Attentional Capital in Online Gaming : The Currency of Survival

This blog post by Arun Menon discusses the concepts of production, labour and race in virtual worlds and their influence on the production of attention as a currency. An attempt is made to locate attentional capital, attentional repositories and attention currencies within gaming to examine 'attention currencies and its trade and transactions in virtual worlds. A minimal collection of attention currencies are placed as central and as a pre-requisite for survival in MMOs in much the same way that real currency become a necessity for survival. The approach is to locate attentional capital through different perspectives as well as examine a few concepts around virtual worlds.

Virtual Worlds1 have been examined extensively for their capacities in creating simulated spaces for fun, play, and entertainment. Presently there is a trend in  research studies worldwide to focus on examining questions of informational labour, production, ownership, racism, and the currencies of trade. By drawing examples from the published works of some of the leading writers in this field , I explore these questions and their connections with attention currency and the attention economy2 in gaming. I posit attention currency as a third currency  in addition to virtual and real currencies in the ability in which it operates as a currency. Through the concepts put forth, an attempt is made for a reading of attentional capital, attention currencies, attention repositories, trades in attention, and the functions of attention as a currency in gaming economies besides a reading of  confluences in terminologies and application  and  to expand them to examine attention economies in gaming. The games examined for this purpose are wide ranging, such as Eternal Duel, Rising Era from the Fantasy RPG Genre, Travian, T.K.O from the RTS genre, and select and limited readings of and around WoW. All of these fall under the MMO genre.3

Introduction

Edward Castronova is a professor at Indiana University and has prolifically written on virtual economies. His most prominent works are 'Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games' and 'Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality' and has done extensive research and commentaries on the economies of virtual worlds and online games. His concept the 'Avatarial Capital' (Castronova 2005) is articulated in a similar manner as Human Capital4 , and Cultural Capital.5 Castronova's Avatarial capital is approached as a set of non-material factors such as in-game knowledge, experience, growth, skills and other character related functions. Along the same lines as human capital and cultural capital, increases in the investments in Avatar Capital proportionally increases the power of the entity (p. 41 Castronova 2005 also refer p. 110-114).

What would be ideally termed, in a broader fashion, as 'attentional capital' is articulated by Castronova as Avatar Capital in a minimalist manner, such that it can be argued that avatar capital forms an essential and basic part of attentional capital in gaming. Some concepts that are accepted as exemptions (real world problems – race, class, and gender – devoid in Synthetic Worlds) are addressed by Nakamura when she engages with questions of human capital and cultural capital in fantasy warfare games such as World of Warcraft (WoW). By examining concepts of production and segregation of production processes as well as organic systems of production and designed systems of production, an attempt is made to read racialisation of informational labour within virtual worlds in light of designed races, rather than real races and posit that other forms of racism and racial warfare exist. This in contrast to Nakamura's examination dealing with racial stereotyping of informational labour, particularly of the fourth world labour, an attempt is made to posit that racial and/or class warfare (not similar in the manner that Nakamura addresses racial warfare) is present and inevitable in any designed world that has characteristics of Role Play. I posit that such forms of racial warfare need not necessarily be examined as a proxy warfare among leisure gamers and worker gamers but as inherent in any fantasy construct that places racial choices as essential to imagining certain types of roles within the game.

Lisa Nakamura is a professor in the Institute of Communications Research and Director of the  Asian American Studies program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her work revolves around questioning race, ethnicity, and identity in Virtual Worlds. Robbie Cooper who has written expansively on Avatar Identities and their relation with the real identities of gamers (and thus relevant to locating any shifts in attention trades) has been approached through secondary readings, reviews and a partial (limited preview) reading of the text, due to the availability or lack thereof of the text in question. By addressing avatar identities and their links to real world identities, connections can be made in the way attentional capital and attention currency interacts with, and between, virtual, and real world currencies. Although questions of the Virtual - Real Binary6 arise through multiple tangents, it is only examined as a part of discussing the Earth - Synthetic binary that Castronova uses. An attempt is made to clarify some of the terms which are common to this field and place them in perspective. The terms, their limitations and some binaries are juxtaposed for discussion. This is not to imply that Castronova cannot be used to read virtual worlds (or rather their economies), on the contrary his narrative becomes more central as his predictions on exponential growth and impact7 of virtual worlds (economies) are realized.8

By using these authors and their concepts, I posit that Attention can be read as a currency of transaction  that enables the survival of the player in virtual gaming worlds and at most stages forms a pre-requisite often similar to real world currencies – a basic amount of which ensures human survival. Drawn from the concepts of Goldhaber who posits that attention is an essential pre-requisite to human survival, I extend his reading to virtual worlds to locate the transactions in attention and attentional capital and how they influence the flows of attention as a currency – making a collection of attention currency essential to survival in a virtual world.

In the following segments some of the terminologies, their dichotomies, and a commentary is made on the terms common to this area. The specific usage by these writers and the commentary is speculative, interpretative, and by no means a closed debate. I explore the terms and attempt to make connections with the attention economy in gaming and in the process explore the possibilities of expanding or broadening some of the terms.

Synthetic Worlds

Castronova (2005) describes Synthetic Worlds as[C]rafted places inside computers that are designed to accommodate large numbers of people. He goes on to describe Synthetic Worlds as the playgrounds of imagination being host to ordinary human activity. The only notable difference between simulated worlds in offline settings and online settings is that the latter can accommodate a large number of people. This definition basically stands for almost all online games, be they client-server, browser-based, persistent worlds,9 text based (also  MUDs10),and many more where multiple users can engage with each other in an online setting, but by focusing on MMORPGs and visual superiority. Castronova in this process isolates multiple genres of games that are capable of social, political, and economic activity similar to that of graphically constructed worlds.

