Play With Julian Dibbell’s Money in Second Life
Well, read about it, anyway. Dibbell, a journalist, Terra Nova contributor and author of the new book Play Money, Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot, comes to the virtual world of Second Life today — not once, but twice — to promote his new publication (which is sitting on my desk at the moment, but which I’ve barely had time to crack yet). Check him out for a book signing and “informal chat” at noon SL time, and a live interview with New World Notes‘s Hamlet Au at 6pm, followed by audience Q&A and more signing.
I spoke to Julian recently about his year-long experience as a gold trader in the MMO Ultima Online, where he managed to drag down a bit more than $11,000. To Julian, the episode illustrates “the under-exploited productive capacity of play,” and raises some intersting issues about just what it means to “play” a game.
“I didn’t have time to play the game per se, but I was definitely play the internal market,” he said. “A lot of the gold farmers that I was talking to, the were very fascinated and passionate about exploring the intricacies of the code, and playing at the very edge of the permissible. While on the one hand anybody you talk to who’s doing this as a business may tell you it’s not a game anymore, if you look at it formally and even psychologically, it’s hard to say — especially with these games, where so much of the play is so laborious. How do you draw a bright line between what the work is and what the play is? It’s not easy to do.”
As time went on, Julian found himself more and more removed from what most of us wouild recognize as gameplay: “”The alienating thing was going from having one character on one shard with my house and identity and connections, to operating on all the shards,” he told me. “That put a distance between me and my previous style of play.”
And in the end, Julian had second thoughts, for most of the same reasons that most players abhor real-money trade. “What I ultimately ended up feeling queasy about was seeing the ways that these gold farmers really set the pace of the game and the grind of the game, and took control away from the players in terms of being able to decide how they wanted to play the game. The pace has been set by the gold farmers.”
For more insights, log into Second Life (reservations are necessary, it seems) and hang with Julian at the New Globe Theater built by Reuben Steiger’s Millions of Us (in SL’s New Globe region). Be careful, though: Julian’s World of Warcraft guildies tell me he’s the worst kind of ninja.