Diablo III has inspired quite a bit of conversation among gamers this year. The game sold millions of copies right out of the gate, but its constant connectivity, server woes, connection issues, claims of hacking and real-money auction house have collectively inspired quite a bit of controversy.
Over at The Atlantic, writer Yannick LeJacq uses Diablo III to make the argument that the connection of a real-world economy to in-game economies forms the basis for civil society, of a strange new kind, and that doing so puts the game's owner — Blizzard — into the position of governance. And if Blizzard is performing the role of a government, he continues, then it has quite a long way to go:
Even the most radical libertarian would probably agree that a government must perform two essential functions: keep you alive, and protect your property. Blizzard, then, failed in both tasks once users began losing control of their virtual selves or the goods they had earned. To its credit, the company has already gone to great lengths to repair this. But a more pressing issue is how gamers themselves process these concerns. Maybe the arbitrary cultural taxonomy "gamer" itself is defunct. Instead, a new notion of citizenship is needed as people enter into these increasingly elaborate digital universes.
LeJacq continues the line of inquiry, musing that if Blizzard does indeed operate as the government for a loosely connected people who live in a virtual world, then perhaps the time has come for that people, the gamers, to demand better protection from their rulers. "The need for gamers to assert their rights becomes immediately apparent now that real money has been introduced to the Diablo world," he writes.
We would all agree at this stage that players who trust a company like Blizzard with their money deserve a level of consumer protection. If you give a company cash, you tend to trust them to do what they say they are going to do with it, to give you the goods or services promised in exchange for the money, and to try their hardest to protect you from being defrauded as a result of the transaction. But does adding money into a game really create a separate economy, or a set-apart world? As we rent access to games, but purchase items in them, is a new entity really formed?
I'm inclined to think not. But should Blizzard always do its best to protect its millions of customers worldwide? That almost goes without saying. If multiplayer, online games all set up enumerated rights for the players, the world of gaming might indeed be a better place.
Gamers Need a Bill of Rights [The Atlantic]