The migration of millions of people to the virtual worlds of massive multiplayer games will lead to public-policy changes in the real world.
So predicts Castronova (Telecommunications/Indiana Univ.; Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, 2005), an enthusiastic guide to the “transformative technology” of digital games. His clear explanation makes the experience understandable even to readers who have never participated in Second Life or EverQuest. The games are attractive, he argues, because designers have learned how “to make people happy through manipulation of the social order.” The experience of happiness in virtual worlds will lead to “increasing dissatisfaction with real-world governments,” which will be forced “to become more fun.” Castronova draws intriguing parallels between game design and such economic and political issues as employment, equality of opportunity, wages and social insurance, but he overstates the inevitability of change. It’s misleading to compare game designers—who have the luxury of iterative testing in a controlled environment and the responsibility to deliver a discrete set of features—with public policymakers, who face more serious challenges with greater political and economic constraints. The father of two young children, Castronova acknowledges worrying about the impact of the fun society on parenting, a job that requires a sustained work ethic but “little moment-to-moment happiness.” (There are, he notes, no children in virtual worlds.) Otherwise, he admits to being “pollyannish” about the future we can expect when the insights of hedonistic psychology flow from virtual to real life. He completely ignores the public and personal consequences of millions of people choosing to leave reality, including the inevitable further weakening of already fragile community and social networks and organizations. No game designer, however skilled, can redress the emotional impoverishment and isolation of people who choose to invest themselves in virtual rather than in flesh-and-blood relationships.
Fails to consider the possibility that the fun society may turn out to be a dystopia.