I don’t usually play MMORPGs– I had a brief flirtation with Final Fantasy XI a few years ago, but my friend’s sister was always on it, which kept me from putting in enough steady time to get addicted. I’m kind of glad I didn’t blow too much time on it, because I don’t think that MMORPGs are my thing: the social world is too full of inarticulate teenagers, and the objectives are insufficiently concrete (and insufficiently motivated) for me to feel like I’m working towards something satisfying.
However, Second Life is an exception. It’s perhaps the only MMO game that doesn’t actually involve combat unless you go out of your way to join an RP group. Most of the focus in the world is one’s personal image and/or artistic creation. In short, it’s one of the few games that actually has creativity as a primary objective– most games, by nature, are not set up for it– and that intrigues me. I don’t play consistently, but every once in a while I pick it up for a bit and spend several days totally immersed in it.
When I first joined Second Life, I felt a little odd about the way it encourages people to spend money on it– even creating content costs you in-game currency for the necessary uploads, and because it’s creative you have a lot of people selling things, so there’s a big emphasis on spending currency to buy things. And the easiest way by far to get the in-game currency is to pay Linden Labs for it in US dollars, because although you can get a job in-game or “camp” to earn money, these things earn you a tiny pittance, and never enough to afford anything good. Although you can certainly play the game without spending any money and you can find lots of nifty things for free, being stingy in-game is not fun, because the nicest things always cost something.
So my biggest disappointment was that I felt like I was paying money to have fun in this game even though it was supposedly free. I have never liked the idea of spending real-world money to buy game items. Admittedly, you don’t have to spend very much in terms of real-world currency to have plenty in-game, and it’s not going to hurt my pocketbook to shell out the equivalent of $2 US to buy a dragon avatar and fly about the world as a giant golden hydra. I simply had some mental resistance to it.
Lately, though, I’ve been seeing signs in Second Life about digital content creators’ associations and about resisting art theft. I think it finally sunk in for me that these people are artists who would like to get paid for their work. And it occurred to me to examine my resistance to spending money in the game. I realised that I was resisting based on an old idea I had about traditional MMORPGs: that equipment should be earned and not purchased with real-world money, and that using your credit card to equip yourself was a cheater’s trick; that if you spent enough time in the game to need good equipment, you should already be spending enough time actually playing the game to afford it with the money you got from quest objectives; and that if you had to spend real-world money to get enough equipment just to survive the beginning quests, then the game itself was poorly calibrated. But that situation was different. That was paying the game owners for your equipment, which you could also be earning by simply playing the game as it was meant to be played for the things that you were meant to enjoy. The situation is different in Second Life, where you’re really paying the digital artists who spent so much time to make these creations, and where my normal objections do not apply. I usually like to support artists and buy things from them because I believe that art is a job that people work hard at and should be paid for what they accomplish. And, now that I reflect on it, it would be good to support the artists of Second Life by making occasional purchases from them, as well.
So I suppose I no longer feel cheated that I might have to shell out actual money if I want to buy something nice in Second Life. I’m not being ripped off or cheating; I’m doing my part to support the hard work that people are putting into making nice things.