MMORPGs and Perception of Value

I made a post a little while back that on MMORPG Cheating and received a very interesting and convincing argument from Gaming Freedom that I thought warranted another post. Basically, the previous post was to emphasize how MMORPGs should be taken a little bit more serious when it comes to its future and how they will function as a major recreation tool the world over. I feel this is becoming more of a reality. (see my post on World of Warcract and the future of MMORPGs).

In my previous post on MMORPG Cheating, Gaming Freedom disagrees with my analogy of Racing and fines/rules due to in-game actions. Gaming Freedom makes some good points an writes:

[…]
You’ll never see laws like [those appearing in China] in the states because virtual items don’t cost anything to produce. Yeah, YOU had to work really hard to get that uber sword of usefullness, but that doesn’t mean it has a value. It’s a 1 on a server somewhere. Anyone, with sufficient rights, could choose to give that sword to you. Cars are not the same way. When you damage one there is no easy way to fix it, and the destruction has real costs involved.

Another reason your debunking of the car analogy fails is that you’re ignoring WHERE the fines and suspensions come from. They do not come from state or federal or even county law. They come from the organization which complies with the county, state, and federal laws and THEY are held accountable first. They can then pass off blame if they want, but at the end of the day it is the racetrack, or gaming company, who is ultimately responsible for what happens in it’s private club.

Society will draw the line, I predict, at value. So long as MMORPG’s are housed on servers, and so long as “items” are nothing more than database entries, they will not have any value. No value, no crime. You’ll see legislation around harrassment long before you see it around theft.

The argument has some good points but I don’t fully agree and believe a few points are slightly over-generalized. Its all about:

Perception of Value:
While I agree that the argument can (and is often made) that items in a game have no value…that they are simply entries in a database owned by the company that has ‘invented’ said item. This argument is flawed in that value is all about perception. An object or idea has value because someone believes it has value. I could own a facial tissue that was used by Britney Spears at a concert and cherish it (assuming I like Britney Spears) and consider it extremely valuable. Collectors of oddities such as this may agree with me. Now, what if I had bought that tissue on e-bay for $327.41 and I kept it in a glass case…if I woke up one morning and found it missing, would I not be able to file a police report and if the perpetrator was caught, bring them to court?

Perhaps a used tissue is not a great analogy. What about a Pet Rock? How about a diamond? What sets a diamond apart from a pet rock? Why is one more valuable than the other? Even if the diamond is un-shaped and un-cut, doesn’t it still have more value than the Pet Rock? The only reason a diamond has more value is because society thinks it should have more value. The argument can be made that diamonds are more rare than a Pet Rock made from a random stone…but the importance of rarity is once again based on society’s perception. Society deems that rarity holds more value.

Here are a few other arguments that can be made in regards to the value of a real-world item holding more weight than an in-game item:

  • A real-life sword has more value than an in-game sword because real world resources were used to create it!
    • Not entirely true. In-game items have gone through a lengthy design/modification process regards to how it looks (art), how it functions (rules), etc. A number of hours have been put into the production of the in-game sword by the company that has produced it.
  • But but but wait! In the above statement you say that the company has produced it…so its the property of the company and is valuable to them and them alone.
    • This is also a bad argument. When you purchase a piece of software…Windows XP, Age of Empires III, Photoshop, etc; the software that you install on your system, its cd, its manuals, etc are all property of the company that produces it. Read the End User License Agreement. You are leasing the product. Yeah, you spent $150 purchasing it but that copy is not yours. However, if someone stole your copy of Windows XP, you can call the authorities and if the perpetrator is found, there will be penalties.
  • Pfft…but an in-game sword is just 1’s and 0’s.
    • So is a piece of software. Software is just 1’s and 0’s.
  • Right right right…but the difference between the in-game sword and a real-world sword is that real-world money was paid.
    • Hrm. Fact. But think about it. In MMORPGs, real-world money is paid monthly to play the game. In the game your $15/month is spent playing and attempting to acquire items you view as valuable in-game.
  • You pay $15/month in game to play the game, not $15/month to buy an item.
    • Another good point. But in all actuality you are paying $15/month for time in game. It takes a great deal of time to attain the appropriate level required to find an ‘valuable’ item and even more time in the act of actually finding the item…which could take days, weeks, months, etc.
  • But now you are saying that the item has value merely because of time…you can’t put a price tag on time.
    • Thats just silly. Businesses/offices the world over fire people for theft of time constantly. Projects are designed and given value based solely on time. Time is a valuable and saying otherwise is just silly…especially when you are paying for that time.

I’m sure there are more arguments and I urge people to post them. In-game items have value because a society believes they have value. That society is the MMO gaming comunity and it is growing. As it grows, we will find that that society will have a larger voice than it does now. What will that voice say when those voices are coming from people of power? Heck, we have a national do not call list because enough people hated receiving telemarketing calls…But when it was the ‘people of power’ received those telemarketing calls and finally got pissed off that donotcall.gov was created along with a threat of fines. What happens when a Congressman plays WoW and get pissed that his Vestaments of Prophecy are deleted by someone who maliciously signed in to his account? What happens when the President’s level 60 Warrior in Lineage II is attacked by an unbeatable-bot and has all his hard-earned weapons stolen?

I do agree with Gaming Freedom in that we will see legislation about harrassment in the US long before legislation on theft. Will it go past that? Hard to tell…Its society’s call. And that all depends on the MMORPG movement.