As players advance in power and prestige in these environments, they accumulate virtual items and currency that are valuable to other players, particularly new or lower level players. In fact, many players are willing to pay real-life cash for these virtual items. This phenomenon is now typically referred to as RMT (real money transactions). On the other hand, players are divided on whether people should engage in this practice.Out-of-game markets, such as eBay, facilitate these transactions between virtual capital and real world capital. For example, try searching for “coh influence” (City of Heroes) or “swg credits” (Star Wars Galaxies) on eBay to get a sense of how many of these trades are made every day. In fact, these transactions are so profitable that entrepreneurs have set up “sweatshops” in developing countries where teenagers play these games 8 hours or more a day for the sole purpose of accumulating and then selling virtual items and currency for a profit. And so ironically, in fantasy worlds where real world nations do not exist, we see the same outsourcing we see in real life - the production of virtual capital by developing countries for consumption by American gamers.

Over the past few years, these gold farmers have typically been stereotyped as being Chinese. While many MMO players have argued that the term "Chinese gold farmer" is an objective and accurate label, this invocation of race plays a significant role in how players determine whether a player is a gold farmer or not. This racialized narrative also leaves out other equally important elements of what's happening.

These transactions are nonetheless fascinating. Not only do economists get a sense of how robust these game economies are, but these transactions can even expose our prejudices. In EverQuest where male and female characters are functionally equivalent, Edward Castronova has found that male characters sell on average $41 more than female characters of the same level. Early visions of cyberspace as a place that would free us from our physical bodies and stereotypes associated with those bodies now seem naive. If anything, MMORPGs have shown us that our bodies and stereotypes about those bodies follow us even into virtual worlds of play.

Our insistence that these worlds are just games have blinded us to how much work is really being done in these worlds. These environments use a rewards cycle to train players to perform well. Over time, players are seduced to “play” industriously for 20 hours a week. Players who become pharmaceutical manufacturers or guild leaders often complain that their “fun” has become like a second job. And along come “sweatshops” from developing countries with the sole purpose of generating profit from these environments. By labeling these worlds as games, we in fact fail to see how they have blurred the boundaries between work and play.

External Links:

- Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier by Edward Castronova
- The Value of Man and Woman by Edward Castronova
- The Unreal Estate Boom by Julian Dibbell

The Daedalus Gateway - The Psychology of MMORPGs

MMORPG psychology, the psychology of MMORPGs, understanding MMORPGs, MMORPG addiction, MMORPG research, an introduction to MMORPGs, a primer to MMORPGs, MMORPG primer, issues in MMORPGs, gender-bending in MMORPGs, genderbending in MMORPG, avatar, character creation in MMORPGs, World of Warcraft, Everquesr, Ragnarok Online, Lineage, Relationships in MMORPGs, MMORPG relationships, the Daedalus Project, the Daedalus gateway, MMORPG research, Research in MMORPGs, massively multiplayer online role-playing games, survey research, MMORPG data, MMORPG surveys, Nick Yee, Nicholas Yee, MMORPG information, MMORPG usage, cyberspace psychology, MMORPG avatars, psychology of avatars, male female avatars, social aspects of MMORPGs, MMORPG statistics
L10 Web Stats Reporter 3.15 LevelTen Hit Counter - Free PHP Web Counters
LevelTen Website Design & Web Development Firm - Dallas, Houston, Austin, Texas