On developing his thesis Castronova seems to suggest an undue emphasis on worlds that are graphically represented and superior (visually well defined and designed), and such games/worlds being viable synthetic worlds. Viability can be interpreted as the immersion of the player in the game as one factor. On the other hand the economic viability of the synthethic world could be another factor, economic in that there are active gold farming (termed secondary) markets in that game. In such a case synthetic worlds as a term is applicable to even non-graphical text based constructs that run online. Julian Dibbell's documentation of the LambdaMoo community reiterates a certain complexity in the textual construction of the synthetic world, even though it is not visually or graphically represented.

On a similar note, virtual economic activity is not restricted to graphical worlds either.11 The economic activities and organizations that Castronova ascribes to these synthetic worlds are present in almost every virtual world (graphically or textually defined), where there is an aggregation of human activity and congregation of human avatars.12

The possibilities of human economic activity both within the virtual world and the real world can be connected through an examination of gold farming. Depending on attentional capital (and the attentional repository of the entire virtual world) economic activity connects to real world trade as well. Here the popularity of the game and the ability of the secondary market to generate profits is paramount. Synthetic Worlds or in an expansive definition Virtual Worlds and the attentional capital and repositories of attention are examined that support basic forms of communication, social interaction and game play. 

In 'what is a synthetic world' an essay in Space, Time, and Play, Castronova, et al uses the term 'Synthetic Worlds' interchangeably with virtual worlds, the difference being a focus on the 'interconnections' between the two worlds. A reading of Castronova (2005), would suggest that his usage limited what synthetic (or virtual) worlds are capable and constitute of. By using Synthetic Worlds and Virtual Worlds interchangeably throughout this article, I intend to broaden Synthetic Worlds beyond Castronova's imposed limitations.13

When Castronova says that all synthetic worlds are MMORPGs, he has arguably limited the usage to only games that have an RPG element – furthermore, those with graphical clarity and representation. If say the Virtual World in question such as Eternal Duel were to be examined, it would not fall under what Castronova describes as a synthetic world largely because of its focus on a text based construction of Etheria. Interestingly, Etheria is not identified as a 'diasporic' homeland as much as the cities, the clans, or the game itself. In Eternal Duel, players tended towards their clans identity or the city they were based close to rather than 'Etheria' the Land itself. Unlike SL, WoW, and others where there is an identification towards the whole game 'land' such as a citizen of Lindenberg or Azeroth. Agreed that graphical constructions use visual aids to better connect with an imagined homeland, whereas the same immersive effect is restricted through text. Text based games such as these depend on the interpretative and subjective interpretations of the gamer to create, in the imagination, an idea of the homeland.

Even though Castronova (2005) states that virtual worlds as a conceptual term is closed and synthetic worlds are more open and interconnected (such that its not possible to read them as sealed and separate disconnected systems), it is possible that synthetic worlds are in fact limited in that they are applicable to certain graphically functional and visual worlds (MMORPGs according to Castronova) by express definition.

Perhaps it is relevant to look at MMORPGs as one among many other genres of online games, where there is a collection of avatars and a common synthetic world is constructed. Mizuko Ito in her documentation and usage of the 5thD project notes that the gamer and paired guide were able to construct 'micro-worlds' through narrative experiences of the real world in Simcity 2000, a city building simulation game. This construction of the micro-world was facilitated through a transfer of narrative experiences from the guide to the young gamer, through what is percieved as logical in the real world without actual knowledge of the scripts and algorithms behind the game that dictated its response. Reading micro-worlds as synthetic worlds has its own pitfalls and problems but such a reading is possible particularly when using the alone together phenomenon. Though an 'out of context' reading might be appropriate in an offline setting as well, where games have a sustainable14 capacity for immersion, the only failure, if any, would be evolution which is a predominant characteristic of virtual worlds in a massive setting.

Whereas RPG games in an offline setting do not have any types of evolution that is sustainable, this feature is resultant of the 'massive' effect in online games, such that narratives of the game are constantly rewritten and brief, even short periods of disconnections leads to a narrative disjunct in the player, which may surface as a diasporic experience. Diasporic experiences here are similar to real world diasporic displacements in that there is a severance from the imagined 'homeland' of the avatar. A severance results in the displacement of the avatar. Evolution of the world is a prominent feature in any persistent or even a temporary time-bound world, where there is an aggregation of human interest. Constant human activity, economic, social, and political create narrative disjuncts in the timeline for those players who are removed from that particular community. MMORPGs have strong evolutionary elements drawn from and often ascribed to the massive element15 such that any form of change within virtual synthetic worlds are resultant of the activities of thousands of people participating in that world including their organization, collective achievements in the achievement hierarchies and engagement in their virtual worlds.

There are often diasporic experiences faced by players on withdrawal from a community of gamers. The Uru Diaspora was one such – the diasporic effects were documented by Celia Pearce in Communities of Play. An extensive reading of identities, associations and severance of the homeland has been documented – examining concepts like the virtual homeland and association with the homeland such that there is a sense of rights and citizenship that arise out of this 'belonging', to eventually lead to a 'resurrection'. I would interpret diasporic experiences such as these as indicative of the immersive nature of the narrative architecture in an online game. Although the concept of the narrative architecture as one is largely applied to offline games, a confluence of human activity produces its own narrative, such that importing 'narrative architecture' to read into online spaces becomes possible.

