A Letter from the Publisher: Our Mission at The Alphaville Herald

by Alphaville Herald on 24/10/03 at 6:01 pm

In a recent study, Edward Castronova at California State Fullerton calculated that if the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game) Norrath were “real” place, the per capita gross domestic product of Norrath would make it the 79th richest country in the world (per capita), just behind Russia, but ahead of Bulgaria.

This remarkable conclusion was based upon the sale of currency and virtual goods of Norrath on ebay and other online locations. Other recent work has pointed not just to the development of virtual economies, but to emerging governance structures, laws, and other institutions within virtual communities. If this is right, then virtual communities in general and MMORPGs in particular are not just games, and not just chat rooms, but are also real places that are developing real social institutions and real economies.

What this means to the journalist and the academic is that these are places to be studied, but not just because of what is happening there. We also want to know what these places tell us about ourselves, and we also want to know what they portend. They may in fact be places that are spawning new legal and economic institutions that may be adopted by Real Life (RL) governments. Or stronger, they may even develop into synthetic worlds (with economies and governance structures) that rival those of the RL nation states.

It is no surprise then that a number of individuals are closely studying these places, and others have become journalists with MMORPGs as their beats. There is, for example, Julian Dibbell, whose beat is Norrath, and then there is Wagner James Au, whose beat is Second Life. There are presumably many others. Our beat in The Alphaville Herald is the world of The Sims Online (TSO), and in particular the city of Alphaville. We cover life within the game, but we are also interested in issues outside the game. For example, is TSO going to survive or will it be a dismal failure? What could be done to improve it? Is Maxis a collection of utterly clueless suits and game programmers, or are there people in charge there who know what they are dealing with? In effect, providing the infrastructure for an emerging synthetic society.

Our most important charge at the Alphaville Herald, however, is to reflect on what all of this means ? what are the legal, social, and economic implications of what is happening in our MMORPG? Exactly what kind of economy is emerging in Alphaville? What kinds of social institutions are developing? What is the nature of the interpersonal bonds that are being formed? What does role-play in Alphaville tell us about the people who are engaged in the play? These are just some of the questions that interest us. No doubt other questions will come to grip our imagination as the Herald matures, and no doubt events both within the game and outside of it will have profound effects on what we write here. In the meantime, however, this is where we stand — on the shores of a new land, as inhabitants of a brand new city, indeed a new kind of city: Alphaville.

Peter Ludlow
a.k.a.: Urizenus (Alphaville)

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