Play Money, by Julian Dibbell July 2006
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Play Money explores the remarkable new phenomenon of MMORPGs, or Massively MultiPlayer Online Role-Playing Games, in which hundreds of thousands of players operate fantasy characters in virtual environments. With city-sized populations, 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 otherentertainments in dollar volume, and with the lines between play and work, virtual and real increasingly blurred-look more and more like the future.