Castronova's suggestion that there are possibilities of a thriving parallel economy in and through secondary markets16 makes it possible to locate avatar capital and by extension attentional capital more accurately. That is by terming avatar capital as a part of attentional capital, the outworld17 relevance of avatar capital and the possibility of attention flows functioning as a currency within virtual worlds and between the real world is made.18 It is possible to argue that Castronova implies certain attentional repositories when he posits that exploration, expansion, and advancement (p.110 Castronova 2005) are necessities to build up the player level, experience, and other intangible capital, which develops as the Avatar[ial] Capital, much in the same manner as Human Capital, Cultural Capital, and Gaming Capital (Pierre Bordieu's term 'Cultural Capital' is influential to both Castronova's 'Avatar[ial] Capital' and later Consalvo's 'Gaming Capital'). In the following sections, an attempt is made at approaching attention currency and its operations and positing attention as the currency of survival rather than the investments of either virtual or real world currencies.

Avatarial Capital, Attentional Capital, and the Repositories of Attention

Whereas Castronova places avatar skills and experience20 as 'avatar capital' alone is limiting, in that the focus is on one avatar rather than a set of avatars. This limit also manifests in the set of resources that the avatar has access to, particularly attention, which changes the accesses to resources in-world and out-world and effects the production of attention currency in its turn. Thus, it is almost cyclical in that attentional capital in repositories ensure survival, survival leads to greater activity and production in virtual worlds, which in turn gives greater accesses to in-world resources and avatarial capital and which then through the hierarchies of achievement produces more attentional capital.

Even though Castronova articulates the avatarial capital as a necessity (along with physical capital) for survival, he leaves out the relevance of ranking systems (that Hamari and Lehdonvirta (2010) posit as the achievement hierarchy) that seemingly organize a massive amount of data into statistically and graphically available information in almost every virtual world and through this activity build channels of attention. Attention  then flows in often unpredictable manners21 and ensures the survival of the player or avatar character in that game. Every game has a system that organizes seemingly irrelevant information on avatars to provide a daily statistical representation on growth, (re-)investment, level, experience, amount of virtual gold, player vs player and non-player character 'kills' . In some hierarchies attemtpted attacks and successful kills are also recorded and made public with a ratio in percentage, the time aristocracy that lehdonvirta 2005, 2007 addresses can be located by this percentage represented in the achievement hierarchy, and so forth in a ranked  hierarchy . Depending on the design and architecture of the game world (Synthetic Worlds), there may be detailed statistical data that provides for in-game information and players that are active, joined recently, completed a certain quest, requests assistance with another quest, etc., are news items that are filtered into general gameverse ranking, clan, community, alliance or group ranking.22 Central to the attentional capital and its flows are these gameverse23 ranking systems both internal to the game and external tools that pull data from the server to plot out potential targets for attacks, raids, and so forth.24 Metagaming, or influences on the game from outside the game and its rules, affects every scenario of gaming in some manner. Metagaming most often than not, dictates the attention of individuals and their investments in time and labour.

For instance – Travian which is a popular MMORTS25 has an array of scripts, tools, paid services, external data aggregators – i.e., external to the game - that assist in finding other players/alliances and groups for warfare. Although the game itself has sufficiently developed communication and social interaction systems26, players ranking 1-150027 most often use a variety of external tools and IM programs to support their gameplay.28 Skype or MSN29 becomes preferred means of communication, coordination, and policy30 discussion – and this is not limited to one game server (Travian) whose example I am citing. The number ranges that have been chosen select players whose achievements ranking is comparatively in the top 10 – 20 per cent in terms of activity, presence, and by extension, economic activity, in an international server this number would be a maximum of 1500-2000 whereas on regional servers which witness lower members the number ranges of active gamers with a reasonable growth rate are fixed at around 500-1000. These players have sufficient amount of attentional capital invested in their game to join larger groups based on common cultural symbols and perceived commonalities, which may amount to social commonalities.

Attentional Capital, though it draws from avatarial capital, is broader than just in-game related ranking.31 Attentional capital (and attentional repositories, which makes attention the basic currency of survival) would ideally encompass a larger sphere including real life associations as well as virtual world associations and experiences32 Avatarial capital limits itself to the collection of intangible non-material capital within gaming worlds alone, there is very little discussion (by Castronova or Nakamura who uses avatarial capital) on the extent to which avatarial capital can be streched. If the term is indeed limited to single virtual worlds, a concept of consolidation of avatars (naturally avatarial capital), which occurs at multiple points should also be articulated in light of attentional repositories which allow for the aggregation of attention to reach the threshold required for survival (and thus trade, activity, and so forth). This is not constant but almost always in flux, a lack of investment for a short period would mean death gradual or instant, and depends entirely on the disposition and design of the game in question.

Advancement and progression of an avatar is addressed by Castronova (2005) as the accumulation of the various forms of avatar capital within a virtual world enabling the 'avatar' greater access to the virtual world and the systems of production within the virtual world, defined or rather limited by a requirement  for progression. If the avatar grows, more accesses to the game's systems become available, stagnation on the other hand limits these accesses. In a collective sense the growth of a lot of avatars (in an MMORPG) collectively denotes the growth of a synthetic world. Thus, essential to the aggregation of Avatarial Capital as well as attentional capital is the evolution of a synthetic world. Evolution that may be incorporated into the design of the game but is also in a state of constant change and extremely dynamic. A stagnation in the growth of avatars (in a collective) has repurcussion s in the exchanges of attention, exchanges of virtual currencies as well as the collective attention that resides in a synthetic world.. Stagnation even in markets inflicts attrition that destabilizes the virtual world – a lack of attention could well mean the stagnation and eventual decay of the virtual world – this effect can be attributed to Illusory Attention and the decay of attention – for more refer Goldhaber (1997, and 2008). The evolution and advancement could be rapid such that a break from this world for even a short duration, may result in minor diasporic effects. A loss of contact with a community that has developed and evolved in absentia of the player-avatar and non-investment, either of time or resources by the player makes the narrative disjunct more pronounced.By narrative disjunct, I imply that the narrative of the player and the narrative of the community is not in tune, such that diasporic yearnings may be present even without the closure of the game world which is what transpired in Uru – The uru diaspora is documented very well by Celia Pearce and Artemesia in “Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in multiplayer games and virtual worlds”, 2009 MIT Press. This narrative growth and subsequent disjunct captures the essence of persistent worlds and evolution within them most appropriately. Thus, Synthetic Worlds as a conceptual term is limiting rather than liberating as Castronova (2003, 2005) implies, even with its conceptual failings at achieving a state of 'inter-connectedness'34 with the Real World, Virtual World is a conceptually anchored term to articulate human activity in online gaming spaces, perhaps broader than synthetic worlds.

