economies are based on entertainment. Work is done by one person, and then sold to another for their entertainment value. (This applies to item or character sales as well as content creation in a game such as Second Life.) What alternatives are there? Since virtual worlds are, well, virtual, the only connections they have to the real world are either mental or economic.

    Education is one possibility, but I don’t think it’s feasible to expect the average game player to be able to educate. Good teachers are hard to come by, and poor or misinformed teachers are detrimental. Worse, many people’s idea of “real fun” is being abusive, rude, or nonsensical, and the idea of creating an interface for educational “griefing” gives me the willies.

    Even Espen’s mention of learning language through virtual environments is dubious these days. Most Internet communities quickly develop their own short-form linguistics, and language as a whole is not well used. Perhaps virtual worlds with a well-crafted audio chat interface would forego this, but that still leaves the other problems I mentioned.

    That said, please feel free to prove me wrong …

  4. zombiegluesniffer Says:

    i doubt that a play economy is possible. adding play to work means nothing really. isn’t this what game testers do already? i guess employers have to add elements of virtual play in order to keep a workforce. they incorporate the language. that’s pretty empty. going to game sounds a lot better than going to work, but the structure of the economy stays the same. it’s simulation within the prearranged coordinates of society (zizek’s formal freedom). i don’t know if that’s effective activism. it really needs to exist outside the corporate virtual economy. it’s already virtual. we need to engage in real space and in new models of free thinking or autonomy.com and other bayesian reasoning engines further structure our lives. it’s going to get worse if there is not a clean break from the start. that’s how i see it.

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