Gina’s Blog

Virtual Reality

Posted in Digital Technology by Gina on November 27, 2007
Tags: , , , ,

Play Money by Julian Dibbell dives inside the economy and camaraderie within virtual worlds and takes readers along for the ride.  Chapters 1-21 focus largely on Ultima Online, one of the first successful massively multiplayer online games (MMOG or MMO) with a virtual economy.  Through the author’s experiences, we learn a few tricks of virtual economies that help us to increase our earning potential while in the virtual realm.  Overall, we learn that more often, people are getting paid while playing MMOs.  Dibbell shows readers that this is not an easy process.  At a minimum, achieving success requires collaboration with other players, the ability to predict how the economy will shift, and an understanding of business. 

Although the thought of making money is enticing, there are negative aspects of this distant and impersonal means of conducting business.  Gaining trust from business partners is one important, but difficult to achieve aspect while online.  In virtual worlds, people are able to portray whatever image they like, and because of this, you don’t really know who you’re talking to, as Dibbell found that he had been allowing a teenager to live in his virtual home and give him business advice.  In the popular virtual world, Second Life, I believe that conducting business is a little safer than it was during Ultima Online’s peak.  Just today, I found a blog explaining multiple ways of making money on Second Life, and because the site does not rely on eBay to buy and sell goods, it can prevent some of the theft and fraud that was common on Ultima Online.

I actually logged on to MTV’s Virtual Worlds site while trying to enter Ford Modeling Company’s First Virtual Model Contest, and I was able to get a glimpse of what everyone is talking about.  I was a little turned off at first when I saw that I had to use my credit card if I wanted buy anything or change my image, but after logging off and logging back in, I saw that I was given $1000 to get started.  I had some technical problems and didn’t see much I liked, so I have only bought a tank top and necklace so far, but because of my low status, I noticed that no one would acknowledge me.  I first felt the desire to upgrade myself when a guy in a Jeep pulled up beside me, looked at me for a few seconds and drove away.  I suppose we all want to be admired… or at least acknowledged, which is part of what keeps people coming back for more.  Once people are compelled to climb the social ladder, a world of opportunity opens up for entrepreneurs.  Together, these components drive the virtual economy. 

Socially, virtual worlds help users to fulfill an innate need to achieve regardless of whether they have been able to achieve that in the real world.  Cars, houses, clothes, and other virtual goods allow users to establish status and gain admiration from other players.  Shortly after his first login, Dibbell mentions how he wondered who the people were that lived in the big houses and how he wanted to become one of them so that people would wonder about him.  This book really made me question if there have been studies conducted that examine who is most susceptible to getting hooked on virtual lives.  If a person’s life is gratifying in the real world, are they less likely to spend excessive amounts of time and money in virtual worlds?  Of course virtual worlds are not only a means of being admired, many people also seek out virtual worlds to play games and act out things that aren’t possible in their everyday lives.  The Washington Post published an article October 6, 2007, that discusses how avatars in virtual worlds have been proven to help disabled individuals to fight and possibly recover from their diseases and disabilities.  As this article proves, virtual worlds can be therapeutic, but I am sure that there are negative repercussions from this interaction as well.  Many MMOs allow users to commit crimes against people that would have offenders incarcerated for years in the real world.  Studies show that children who play violent video games are more aggressive in their everyday lives.  Regardless of age, we should all be mindful of the activities that we participate in while visiting the virtual realm.  Obviously, virtual reality holds powers that can carry over into actual reality.


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