On the Commons--a great blog which extolls/explains the significance of common ownership regimes in areas like intellectual property--has a posting called "The Video Game Theory of Global Politics". In it David Bollier, author of Brand Name Bullies, suggests that MMOGs provide some insights into the international political economy of common ownership. He references, inter alia, Gilman Louie, head of In-Q-Tel, a CIA-funded venture capital firm (I shit you not) and game industry guy:
"Last year, Louie...offered some astute insights about global politics based on the collective behaviors he has observed in massively multi-player online games (MMPOGs). These games -- Quake, Civilization III, Diplomacy, Navy Seals and many others -- have literally tens of thousands of players at any given time. While there are obvious differences between online games and "real life" (no one really gets hurt; no real estate actually changes hands) there are also many intriguing similarities (identity and respect are paramount; group dynamics of competition and cooperation matter). What might MMPOGs have to say about collective behavior in the global commons?"
Yeah, I know, none of the games mentioned are actually MMOGs, but we'll let that ride, ok?
"It is important to understand how "network effects" are changing the dynamics of international politics, trade policy and commerce, said Gilman Louise of In-Q-Tel. The basic scenario mirrors what occurs in massively multi-player video games, in which tens of thousands of players participate in the same online game. "Everybody is playing the game and having a good time," said Louie. "But there's always one player who wins all the time, and everybody resents it. So different groups decide to band together. After the winning player, there is a second-tier group. They are really good players, but they really hate the guy who always wins. (Think France, Germany and China.) So in order to figure out how to win the advantage in this "net war," these players go offline. They use instant messaging to conspire how to take down the first player - because you never want the first player to win because that's the end of the game. You've got to keep the game alive."
Sorry? There's a winning player in MMOGs? Maybe I haven't been playing these games enough but I've never met a winning player, or even a winning guild. I know a few WoW lvl 60 night elves, but I don't think of them as winners. I know a lot of people who have more plat than me, but I don't think of them as winners so much as dupers. And I've never come across these so-called "second tier" groups who conspire to take down the top player. I know some guilds who could use some adult supervision, and I don't ever want to be hanging around a PvP server when Tim Burke is online; but stopping someone from "winning" in order "to keep the game alive"? WTF?
I think the OTC guys are really interesting and I've learnt a lot from the blog. But this one is just flatout wrong about MMOGs. I don't know if Gilman & Bollier are misinformed about MMOGs or are just talking about something else: email Diplomacy or Paranoia seems to fit the model outlined. But this just doesn't make sense as a description of MMOGs.
More than that, I think that this misreading means that researchers miss an opportunity to use MMOGs as political testbeds. The approach mentioned assumes a small number of players, which means that the sorts of politcal questions asked follow the Great Game theory of international political interaction: ie, a small number of powerful players (US, Russia, China, India, UN Security Council members, etc) with a string of less-powerful players milling round the edges (Old European countries, UN Western and Other Group, etc). This is a fairly attenuated model of the international political economy that ignores civil society groups, individual preferences of citizens, trans-national organizations/companies, and so on. Emergent behavior in MMOGs seems to me much more interesting as a model of political economies, and more likely to provide insights into how individual and group interaction leads to unexpected results that are not under the control of the governments (the emergence of RMT is probably the most obvious example, but the role of guilds is second in my opinion).
I'd say more, but I'm so deeply in time-debt at the moment that my creditors are on the phone to the bailiffs. And besides, you all know lots more than me...