Avatar capital can locate the influences of attentional capital. Castronova (2005) describes “the accumulated experience points and skills and attributes [as] avatar capital ”, which is the advancement  through specific actions resulting in the growth or increment of non-physical capital of the avatar. What are the non-physical capital of the avatar? Non-physical capital is dependent on the design and genre of the game or MMORPG oriented games will have forms of character development that as represented as levels and stages, which when attained allows for further progression in gameplay. Some of these include but are not limited to the attributes, the skills, experience points, all depending on the design and model of the game world concerned. Empire building games on the other hand would design a different set of avatarial capital altogether.

Avatar capital enables further progression in the game world and makes accessible quest lines36, virtual goods linked to those quest lines, and higher growth, ability to gain more from attacks and so forth (The Sway of the stars as a Elvish37 race weapon grants additional gold income and experience points with each kill –  largely for NPC attacks, i.e., Non Player Character attacks, other weapons38 are preferred for PvP {Player vs Player} attacks). At this stage the attempt is not to examine the 'real' value attached to the weapon in a fashion that Castronova et al (2008) does, but to locate the attentional capital that is generated by the possession of such a virtual good which enhances avatar capital. Thus, an almost cyclical progression, I extrapolate this further when examining production. So, its possible to articulate avatarial capital as a small part of attentional capital and its collection in what I would term as attentional repositories. 

Whereas the Physical Capital is juxtaposed as the virtual money or goods/items and rewards that the avatar earns as part of gameplay (and subsequent reinvestment of rewards), and is the distinguishing link between real and virtual currencies. The time that is invested in production of virtual goods and the subsequent investment in attention (as a currency) and attentional capital (as the non material investments – such as expertise and the abstract concept called experience) can be located in the growth in what Castronova terms as the Avatar Capital.

Castronova et al (2009) examines the virtual world/synthetic world EverQuest and attempts a mapping of its economy. The authors attempt to read macroeconomic behaviours using real world definitions and attempt an economic mapping quite similar to how real world economies are mapped, the research concludes that real world patterns are present in virtual worlds and in the ways and means that virtual goods are traded. They examine the 'reality' of a virtual sword [Footnote: Please refer page 686, New media and society, 5, 11, 2009, the examination of the reality of the sword, similar to the painting 'this is not a pipe' points to reality of value associated with that object, an object that is considered unreal, non exitent in many terms, Michel Foucault also comments on issues of perception, reality, and the painting and its paradox of Rene` Magritte's painting “the Treachery of Images” 1929-30 – Foucault's focus on representation and simulcura is not necessary to interpreting castronova et al's reading of virtual reality and the real value associated with a virtual good. ] . Are they 'really real'? Castronova et al notes through their study that virtual goods often follow real world patterns and thus can be mapped with real world usages and affordances. Items are classified and graphically represented as furniture, food, clothing, accessories, collectibles and so forth. Castronova et al (2009) by noting that all virtual goods had certain real world categories, armour - clothing, food – what avatars ate and drank, furniture – solid items avatars kept in their huts (homes, etc), and so forth, locate the relevance and psychological value of virtual goods, even if they serve no 'real' purpose. They also noted that virtual worlds scarcely held items that had “no real world uses or affordances”. This is incidentally reiterated to some effect in the AVEA report, which also notes that the demand for virtual goods are a result of the designed spaces (Hamari and Lehdonvirta 2010). The attempt by Williamson et al (2010) and Castronova (2003, 2005) have been locating the shifts in 'Real Life' towards 'Avatar Life'. Castronova himself dictates that such a shift towards virtual worlds is inevitable and as discussed earlier, and although speculative, has materialized and noted by none other than Consalvo (2007) and Nakamura (2009).

Returning to the discussion, the authors  note that currency is representational (The value of the paper currency we use is backed by gold from the treasury of the government), thus items and in-world currencies also serve the representational purpose and in trades against real currency indicate the investment of time and labour. Such that the value of a virtual good, or in some extreme gold farming cases the value of an avatar and character, are dependent on the time and effort that has been invested in its development and the level that it holds in the ranking statistics. A virtual good such as a sword may then indicate value associated with the time it would take to develop the sword. For instance: Race levels in the fantasy text-based browser game Eternal Duel require opals to gain race experience, Opals as a gem acts as any other gem in the game except that it cannot be traded and has to be earned through grinding, farming, mining, and similar other means that would require an investment in a great deal of time. Higher race levels bring higher access for each of the six races that are available in the game – the game in question is Eternal Duel [henceforth E.D.] and Rising Era. The elf39 race gets a higher healing rate after each activity related to production such as mining and attacks, whereas the human race gets a higher gold bonus, increasing the chances of each race to develop in its own course. The higher the experience level, the higher the chances of earning opals in attacks. Race weapons and armour provide added advantage in that any other activity of production would return higher returns for the investment of time. Thus, in the end, the value that is assigned to virtual goods where real money trades come into effect are: 

  • That they denote an investment in time and labour which is saved in the means by which most virtual goods in gaming are acquired, and
  • The investment in the focused cognitive resources  termed as attention transacts as real value and by extension as currency. This would be one method of locating attentional capital.

