In this recent article, Wired News: Interreality Business Machines, we learn that IBM is taking virtual economies seriously by developing heavy-hitting software for dealing with the logistics of “pretend” economies in online multiplayer game environments.
Keeping track of thousands of people buying and selling and bartering in real time is chip-melting stuff, if you’re trying to do it while simultaneously keeping track of how each transaction is affecting the world it happens in as well. So, this is one step toward enabling even bigger multiplayer environments.
But it’s also a step toward connecting real-world economies with virtual ones. It’s already happening, but awkwardly, with virtual trade leaking out of the ‘game’ and into other environments, like eBay.
I’m a big believer that reality is socially constructed. No, I’m no hard-bitten post-structuralist… I’m just acknowledging a very powerful truth. I’ve also been exposed to just enough Marx that I happen to believe that our money is a big part of what dictates the contours of ‘reality’ for us.
This development is just one more factor effacing the distinction between “real” and “virtual” for human experience.
I signed up for a free login to Gamasutra, and probably should’ve long ago. I’ve been chewing on a bone lately that I keep tripping over and have been for years: that multiplayer games are the purest essence we have of multi-user environments, and that if we watch how problems are solved and conventions are evolved in that realm, we’ll have a better idea of what to expect in the more quotidian worlds of business and community. This Masters Thesis (is it not unbelievably cool that there is a phat gaming site out there that publishes dissertations and theses???) is about collaboration in computer-based communities, and how ‘trust’ enters into the equation. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I have enough of a taste to know this is something I want to share. If you want to read it, you just have to do a very quick and easy signup form, and you can read all the content on the site that you want for free, as far as I can tell. Here’s the article, and a quote follows:
Gamasutra – Masters Thesis: The Architechtures of Trust: Supporting Cooperation in the Computer-Supported Community
This thesis centers on the necessary design conditions for computer-supported cooperation. Social issues pertaining to online interaction are analysed on the basis of existing sociological theory with the specific aim of determining if there are analytically important differences between interaction in offline and online settings. This leads to a description of how knowledge of online dynamics may be used to further cooperation and trust in collaborative computing.