– Maud has a short story, “Post-Extraction,” up at the newish literary magazine Swink. In news that will surprise nobody, it’s really, really good. How smart and nice of them to make it freely available!
– Part of Maud’s story is about on-line gaming. A little while back, a thoroughly fascinating essay in The Walrus looked at the real-world economics of on-line fantasy worlds. Economist Edward Castronova stumbled on these games a few years ago and what he discovered there revived a flagging academic career:
EverQuest had its own economy, a bustling trade in virtual goods. Players generate goods as they play, often by killing creatures for their treasure and trading it. The longer they play, the more powerful they get–but everyone starts the game at Level 1, barely strong enough to kill rats or bunnies and harvest their fur. Castronova would sell his fur to other characters who’d pay him with “platinum pieces,” the artificial currency inside the game. It was a tough slog, so he was always stunned by the opulence of the richest players. EverQuest had been launched in 1999, and some veteran players now owned entire castles filled with treasures from their quests.
Things got even more interesting when Castronova learned about the “player auctions.” EverQuest players would sometimes tire of the game, and decide to sell off their characters or virtual possessions at an on-line auction site such as eBay. When Castronova checked the auction sites, he saw that a Belt of the Great Turtle or a Robe of Primordial Waters might fetch forty dollars; powerful characters would go for several hundred or more. And sometimes people would sell off 500,000-fold bags of platinum pieces for as much as $1,000.
As Castronova stared at the auction listings, he recognized with a shock what he was looking at. It was a form of currency trading. Each item had a value in virtual “platinum pieces”; when it was sold on eBay, someone was paying cold hard American cash for it. That meant the platinum piece was worth something in real currency. EverQuest’s economy actually had real-world value.
He began calculating frantically. He gathered data on 616 auctions, observing how much each item sold for in U.S. dollars. When he averaged the results, he was stunned to discover that the EverQuest platinum piece was worth about one cent U.S.–higher than the Japanese yen or the Italian lira. With that information, he could figure out how fast the EverQuest economy was growing. Since players were killing monsters or skinning bunnies every day, they were, in effect, creating wealth. Crunching more numbers, Castronova found that the average player was generating 319 platinum pieces each hour he or she was in the game–the equivalent of $3.42 (U.S.) per hour. “That’s higher than the minimum wage in most countries,” he marvelled.
Then he performed one final analysis: The Gross National Product of EverQuest, measured by how much wealth all the players together created in a single year inside the game. It turned out to be $2,266 U.S. per capita. By World Bank rankings, that made EverQuest richer than India, Bulgaria, or China, and nearly as wealthy as Russia.
It was the seventy-seventh richest country in the world. And it didn’t even exist.
– I like James Lilek’s affectionate tribute to writers who smoke. Or is it smokers who write? In any case, Christopher Hitchens’ recent slice-and-dice jobs on Michael Moore and Ronald Reagan are the occasion for a description I know will have certain FOOGICs nodding their heads in self-recognition:
I am reasonably sure he wrote both pieces in the same state of furious irritated inebriation, and both strike me as two-pack essays. Forty cigarettes, minimum. Of course, you don’t know if he’s one of those light-