Attentional capital when it performs the functions of a currency is also representational in that the value of the item (the virtual good – including any virtual item that can be traded including avatars) depends on the market listings, the time (invested in development of that virtual good) and associated 'illusory attention' (a term borrowed from Goldhaber to situate attention and its potential and capacity to act as a currency), which is traded against real money. This form of trade saves the time that is otherwise invested in the production of this item, thus saving the purchasing party a considerable amount of time, which is transacted for real currency. Such gold farming trades are also called as RMT (real money trades – noted by Nakamura p.5 who cites Consalvo p.149-150, also refer lehdonvirta 2005, lehdonvirta and hamari and lehdonvirta 2010), the AVEA report classifies MMORPGs as the first genre of RMT. Why is the representational aspect of currencies necessary? Very simply if real currencies are representational and 'acquires' (however, that may be interpreted) a certain amount of 'reality' such that value associated with the currency and the item can be balanced and traded. It is clearly possible to interpret attentional capital having similar potential to 'acquire' real value and then emulate the functions of a currency that can be transacted for goods. But is attentional capital the same as attention currency (or for that matter attentional repository)? 

I posit that Attentional Capital and by extension Attentional Repositories are dependent on the construction (visual and textual) of the avatar, in-group or out-group racial, ethnic, cultural, and other means of identification, symbolic associations with a particular identity or group, or a perception of a common shared culture, this is similar to constructing communities and Derek Lomas (2008) uses Benedict Anderson's 'Imagined Community' to explore notions of associations (through self-representation) that can locate attentional capital in social networking.40 Lomas (2008) examines attentional capital that is built and developed through the elaborate constructions (including self representation) of profiles, through which there is an accumulation of attention (which is what I posit as the attention repository – a collection of attentional capital). The attention repository can be construed of as independent – associated to a player, or as a complex network of repositories that feed into each other through association, expression, and representation – as in a collective or a small group. Thus, the known/recognizable group identification of a particular player would mean a larger repository of attentional capital than a player with little or a lesser known group identification, even though that player may have a higher level of avatarial capital and physical capital to match. The repositories of the group would then feed into the attentional capital of the player, making identification (in-group, out-group, and so forth) easier and granting a certain amount of attention to the profile, which later results in an increased activity (and therefore, survival) in the concerned virtual world. On the notion of survival Goldhaber (1997) states thus:

“[P]ractically everyone must have some money to survive, so attention in some quantities is pretty much a prerequisite for survival, and attention is actually far more basic.”

In a similar manner,  Goldhaber locates the relevance of currency (money) as 'the' essential pre-requisite for survival and suggests that attention is as relevant (if not more), I posit that attention in gaming (in all its capacities discussed earlier) is required minimally, as a pre-requisite amount, or what I would articulate as a threshold in the repositories for ensuring survival. This is where I propose that a threshold exits, which can be achieved or realized by the collection of attentional capital when there is

  • a certain amount built in the repository through what Castronova terms as Avatarial Capital42, and 
  • the threshold limit is achieved through other associations or connections to other repositories. 

This is where the discussion earlier on the connections of attention repositories comes into clearer focus. These associations43 have their own repositories (not necessarily unintended when represented in player profiles)44  and often these associations are capable of feeding attention into the players own repository. 

The repositories of attention that I have explored and mentioned here are situated outside of the player avatars in other synthetic worlds, which is to say that there are – in some instances – multiple points of consolidation of avatars (and their repositories) to result in this threshold of survival being realized earlier without the collection of Avatarial capital. This is complex to articulate as well as demonstrate largely because it requires an in depth analysis, the data for which is nearly inaccessible (although, it is true that Castronova and his team were granted full access by Sony into their EverQuest Databases).

The multiple points of consolidation of avatars implies the consolidation of their attentional repositories of multiple avatars in multiple similar or different (in terms of genre) virtual worlds. In gold farming practices most trades are dependent on this threshold for survival as well as trades, for the threshold limit in the attentional repositories also implies the point at which trade can take place.45

For instance, avatar A is present on server 1 46 but has in earlier periods taken part in other servers 1-'n' and these avatars would be A1-A'n', where n is the identifiable version of the avatar in any synthetic world regardless of classification.47 Server 1 being a new game, avatar A will have a very short threshold of attentional capital and avatarial capital – assuming that, as yet, there has been no or minimal investments of time and labour in the development of the avatar that results in avatarial or physical capital. 

The repository of avatar A at this juncture will be minimal in that particular synthetic world. For transactions of A1 avatar (that is gold farming for that avatar as a 'virtual good') there has to be an aggregation of attentional repository, which should ideally realize a threshold. This is achieved either through association or inter-connectedness of social viral networks, such that there are higher chances of survival, and in the case of gold farming higher chances of trade. In the event that there is minimal avatarial capital aggregation in A1, the possibility of avatarial consolidation at multiple points still exist. The pre-requisite threshold is achieved not by investments in A, but the investments made earlier in A'n' which feeds into the repository of A1 and survival is ensured. The repositories A1-A'n' would have a consolidated repository that enables avatar A1 to either initiate trade (a real world trade) or equally ensure survival rests in this consolidated repository, which has achieved a certain threshold. Note that this theory of multiple points of consolidation of avatars is not a  common occurrence and is largely noticed in successful gold farming trades, and prominent players in any game server that incorporates avatar self representation through profiles, much like social networking profiles. The consolidated repository would mean that the threshold is reached at an earlier stage, than if the normal route of game play were to be taken where avatarial and non physical capital are built up.

