Everquest, the great leveler

H/T to Tyler Cowen:
The problem with [economic analysis]—as plenty of left-wing critics have pointed out—is that all things aren’t equal. Some people are born into rich families, and blessed with great opportunities. Others are born into dirt-poor neighbourhoods where even the most brilliant mind coupled with hard work may not forge success. As a result, economists have warred for centuries over two diverging visions. Adam Smith argued that people inherently prefer a free market and the ability to rise above others; Karl Marx countered that capital was inherently unfair and those with power would abuse it. But no pristine world exists in which to test these theories—there is no country with a truly level playing field. Except, possibly, for EverQuest, the world’s first truly egalitarian polity. Everyone begins the same way: with nothing. You enter with pathetic skills, no money, and only the clothes on your back. Wealth comes from working hard, honing your skills, and clever trading. It is a genuine meritocracy, which is precisely why players love the game, Castronova argues. “It undoes all the inequities in society. They’re wiped away. Sir Thomas More would have dreamt about that possibility, that kind of utopia,” he says.
There's interesting commentary throughout. In The Matrix, the character Cypher was asked whether he would be willing to trade his real lives for a fulfilling virtual one, where he had high status and all of the benefits that come with it. The choice was presented as evil because Cypher accepted it and he is a bad guy, but this hypothetical scenario is becoming a real option, because of massive multiplayer online games. We can see that many people are opting to spend most of their free time online, because the online world can give them high status where they don't have it in real life.

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