The State of Play: Post 2

by Alphaville Herald on 19/11/03 at 12:14 pm

Sorry I’m being so slow about posting summaries of these sessions. Here it is almost a week later and I’m only up to my 2nd post. Nevertheless…

Session 2 on Friday was entitled “‘Century 21′: Property, Intellectual Property and Creativity in the Virtual World.” The session included presentations by Dan Hunter, Ted Castronova, and Yochai Benkler. Benkler, both in his talk and at other points in the conference expressed a great deal of concern that everyone was rushing to turn MMORPGs into little capitalist enclaves and that folks are therefore overlooking a great deal of possibility and potential with this medium. Underlying all of this is also a concern that once you surrender the gift economy of these online games and turn them into little commercial enterprises you jeopardize their ability to serve as places where free speech can be exercised. Clearly there is an issue here, although there isn’t a whole lot of barrier to starting a game that is founded on more idealist principles if they want to (it is hard to see, however, that one can prevent capitalist enclaves from breaking out within the game – hmm, possible test case here for the stability of various models of socialism).

I love Ted Castronova, but either I missed his point or just simply disagree with his apparent riff. He seems to have an idea that there is a clear demarcation between the game or play aspect of these worlds and the RL business end. Guess I don’t get that. Just a few blocks away from the talk, folks on Wall Street were engaged in RL activities which for them were also very fun games. I seriously doubt that there is even an interesting question as to what “the game” in a particular MMORPG is. People take advantage of the platform to engage in all kinds of play and even meta-play (like trying to make money on ebay or duping objects or currency) and of course no end to the social games that one might play when logged on. Castronova gave the example of the poor Cubs fan who reached for the ball in the playoffs, and the point of the example seemed to be that there was a question about whether the fan actually interfered with the game or not. But of course one level fans and the possibility of fan interference just *are* part of the game, whatever the rules may say. Then too, there is the larger game of Cub fans rejoicing in their misery of which this was well within the boundaries of play. All I’m saying is that play and games break out everywhere and at all levels and that it is pointless to try and specify one game or set of rules as *the* game or set of rules.

I remember thinking that Hunter’s talk was great, and being completely charged up about it, but now I can’t remember it so probably I just internalized everything he said and have absorbed his views and mistaken them for my own. Also confounding this were some very interesting discussions that I had with him between sessions. As best I recall, his headline point was that the notions of economy and property within these games is completely viable from any sensible economic and legal theories of economy and property. I also remember him being on the same page as me (or me as him) on Ted’s hard distinction between reality and play.

More to come.

2 Responses to “The State of Play: Post 2”

  1. Candace

    Nov 19th, 2003

    No need for apologies on rate of posting; I, for one, want to thank you on behalf of myself and perhaps other readers (I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but…) for getting your ass out there and checking out this stuff for those of us that don’t have such initiative (or means).

    As I understand it from the selection, I *do* think there is a point that Castronova was trying to get across that may be important. I don’t think we want to (or are ready to) rid ourselves of any line of demarcation between games and real life, including capitalism that seems to drive most of these games from the parent company’s perspective. Having said that, I think your/Hunter’s point that “hey, we have games in real life, how we demarcate this distinction (supposing one grants there is a line to be drawn) may be quite arbitrary” is vital too. If that’s a fair statement of the point you/Hunter are making, then I think that is something to keep at the forefront of decision-making in these areas.

    One issue, that Castronova might be getting at, and without speaking for him, something that concerns me is that supposing there is a difference between the two realms, it *is* important to do our best to delineate where one ends and the other begins because the formats of these two realms is perhaps quite different and maybe they call for different rules to govern them. Why? One thing that jumps out at me is that we have long-standing structures that rule the real world, then we have other relatively youthful and malleable structures to rule the game-world. By the very relative youth of the Internet as opposed to other bureacratic structures, this might be something we also want to keep in mind when we’re making policy decisions (overall, ruling social, legal, economic interests; virtual or otherwise). Whether it is a good idea to move towards assimialating the on-line game structures with rules (economic {including business}, legal, etc.) that we find useful and proper for real life concerns, I find an open and interesting question.

    I guess I’m not saying anything earth-shattering here. I can see two camps, but in my mind, these camps need not be diametrically opposed. The Castronova camp and the Hunter/urizenus camp (if I haven’t corrupted them horribly through my ineloquence and/or ignorance) both give us some food for thought.

  2. lebenslauf

    Jan 15th, 2004

    thanks for your site and keep it up.

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