To substantiate with a real world example, SARSteam48 is present on at least 2 of the 10 Travian international servers and is familiar with 8ag.49 Both having served in common and prominent alliances in multiple Travian servers for a considerable period of time, such that each ensure the others protection, if and when, by chance, they are present in nearby strategic locations in any server. In any new server 50 a chance encounter would mean that either player would list a PNAP51 in their profiles naming the other. This connection takes place regardless of actual contact and negotiation for a PNAP and ensures that the other multitudes of players planning an attack are made aware of strategic connections that the player possess to his advantage thus enabling a further exchange of attentional capital against illusory attention. Players viewing the PNAP and alliance markings, tags, and so forth will cease offensive strategies. As Goldhaber (1997) states there is always an exchange of illusory attention in such cases52, attention may be seen as flowing in both direction when in actuality attention flows are unidirectional compensated by Illusory attention. Lomas (2008) suggests that attention flows are regulated by self representation through profile pages and in the gaming context the same is true. Self representation is deliberative (also noted by Lomas 2008) and by representing selective information an attempt is made at controlling the attentional flows from that profile. For instance, in E. D. listing a mine's quality in  the profile page might enable other players to invest their time and labour at mining so as to make a profit and to 'mine out' the mine and thus also make a profit for the owner.

In both the instances above, the focus is on one or two players and in such an out of context state, attention repositories and the threshold of trade and survival do not seem relevant, add to this the sheer numbers of an MMO and viral connections in an ever increasing spiral and attention repositories and the threshold becomes an essential part of survival in gaming and trade in gold farming.

Markets and Synthetic Worlds

In this section an attempt is made to read into trading and markets for virtual goods in synthetic worlds and outside of it thereby attempting to place secondary markets and their assumed or presumed legality and/or some form of incorporation into the regular internal market of the game. This would  make reading production and segregation of production more accessible later on. Castronova (2003, 2005) does not directly engage with describing the secondary market in Synthetic Worlds, although the market activities that he points out – such as selling game goods on online auction sites (p.16), GNP of Norrath (the country in EverQuest – Sony) being higher than the per-capita income of India and China (p.19) – are activities that connect the internal game markets to the external ones, namely the secondary market, or more commonly known and accessible as the gold farming markets. Are gold farming markets the same as secondary (as external) markets , how are they different from the primary (internal) markets? Almost all secondary markets are external auction markets such as Ebay, or more formalized gold farming trade markets such as Virtualeconomies.net, agamegold.com, myMMOshop.com, gamegoldcentral.com and many others collectively form the external trading markets and economic organizations in the real world that profit from virtual labour and investment (in time and real money). Gold farming also takes place through listings in from forums to social networking sites and gold farming in India largely thrives through such listings. Dibbell (2006) notes the emergence of brokers, traders, and a multitude of intermediaries in the professional transactions of virtual game gold. The AVEA report corroborates thus:

[It is] now possible for any player, no matter how experienced or inexperienced, dedicated or casual, to obtain high-ranking avatars and possessions simply by purchasing them from a website. Virtual goods were commodified.

- AVEA report 2010 p.11

The core feature(s) of synthetic worlds as Castronova puts it would be applicable to any immersive environment such that his definition is applicable to most games particularly the ones recently released such that those functions are no longer limited in Online Gaming but contributes to the Alone Together phenomenon as well. Castronova states these worlds as "worlds—the fact that they are radically manufacturable places that can be shared by many people at once." The manner of sharing of worlds from a distanced perspective makes it possible to read some synthetic worlds as offline games that are shared in online spaces not directly with other players but as hinted earlier through the achievements hierarchy that is constructed online, even though actual gameplay is strictly offline. For instance, the recent release of games such as Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Witcher, and many more allow for a certain type of alone together phenomenon which takes place through forum posts, player profiles, and  discussions. Note that although there is no online gameplay, similar effects of online gameplay are reflected in the statistics that appear online and create an achievement hierarchy regardless of online activity. Although attentional capital plays a role in such spaces, there is very little connections to survival and team play that it results in. 

Immersion and Immersive Environments - A Different Perspective

Immersive environments can be considered as emotionally invested spaces, spaces where there is a investment in the character as well as the synthetic world. Ethnographic interviews point to immersion being a key motivator for role playing games. Role Play or games that implemented certain elements of role play.

Immersive environments are often described as the emotional investments that the player makes in the character or the game environment. Turkle (1995) describes role play as the practice of pretending to be someone else within a fictional space.

The reinvestment of virtual physical and non physical capital enables the avatar better access to production and production capacities. This is manifested dependent on the design of the synthetic world and almost any item can be assigned a value. Castronova (2005) notes thus:

“The advancement system can be used to induce a player’s emotional investment in all kinds of actions. It can endow seemingly trivial and inconsequential acts—the slaying of a digital dragon—with significant personal and social consequences. Prestige shifts; alliances change; power and wealth flow in new channels; and, most important of all, people feel happier. In the historical record of MMORPGs, the willingness of people to acquire vast storehouses of truly arcane knowledge (the casting times of hundreds of spells; the order of birth of various gods; the number of iron ingots required to make a medium-quality dwarven hammer) has been demonstrated over and over. Advancement mechanisms turn the synthetic world into a place where value can be assigned to anything, and behaviour directed accordingly. ”

The emotional investment that Castronova notes through the investment of virtual and real resources in advancement, is probed into by Williamson et al. (2010, in print). Williamson et al suggest through their hypothesis that immersion may take on two (central) functions -

  • that of a journey for the player to discover their 'true self', through a character constructed in role play as a space for role freedom, and
  • as a means of escapism.

