Virtual reality gaming is scaring me. I'm going to start reading this book which I read about on BoingBoing today. It's scary. Scary scary scary. Wadds must also read it so he can see how it absorbs people's lives. Cory sez:
The author's charm is that he loves the game and loves gamers -- their trash-talking camaraderie, their furious grudges, the ticklish surreallity of an entrepreneurial strategy that needs to take account of where the scariest in-game monsters are, which arcane pseudo-medieval trades are likely to contain the largest quantity of exploitable, undiscovered bugs, and whether the IRS will class the in-game ore your bot mines for you as taxable (because it is like a prize on a game-show), or exempt (because it's imaginary) -- and whether the fact that you sell some of that ore for hard currency makes a difference.
Dibbell's quixotic journey (in one year, earn enough from in-game trading to truthfully report to the IRS that he's making more as a virtual-goods broker than he ever has as a freelance writer) is fascinating and terrible. His marriage collapses (he insists it's unrelated). His friends tell reporters that he's become gold-obsessed. He is ripped off by hackers in Malaysia and identity thieves of unknown origin. His teenaged mentors come to him for advice on their love lives or desperate to unload some gold for cash so that they can score some weed in time for their birthday.
The other brokers are the most fascinating part of the book -- some of them driven loons with dozens of computers in racks, some semi-anonymous Chinese "biotech executives" hoping to start a Chinese gamer-sweatshop with Dibbell as frontman. They're aggro teenagers or retired software engineers -- all of them doing this ineluctably weird and wonderful thing, turning games into bucks.
Games may exploit some deep evolutionary leftover that causes us to be mesmerized by the steady brain-reward from constrained tasks with measurable goals and the need to groom other primates to achieve them. Exploiting that seems a little -- well, mercenary. But perhaps the same can be said of all our trades: music, visual art, storytelling, these answer a human need that originally evolved to keep us in harmony with our fellow monkeys, or to keep us striving for better foraging ground, or to keep us in the running for prime mating opportunities. If turning a buck off of the compelling nature of play is cheap, is it any cheaper than turning a buck off the compulsion of a good story?