musings of a mediabot

Virtual wealth

Posted on: November 25, 2008

I’ve casted conversation bait in my Intro. to Digital Age classmates that I think is worthy of expanding on here.  I wrote to my classmates via Google Groups:

What particularly interested me in Play Money was how gaming is not so different from the American sense of wealth.  “We” (I put we in quotes because we may not necessarily consider ourselves to be part of the collective “we”) believe that wealth  =  accumulation of goods.  We pass neighborhoods where homes are mansions and can accomodate 10 people.  Many Americans own more than one car per person whereas in the “good ol’ days,” one car equaled one household.

Dibbell’s points out that “in a game whose essence is accumulation, no house stays big enough for long.”  No wonder there is profit to be made in the buying and selling of virtual commodities. We as a race of people are rarely satisifed.  We need more and we need better – no matter if it affects our “real” life or our virtual life.

I’m sure it wasn’t Dibbell’s intention, but the parallel between online gaming and American consumption/consumerism is too blatant to ignore.  Dibbell says that the essence of gaming is accumulation.  The procuring and hording virtual loot for purposes of securing a status in a virtual “warzone” is quite similar to us wanting to keep up with the Joneses.

Therefore, it makes sense that in a virtual marketplace, “scarcity…is an essential variable.”  Surely, the act of accumulation is not gratifying unless the goods are sought-after, one-of-a-kind type of gems.  This is what raises my eyebrow – If virtual scarcity is the variable that either completes a sale or destroys a potential business opportunity, does scarcity also apply to our “real world” marketplace?  Do we buy things because no one else has them?  Here’s where my former statement that virtual trading = American consumption fails to make sense.

In our real world, we buy products all the time.  Constantly.  We make up reasons (ie., holidays) to buy more crap to fill our homes.  Are we more willing to buy because of an item’s rarity?  Some of us would say Yes, but I would argue that most things we accumulate are items that the Joneses already have. 

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe we do desire to be more unique members of a whole rather than meek sheep following the masses.   I’m willing to have my opinions shaken up.  Anyone?


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