On a superficial reading both hypotheses seem very similar, Williamson et al distinguishes these two features using an ethnographic approach. Players who engage in the first central element describe virtual worlds (refer Williamson et al 2010, in print) as a space where they can express which is otherwise socially constrained offline. To paraphrase a quoted comment, a player feels they can be anything they want in  role-play whereas in real life they are who they are. Another player feels that their Avatar is similar to their  real life but is capable of doing or being more (flirty, casual, and outgoing) than they are in their real lives. Williamson et al support their second hypotheses on immersion, namely as a means of escapism by using ethnographic studies. Players focus on the Virtual World as something to 'get away' from real life hassles, largely all comments that Williamson et al notes are positive, as such there is no indication if there were any connotations of addiction involved with immersion. Not an avoidance of real life situations but more in terms of relaxation, rest, a break and so forth. In fact Williamson et al seem to be moving away from such connotations by making this remark. Although I do not want to address questions of addictions and violence arising out of excessive gaming, these arise out of some of the discourses I point out. More can be found in the works of Florence Chee. The article in particular  can be accessed on her page. Henry Jenkins and his stand on immersion has been addressed in an earlier blog post and would be relevant when addressing immersion in role play (and RPGs) in offline games.

The Segregation of Production  - Reading Nakamura and Racial Production

Lisa Nakamura provides an insight into reading racial stereotypes in virtual worlds and posits that  subjects carefully avoid real world racism, and racial references shifts into narratives of racial warfare in the imaginary world. Nakamura problematizes the informationalized capitalism that constructs Asian players as informational labourers and outsiders to the aesthetic integrity of the world of warcraft that the beauty of the game has somehow been polluted or tarnished by third world and fourth world informational labourers.

Nakamura addresses the informational dispossession of fourth world workers and gold farmers in particular and the real world racism that is inherently present in the caricaturisation that follows informational labour. She compares Consalvo and Castronova to discuss racialization, among other social evils, which as far as Castronova (2005)  describes is ideally exempt from virtual worlds.

A strong focus on racialization in the real world being imported into virtual spaces and the connotations that accompany farming or for that matter how race becomes a derogatory insult in communities that have farming cultures is present. This takes the form of (almost) imagined racial warfare in virtual worlds and Nakamura attempts to locate this in light of Chinese (and Korean) informational labour and gold farming. The derogatory connotations associated with Chinese (and Korean) players as stereotypical farmers, and thus contaminated where the aesthetic integrity of MMO worlds are concerned (Nakamura substantiates using Consalvo, p. 6). Gold farming except for legally accepted modes are considered as cheating. Consalvo points out that cheating need not be approached as a flaw or weakness in the game design that is exploited or circumvented by players, rather cheating is an inherent part of gaming culture and is a necessary element that contributes to sustained immersion.

One problem would be the actual produsage of virtual goods that are dependent on racial factors that often separate production and consumption. This form of segregation of production on racial and accumulated avatarial terms would lead to a more nuanced reading of production on racial factors. Produsage is a term recently used in the New Media and Culture Journal to locate the production and simultaneous consumption on the Internet in the larger picture. In the virtual world produsage can stand for the production and consumption patterns of virtual worlds – a detailed report on the same has been recently published by the Advanced Virtual Economy Applications Project in conjunction with the Helsinki Institute of Information and Technology.

Is produsage similar to prosumption, the convergence of production and consumption in social media? Whereas produsage is limited to examining the dissemination of content and the engagement with creative, collaborative, and often adhoc content, prosumption is more applicable in the virality of that content through the networks that it flows through. I would interpret the former as being form and style specific and the latter architecturally informed in that the structures of technology through which content flows rather than the form of the content is given more weightage.

An examination of avatarial capital and its influences on racial production leads to the flows of attention that influence production processes. Influencing production in a systematic manner, attention as a currency dictates the prosumption of virtual goods. The AVEA report notes MMORPGs as the first genre in RMT (Real money trades). Although the AVEA reports literature focuses on 'Game Time' investments in grinding, mining, and farming – repetitive tasks that produce avatarial material and non material capital. A distinction should be made that the Game economy is not dependent on time factors alone, such that the investments of virtual and real money does not always translate into time spent in the acts of virtual production. Attention often mediates this process, such that the flow of attention would effectively enhance a player of low net worth (materially) and disenfranchise players who have invested time, effort, and money in the game and have a higher net worth in material functions. Virtual material wealth and non material wealth plays very little role in the enhancement and disenfranchisement of players and their respective investments in the virtual worlds. This is not to suggest that this is a common norm, production inevitably draws attentional capital in the automated ranking and listings that showcase this 'achievement', which also results in contest and conquest over command on virtual commodities. The AVEA report and works by Lehdonvirta (Ville) and Hamari (Juho) interpret the achievement hierarchy that those who have worked, deserve the fruit of their labour.

Avatar rights53 and the Declaration of the rights of avatars are tied into the concepts of this achievement hierarchies that Hamari and Lehdonvirta uses and their materialization, if you will, in real value. Production and time are classically linked through labour and effort and to import that reading into a virtual space devoid of certain nuanced reformulations would be regressive. This is reflected in the AVEA report findings, although their trajectories are ideologically motivated. To posit that early MMORPGs had an achievement structure through which players steadily climbed the backbone of social and economic structure destabilized by the emergence of secondary markets is highly problematic. Firstly for it locates an evolutionary trajectory, the idyll (almost echoing of a Christian pre-lapsarian) state followed by the fall, so to speak, or destabilisation of the idyllic aesthetic beauty and 'integrity' by secondary markets or gold farming markets and resellers – Nakamura (2009) reiterates this perceived violation of 'western' aesthetics by eastern guest works and informational labourers. Secondly it locates all investments as a simple matter of time investment (which flows in either/both way), and to locate the connections between real and virtual currencies as simple matters of produsage or prosumption linked to time (whichever term seems more appropriate, i.e., depending on the form of content or the structure that enables its flow – naturally please read content also as virtual content, digital content, and so forth inclusive of virtual goods and services) is limiting and problematic. The problematics are not the input of time and effort but the flow of attention that dictates most gameplay formation54 and strategy in any game that has a massive environment with a PvP structure. In intense-PvP-character focused MMORPGs such as Eternal Duel the avatarial capital are a) different parameters central to role play and character development and b) dependent on racial choices that allow for different progression pathways.

