[NetBehaviour] Do virtual worlds liberate us?

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Sun Dec 2 15:39:22 CET 2007

Do virtual worlds liberate us?

Ren Reynolds

I’m wondering what TN reader’s view is of the trajectory of the 
intersection of virtual worlds and what some term the political economy 
is. In short do we think that the practices associated virtual worlds 
are tending towards liberating us or are acting as just another way for 
dominant ideologies to be re-enforced?

It seems to me that in many ways virtual worlds are the ultimate 
expression of consumerism. Game worlds construct new needs which the 
use-value of virtual artefacts meet and new forms of labour are 
constructed to enable us to gain them.

Both game worlds and social worlds, in their different ways, can also 
act as a pure mechanism for symbolic-value exchange through the 
mechanism of virtual goods. For example: a virtual Gucci bag may have no 
use-value what so ever in a virtual world but it carries with it much of 
the symbolic value of the brand.

In general virtual worlds seem often to replicate structures of labour 
and production – they even support a class hierarchies based on 
geography, contextual knowledge, time in the given community etc.

At the same time virtual worlds offer the promise of liberating us. Not 
quite in the old utopian ideal of freeing us fully from pre-existing 
notions of self but at least opening up new opportunities for 
self-exploration. What’s more should you have access to a virtual world 
the barrier between roles of consumption and production seems to have 
been lowered such that both within the context of a virtual space e.g. 
as a crafter or builder in second life; or outside it, say as a fan fic 
creator, many can participate in a mixed traditional, amateur and / or 
gift economy.


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