Play Money explores a remarkable new phenomenon that's just beginning to enter public consciousness: MMORPGs, or Massively MultiPlayer Online Role-Playing Games, in which hundreds of thousands of players operate fantasy characters in virtual environments the size of continents. With city-sized populations of nearly full-time players, these games generate their own cultures, governments, and social systems and, inevitably, their own economies, which spill over into the real world.The desire for virtual goods--magic swords, enchanted breastplates, and special, hard-to-get elixirs--has spawned a cottage industry of "virtual loot farmers": People who play the games just to obtain fantasy goods that they can sell in the real world. The best loot farmers can make between six figures a year and six figures a month.Play Money is an extended walk on the weird side: a vivid snapshot of a subculture whose denizens were once the stuff of mere sociological spectacle but now--with computer gaming poised to eclipse all other entertainments in dollar volume, and with the lines between play and work, virtual and real increasingly blurred--look more and more like the future.
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Over the course of a decade of writing and publishing, Julian Dibbell has established himself as one of the most thoughtful observers of digital culture. His previous book, My Tiny Life, was published to great reviews. Dibbell's essays and articles have appeared in Details, Spin, Harper's, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Le Monde, the Village Voice, and TIME. Currently a contributing editor for Wired magazine, Dibbell lives in South Bend, Indiana.From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. Something had to give in author Dibbell's life: either his day job freelancing for such magazines as Wired, or his 20 hour-a-week online gaming habit. Dibbell chose the latter, making it his business to exploit "the radical confusion of production and pretend" that massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMOs), such as EverQuest and Ultima Online, have instilled in their millions of users. In this cultural analysis-part memoir, part history, part economic investigation-Dibbell chronicles his attempts to get a piece of the estimated $880 million market in virtual goods, commodities such as armor, currency and even houses that exist only in the gaming world-but which people are willing to pay very real money for. Funny and uncommonly thoughtful, Dibbell takes us into the computer fantasyland, introducing us to real-world game players, virtual economies and the places they interact, such as a legendary office in Tijuana where unskilled workers make $19 a day to play online, "harvesting the resources of imaginary worlds." Dibbel disects the history of computers and games and tackles a number of issues legal, ethical and esoteric, including the IRS perspective on profits from dreamed-up merchandise, the difference or lack thereof between "real" and "virtual" currency, and the knotty question behind all the time, energy and cash spent on so much mouse-clicking: "Why would anyone enjoy it?" An unusual narrative, careful scholarship and real passion drive this circuitous (pun intended) study of a new American pastime.
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