While I argued earlier that belief in tangible goods as the only source of wealth was misguided, even I have trouble wrapping my mind around some new sources of value.
World of Warcraft matters for all sorts of reasons, but perhaps above all because it did all of this much better than anything else around, or than anyone had really thought possible. There were other massively multiplayer games before it, and there have been plenty since; some are wonderful, some very popular. But WoW was the bridgehead through which a sub-culture rudely inserted itself into the mainstream of cultural life. It has proved—with hard, unarguable numbers (12m players, over $1bn of annual revenues)—that playing videogames is a very serious kind of fun for many, many people. And it has proved that this kind of fun is bound up with a number of other trends that are worth taking seriously.
The study of virtual economics wasn’t born around WoW, but the notion that there can be such a thing as a billion-dollar international market in buying and selling unreal goods has gained common currency through it. WoW has now become a shorthand for the observation that real and virtual worlds can compete for allegiance in people’s lives—with potentially troubling consequences. But playing a game with strangers can also be one of the most eye-opening ways in which it’s possible to meet someone (my wife and I now regularly visit members of our in-game guild on the east coast of the US). And then there’s the whole culture that has grown up around it. I defy anyone who has played WoW not to hurt themselves laughing at this particular episode of South Park—or anyone who hasn’t to understand a single thing about it. The gulf between those who do and don’t know what playing a video game is like is now one of the most telling cultural fractures around; and it’s thanks in large part to WoW that it’s no longer clear which is the more dignified side to be standing on. [More]
This is not, perhaps, a significant thread in farm culture - yet. But as more engineers, tech-types and unrelated careerists wander back to our farms, it may not be the cultural outlier it seems today.
It makes you wonder where new wealth will be generated a decade from now.