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Virtual Economies

In our modern world, millions of people log into online games everyday to spend hours in a seemingly meaningless virtual reality. But the worlds of MMOs (massive multiplayer online) and MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games) are just that, worlds. Their servers house networks of players that are larger than entire countries. They create massive international economies of virtual goods. Online gaming social interactions are startlingly close to the real world; players start businesses, work for one another, and develop rivalries between local communities. But what’s more interesting is the strength of their ties to real world events. Some groups of people have held online funerals for their fellow deceased players. Some players have a broad enough network to organize protests and crash gaming servers. In popular online games, virtual goods have a real world currency value. People buy and sell online items and avatars in real world markets. Consequently, online games have economies that are stronger than most nations. In 2001 it was estimated that the online game Everquest had a gross national product that rivaled Russia’s, making it what would be the 77th richest country in the world. It’s quite a sad day when my level 20 Lich King Slayer is worth more than the two handed broad sword I have hung over my desk at home. This becomes an even more scary thought considering that MMOs only started to show up within the past couple decades, creating nations much younger than the two hundred some year old United States. For many people, the connections they have in online gaming networks are more important the connections they have with people in their local communities. How long will it be until nations are no longer defined as geographical locations? When will the World of Warcraft Alliance become stronger than NATO?

Fortunately for now, armies of skull dragons can only tear the limbs off of virtual bodies. But the economic power of online games remains as real as ever. Companies such as Black Snow Interactive make profits by hiring people to play these online games and sell their virtual goods and characters. Just like the real world, players become low skilled labor forces trying to make it in a resource limited world. But the rules are a little different. These world’s don’t have all powerful governments and the FED to run their economies. In general, game developers place very little restriction on trade and labor. I daresay Blizzard’s economic beliefs may work better than a certain Mr. Bernanke’s. Online games allow experts to see just how unhindered economic networks work at a close approximation to the real world. Moreover, the market for online games continue to grow as technology advances. Does the future release of the Bioware’s much anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic mean the development of a new powerful nation? The potential influence of the online gaming world is still unclear. At what point will it become more profitable to quit applying to med school and start learning how to heal swamp demon lacerations? Better yet, how great is the profit from teaching? Personally, I would found an institution where any mage can find instruction in any craft.


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