Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot Hardcover – 31 Jul 2006
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The New York Post July 16, 2006 Sunday --New York Post
About the Author
About the author: Julian Dibbell s writing has appeared in Details, Spin, Harper s, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Le Monde, Village Voice and Time. In the 2002-2004 academic year, he was a visiting fellow at Stanford Law School s Center for Internet and Society. He is the author of My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World, and is currently a contributing editor for Wired magazine. He lives with his wife and daughter in Indiana, USA.
Top Customer Reviews
By turns laugh-out loud funny and heart-rendingly sad, the book then traces his year long challenge. The laughter, the ups and downs, the cycles of deep joy at discovering a new market opportunity, and darkest despair as game designers close yet another profitable loophole or rivals find a way to frustrate him.
It's hard to say whether real life provides the context for his online trading or online life sets the context for the events of hie real life, but either way the book is enjoyable. It's well written (as you'd expect prom a professional writer), engaging, and it keeps you turning the pages, particularly as the tax filing deadline approaches.
Play Money raises many questions about the morality of life online and the social consequences of devoting yourself to a world where trade is pretty much 24/7. But at the end of the day I had to wonder what I had learnt from it, and the answer was: not a lot.
So by all means read this if you're a fan of online environments like Ultima Online and Second Life. But don't expect to read it and make millions (of dollars or gold pieces).
The link between virtual and concrete assets is an issue that is going to become important before too much more time has passed, and that fact alone makes this a timely, if not important, addition to the literature on the subject.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is set in a fiction that is currently owned by the Microsoft of the games world: Electronic Arts. Play Money starts with Dibbell magically blasting lizard men, then having himself blasted by a superior magician, who insults him on the poor quality of the items on his avatar's corpse and kills his horse out of spite. Then we're off to Tijuana, in search of virtual sweatshops. The lyricism and wit of My Tiny Life is there, but the bloom is off the virtual rose, so to speak, and real violence, theft, duplicity are lurking constantly below the surface of the fiction.
Why? Because it is a book about commerce, mostly, and a peculiar type of black market that Dibbell got to know rather well. Ultima Online's fanciful world of magicians, castles, and knights in armor is the home of very real economies that have emerged in virtual property. And from Dibbell's description, the main movement in the economy is fueled by software exploits and botting.
Dibbell has to struggle with the gears of this trade, because he's really captivated by the fiction, fascinated by the line created between play and work, and curious about the implications of virtual sweatshops for Marxist theory. He has a philosophical bent, but the path of virtual business leads inexorably to the sweatshops in Tijuana and their equivalents: he finds himself becoming ever more cozy with the hackers who engage in something with roughly the same ethical valance as ticket scalping.
What is most amazing about the book, I think, is that he manages to pull off this combination of fantasy, tawdriness, and philosophy with a true page-turner. The scope is huge, but the pace is brisk -- we're alternatively striking out into ludological theory, recounting the mafia-type threats of competing virtual economy hackers, praising the wifi at Flying J truckstops, and recounting how his avatar watered the plants on the roof of his castle in Britannia while his good friend Radny's tailoring scissors went snip-snip-snip downstairs. It's hard to keep track of where the fantasy in this book begins and ends. At a certain point, you start to wonder if it matters.
Play Money is worth reading just to learn about the details of the real-money trade. But it is Dibbell's wonderful knack for words and stories that makes the book sing.
The book is an elegy to the world of play we lost when adulthood got us, a critique of a workaholic culture so preoccupied with its own games -- er, goals -- that it can't see the value in play, and a love song to fatherhood. And, it's like, totally cool, dude, what can I say?
But he's not just looking for gold here, real or virtual. He's after answers to big questions. What makes something valuable? What is a market? What is an economy? What kinds of abstractions are we exchanging when we buy a material object, or a service, or a ticket to a movie, and put it on a credit card? In a world where the price of something as simultaneously abstract and material as "pork belly futures" is announced on the radio (in the Midwest, at least), is it really all that odd to put up a virtual store in a fictional place called Brittania, where you sell virtual swords? Is that store any more fictional or real than e-Bay, or than the one Dibbell puts up outside the game world, where he charges real money for these imaginary items?
"Play Money" ponders these big questions, but it isn't all Marx and Baudrillard. It's a gripping and funny and sometimes even poignant story, told in a conversational style that's a breeze to read. Dibbell is a great guide through this world, for a newbie like me, because he stops to explain the way things work--the intricacies of the games, of course, but also the arcana of economics and the complexities of computer science--in ways that are clear without ever seeming dumbed down. I've never learned so much from such a page-turner.
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