The New Virtual Frontier
by Waldemar Ingdahl
has its roots in primitive arcade games...Cyberspace. A consensual
hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators,
in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts...
A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every
computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of
light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations
of data. Like city lights, receding.
William Gibson, Neuromancer
(1984), page 69
worlds are entering the public’s mind.
On August 31st
candidate Mark Warner held a Q&A session in Second Life
with his avatar this in order to reach out to new voters.
of BusinessWeek this April featured Anshe Chung, a very
successful businesswoman in real estate. But Anshe Chung does not
exist, she is the virtual avatar created as the "in-game"
persona of German-Chinese Ailin Graef. Graef has built an online
business that engages in development, brokerage and arbitrage of
virtual land, items and currencies in the Massively Multiplayer
Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) Second Life. Since February 2006
the company ANSHECHUNG Studios,
Ltd. has been legally registered in China. The company has equity
valued to 250,000 US dollars, in virtual lands.
flock to study them from a variety of disciplines, not only from
informatics but also sociology, economics, media sciences and linguistics.
Studies of virtual worlds are seen as the next big thing but there
have been virtual worlds previously both graphic and textual. The
difference is in function and scale.
The stock markets
are increasingly becoming virtual worlds, just study NASDAQ or the
Stockholm Stock Exchange
where trade is fully electronic or aircraft simulators for pilots.
But the virtual
worlds are no less important because of their heritage from computer
World of Warcraft
has six million players and it cannot be considered a peripheral
phenomenon any longer. The average age of the virtual world user
is currently 30 years and women and men log on to the same extent.
2004, there was a public shock when the Swedish company Mindark,
creators of the virtual world Project Entropia, announced that they
had put up a virtual island for auction. The winning bidder paid
265,000 Project Entropia Dollars ($26,500 US Dollars) for the island.
At the time this was the highest price ever paid for a virtual item
(even though this has been surpassed since), a new field of economics
was in the wake.
The man that
started the shift from considering the virtual world something more
than "mere child play" was the economist Edward Castronova
at the University of Indiana. In his book "Synthetic Worlds"
he started to apply economic logic to the interactions between players
examining their effects on a societal and financial level.
studied the trade in digital goods in EverQuest, as it had a
clear interface with the real world through eBay. He saw the extent
to which people were paying real money to buy items for their game
characters, thus blurring the distinction between the game economy
and the real one. Norrath, the game world of EverQuest, was studied
with the same methodology as you would use to study Ghana, France
or Canada. He found that its currency, the Platinum Piece, was actually
quite solid. At a rate of 1 PP per 0.0107 US Dollars, it was even
more solid than the Japanese Yen.
have an average wage of $3.42/hour, and an average yearly wage of
$12.000. The GDP per capita of Norrath would make it in par with
Bulgaria, that is soon accessing the EU, and higher than both India’s
book made him an instant superstar, and although there has been
some criticisms of his research the trend is unmistakable; virtual
worlds are a worthy research object and the virtual activities on
them have to be compared to real world counterparts to be understood.
said in the 20th century that if you want to see capitalism
in action: go to Hong Kong. To paraphrase him for the 21st
century; if you want to see capitalism in action: log on to Second
Life. In this tax-free economy there is a market for everything,
from poetry to gardening, to sexy underclothes for avatars. In fact,
Second Life has received criticism for the brisk trade in sex and
pornography in some areas of the virtual world, but probably this
is just mimicking the same pattern for how commercialization was
introduced on the Internet.
is composed of rich, diverse, user-driven subcultures and countercultures,
often stretching the boundaries of free speech of the real world.
Intense philosophical and political debates regarding the real world
and Second Life’s own politics are held among the more than 170,000
that created Second Life, Linden Lab, provides only a piece of software
with a couple of different user accounts (with the basic variety
for free), and the rest is up to the user.
goal of Linden Lab is to create a user-defined world of general
use in which people can interact, play, do business, and otherwise
communicate. Although it has notable competitors, Second Life is
one of the most popular MMORPG, since it does not have a scripted
action or story. In this free world, entrepreneurs and creators
can freely create their own worlds and fill it with content. As
they also acquire the intellectual property of whatever they create
in the virtual landscape they can sell it, lease it, rent it and
has its own economy and a currency referred to as Linden dollars
(L$). Residents receive an amount of L$ when they open an account,
and a weekly stipend thereafter the amount depending on the type
of account. Additional L$s are acquired by selling items or performing
services within the environment.
economy is closely connected to the real one. The Linden dollar
usually exchanges by 300 L$= 1 US$. Banks and exchange offices are
booming in Second Life and in 2005 the world had a real turnover
of more than one billion US dollars in transactions regarding acquirement
of virtual land, housing, clothes, music, furniture and animations
and gestures for avatars.
are finding their way to the virtual worlds seeing the users not
only as customers but as co-creators. 20th Century Fox
held a premiere for "X-men: The Last Stand" in Second
Reebok will create a permanent presence in Second Life and Toyota
recently offered a virtual replica of its Scion xB model. NGO’s
are also finding their way to the virtual worlds as the American
Cancer Society has held a fundraiser event in Second Life.
We are quite
far from the predictions of the 1960’s, that the media society would
be a "vast wasteland," turning people into passive, hypnotized
zombies thanks to the creativity, sociability and interactivity
of the virtual worlds. World of Warcraft has been called the "new
golf" as the slaying of orks online fills the same cultural
niche for young colleagues and acquaintances as gathering around
the tee for elder generations.
existences many will take for granted in the virtual worlds, will
change our views of society. A very important underpinning in today’s
ethics and political philosophy, namely that the individual is strongly
knit to a geographic political constituency. There he finds his
peers whose destiny he must share, and from which obligations, rights
and duties stem. But as people increasingly live important segments
of their lives in online communities, they could well start to identify
themselves more with their online groups, with members spread apart
by physical distances but held together by mutual interest. After
all, we value our communities and relationships if we are able to
associate freely with those we identify with.
of the virtual world happened just 20 years after William Gibson
proposed the idea. Such a rapid development aught to be discussed
more in order to understand the direction society, business and
politics is heading to.
Ingdahl [send him mail]
is the director of the Swedish free market think tank Eudoxa.
© 2006 LewRockwell.com