Some of you may have been following the Arden project (reported in Nature and the Chronicle of Higher Education). I'm pleased to announce that the project has come to fruition. With generous support from the MacArthur Foundation, we have created a fun game environment and used it to conduct a month-long experiment. Our experimental question (kept secret up to now) was: Are fantasy game players economically "normal"? Or on the contrary, when they make themselves into elves and dwarves and hobbits, do they stop taking economic decisions seriously? We created two virtual worlds, one an exact copy of the other, except that in the experimental world the price of a simple healing potion was twice as high as in the control. If people are taking prices seriously in this fantasy environment, they should buy fewer of the potions when potions are more expensive.
At stake here is the entire idea of using virtual worlds as a Petri dish. If fantasy gamers behave in ways that violate our most basic assumptions of economic normalcy, then it makes no sense to use virtual worlds to study large-scale economic behavior. If, conversely, fantasy gamers seem to be normal economic agents, then perhaps some of the behavior in virtual worlds does indeed generalize to the real world. If so, then we can consider using virtual worlds to conduct controlled experiments at the macro scale of society, where our most pressing problems seem to live (natural resource management, intercultural mistrust, information security, disease).
The initial findings of the Arden experiment will be released during the International Communications Association meetings in Montreal next weekend. The session we're part of is this one:
"High Density Session: The Web 1.0, 2.0, and Beyond"
Time: Sat May 24, 3:00 - 4:15pm
Place: Le Centre Sheraton / Drummond West
Get more information about the meeting here.
In this format, eight presenters will each have 5 minutes to describe her or his work. Then we will go to our posters, pasted to nearby walls, where each of us will answer questions about the findings. I'll be standing at my poster; thus if you have a particular interest in the Arden project and its findings, please feel free to attend this session and see them first hand. Fresh off the internets, as it were.
I will collect comments from the ICA meeting and use them to revise the paper we're writing, before sending it off to a journal. This will occur sometime in June. At that time we will also release the paper as a Working Paper. An announcement about the paper will be made here.