MMOs - A Mirror of Reality?

 
By Frank Lewis,
 
If you're an MMO gamer, it goes without saying that you must have at least once been caught up in the adrenaline fueling competition to hit the level cap, to be the first one to kill raid bosses or even competed over killing monsters as they spawn. Most importantly, you've probably at least once gotten all worked up over the competition regardless of the virtual and intangible nature of it. So how is it that someone could easily get completely stressed out and angry by sitting in-front of the computer screen?

First and foremost, you have to admit how very close MMORPGs mirror the real world. How so? Let's start from the most basics: Maslow's Hierachy of Needs. In order to survive psychologically in the world as it is today, people crave to belong, to be recognized and to have a social role to play right after the bare necessities of food and shelter are fulfilled. What happens when this is not met: the feeling of loneliness, inferiority and at extreme cases, the failure to thrive.

What we then see, is how people compete against each other to be recognized in all aspects of life from getting the higher grades in school, getting the more pride-worthy job, and so the story goes. No one wants to be the odd one out, the neglected or the freak show. You're either in the 'in' crowd or you're not. At work, you want to be successful, when you're jobless, it's a hush-hush business or people may start gossiping about you and won't let you in on their inner circle. It's literally the same with MMOs, you want to be part of a guild, join raids, be part of a questing party, etc. Instinctively, how you go about that is literally 'Whatever it takes' to be able to join the better known guilds, be one of the richer characters on your server or be the MVP of raid groups - i.e. to be recognized, accepted and have a significant social role within the virtual world.

The 'Whatever it takes' means having the best weapon, stat-packed armors, trinkets and so on and so forth to show others you mean business and put on a show for passersby when you obliterate seas of monsters as they spawn. For that you need money. Again here, the virtual world of MMO gaming highly reflects the real-world's economy. Want to be seen driving a Lamborghini? Dining at expensive restaurants? Then it's make money day-in and day-out. If you're hardworking enough, it's questing, grinding, earning from auction house profits and finding new strategies to earn gold, just like real life business strategies to make more. When the need to have more money goes to the extreme, that's when loan sharks and stealing comes in. In MMO that's when your character gets hacked or stolen by some other person and stripped off all your hard earned cash, which can be as psychologically devastating like loosing your wallet in real life or even worse.

Besides social needs, the MMORPG genre is built on an economy, phrased as virtual economy, that of which a good part of is moderated by the forces of demand and supply. For instance, the demand for epic items are almost always high. As it stands, the price for it is as well forever high given the limited supply. What this translates to is a higher equilibrium price. The supply for it however, is at the mercy of the game developer. As the developer increases supply, the cost of that item would most likely dip. We have yet to see a true free market economy. Just like there are loop holes in real live such as money laundering, almost every MMO economy is sooner or later manipulated by exploiters. Exploits are basically errors in the game that someone eventually notices and takes advantage of to earn more that the economy mechanism actually allows as explained by John Smith on the State of Guild Wars 2 Economy.

The notion of a completely player-driven economy has yet to be seen. Regardless of how close many games are at achieving this, a virtual world is nevertheless a virtual world that 'can' be moderated by its maker. Ironically, the idea of RMT shops messing in-game economy has been argued over and over. One argument for thought is in fact how much the RMT industry mirrors real life economy whereby counterfeit money as illegal as it is, continues to be one of the forces that influence the value of currencies.

It would be interesting to actually be able to proof whether the virtual economy is in fact a mirror of reality and/or to what degree of similarity we're actually talking about. The team here at MMOBUX is conducting a qualitative survey on this from various sources. If you're interested in having your say, please drop us an email. Please don't forget to add a note with your input incase you'd like to be anonymous when we publish our findings.


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