Around the Virtual World: Cheating, Sex, Sweatshops, and Play from Azeroth to Zero-Zero Space

Professor of History Tim Burke explores the evolution and implications of massively-multiplayer online computer games. The media hype about virtual worlds has often been excessive, but they are both an interesting media form that has exciting creative possibilities and a novel opportunity to study and think about the way that human societies form, organize, and become richly complex.

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The idea that we will play, work and live our social lives within computer-driven "virtual worlds" has been a staple in cyberpunk science-fiction for some time. Recent news stories may suggest that this is close to becoming reality. Corporations and institutions have been setting up virtual offices or branches in the virtual world known as Second Life.  Low-wage sweatshops where employees collect resources within the game World of Warcraft which are then sold for U.S. dollars to American and European players have been spreading in southeastern China. In the game EVE Online, thousands of players are engaged in an ongoing war which has sometimes spilled out into other online media that are not directly associated with the game. Professor of History Tim Burke explores the evolution and implications of massively-multiplayer online computer games. The media hype about virtual worlds has often been excessive, but they are both an interesting media form that has exciting creative possibilities and a novel opportunity to study and think about the way that human societies form, organize, and become richly complex. For more on the pervasiveness and changing nature of gaming culture, check out Second Skin, a documentary written and produced by Victor Piñeiro '00. The film is touted as one of the best docs of 2008.