on 3 April 2008
OK, so here's the idea. The author - a journalist - sets himself a target to report to the tax authorities that virtual trading through a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) is his main source of income in his next tax return.
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).
Julian Dibbell's first book (My Tiny Life) was one of the first serious treatments I ever saw about issues of ethics and legality in virtual worlds, and the charming way in which it was written made it a worthy read. When I saw that he had decided to tackle the link between virtual and real assets, and especially the 'seedy underbelly' of gold trading in virtual economies, I decided he was likely to make an interesting case whatever he wanted to say. I wasn't wrong - Julian Dibbell is an entertaining writer, and he tells his story with wit and conviction. While I abhor the practises that he engaged in (as someone involved in running a (much smaller) virtual world, I have a markedly different view of the implications of his actions), I was still drawn into the narrative and even, bizarrely, rooting for him towards the end.
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.