A New Perspective on the Production and Evolution of Cultures
Edited by Enrico Bertacchini, Giangiacomo Bravo, Massimo Marrelli and Walter Santagata
Chapter 11: Virtual Worlds, Online Gaming Communities and Cultural Commons
Enrico Bertacchini and Paola Borrione 1 INTRODUCTION In the last decade, virtual worlds have surged as a new booming phenomenon on the internet. Virtual worlds are based on massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs) where communities of users interact through avatars, and use and create digital objects in computer-simulated environments. The number of people using virtual worlds has been steadily increasing since their inception in the 1990s and today MMOGs, such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, routinely attract millions of users. Since virtual worlds have become a phenomenon of growing importance, there is a great research potential on the economic, social and cultural implications of such emerging and complex environments (Bainbridge 2007). First, social scientists and psychologists have started analyzing both the social dynamics of online gaming communities and the motivations that attract people to virtual worlds (Fleming et al. 2004; Ducheneaut et al. 2006; Yee 2006). Second, because virtual worlds usually involve the production and exchange of digital goods, economists have mainly focused on the analysis of virtual markets and economies, noticing that the economic activity generated in virtual worlds already exceeds that of some less-developed countries in the real world (Castronova 2005, 2007). Third, legal scholars are raising issues about taxing economic transactions on virtual worlds as a form of e-commerce and, more importantly, about the unclear assignment of property rights over digital goods and avatars’ identities between platform owners and users (Lastowka and Hunter 2004; Lederman 2007). This chapter attempts to contribute to this growing literature...
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