Nakamura notes that “China-men” are often equated with NPCs or non-player characters whose only role in the game is either grinding, or providing information and equipment. Grinding is a repetitive task, largely of killing monsters again and again to gain items, currencies, and experience in-game. By equating NPCs and Chinese players together, PvP attacks becomes nothing more than 'taking a stroll in the wilderness' and attacking 'monsters'. People who are profiled as Asian, either through their avatars or through their actions, mannerisms, associations and so forth (earlier I made an argument on in-group and out-group associations that facilitated certain forms of attentional capital flows, note that both negative and positive flows are possible). Such profiling along with informational labour dehumanizes the subjects as mere characters in a racial war. I posit that outworld racism, racist tendencies, and remarks such as that noted above and documented by Nakamura becomes only one half of racial production and game play in virtual worlds. Most fantasy genres are built on concepts of warfare with often racial connotations, such that survival, quest progression, and the accumulation of avatarial capital depends on the imaginary, constructed, and designed racial warfare in virtual worlds. All MMORPGs have some element of conflict, warfare which is often a part of design. Survival is not just a matter of survival in harsh game environment but also from other avatars. Survival also depends on the ability of the avatar to exercise command over other goods and services within the virtual world.

This ability to command better resources in the virtual world dictates the survival of the avatar and in cases of warfare (constant struggle is an element of MMORPGs and warfare is the eventual representation of that struggle) the more virtual goods that an avatar commands, the better its chances of survival.  Although a commentary of Nakamura's text, an attempt is made to locate instances where attentional capital and its accumulation need not necessarily assist survival in the game.

Racial production or what I would posit as the production of virtual goods dependent on race in MMO Fantasy RPGs is dependent on the attentional shifts that are regulated by the games own internal market ranking systems. What the AVEA project report terms as the achievement hierarchies, for the hierarchy or ranking is not singular but varied and distributed across multiple aspects of development in a game. These hierarchies also facilitate shifts in attentional capital and its flows (other than self representation through profiles and avatars) and locate racial characteristics of an avatar and achievement hierarchies linked to race. For instance, ED ranks players based o their race choices, for all six races in the game with race trophies being awarded to the first three in the list. The trophies are much sought after for the bonus-benefits that they provide. This leads to a form of racial warfare, within the races - for the race trophy, and outside the races for higher achievement ranking. Quests which  require the collection of one soul from each race for access to higher capability weapons have players in a constant state of warfare. Attentional capital here dictates the production, often racial production in that the high level weapons, armour, and other virtual goods that are produced are race specific. Often players tend to speculate and buy race weapons only to resell in the internal market after making enhancements to it, even though the weapon or armour itself is quite useless in terms of race compatibility. A look at the top seven race weapon internal market listings in ED and comparison with the players character profiles and race choice will show that four out of seven players have listed weapons they cannot use or equip. Race armour and other weapons have similar statistics in the internal markets in that most are not items of use by players but for speculation general compatibility armour on the other hand has very few players investing in major enhancements. Their efforts at producing these weapons and enhancing them is to speculate on the market and on possible players who will need them as they progress to level 300, and thus make a considerable profit by selling it, or renting it out through an in-game contract system.

In conclusion I also introduce the concept of class production and game world race production of virtual goods and items, such that character race plays a relevant part in imagined racial warfare but not so much in the production of virtual goods, which is driven by market demand and supply. Attentional capital and avatarial capital plays pivotal roles in the systems of production and I have made an attempt to locate them from different perspectives. I posit that attentional capital flows through the self representation in profiles and the ingroup and outgroup identitification along with associations to race, class, and identity which are not necessarily outworld alone. As Nakamura (2009) notes there are no real world races in virtual worlds but the image of the farmer has been associated with real world Chinese and Korean players such that it forms a basic dichotomy between leisure players and worker players, worker players who are dehumanized subjects similar to non player characters run by the artificial intelligence of the game. Attentional currency through many of these perspectives performs the role of a currency that facilitates or enables further progress and survival. Trading in race weapons and armour and virtual goods, that are of no other interest to the game character than pure profit, assists the collection and expansion of other forms of material and non material avatarial capital.  

References

  1. AVEA Project Report. (2010). The Advanced Virtual Economy Applications Project, Helsinki Institute of Information Technology, Accessed June 12th 2010. <http://virtual-economy.org/files/AVEA%20Project%20Final%20Report%208%20June%202010.pdf>.
  2. Castronova, E. (2003). On Virtual Economies, in Game Studies: The International Journal of     Computer Game Research. Vol 3. Issue 2.
  3. Castronova, E. (2005). Synthetic worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago:
               University of Chicago Press.
  4. Castronova, E., James J. Cummings, Will Emigh, Michael Fatten, Nathan Mishler, Travis Ross and Will Ryan. (2007). What is a Synthetic World? In Space Time Play Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: the Next Level. Birkhäuser Basel (p. 174–177).  
  5. Castronova, E., Dmitri Williams, Cuihua Shen, Rabindra Ratan, Li Xiong, Yun
        Huang, and Brian Keegan. (2009). As real as real? Macroeconomic Behavior in a Large-scale Virtual     World. New Media & Society. 11. 685. Accessed 22 April 2010. <http://nms.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/5/685>.
  6. Consalvo, M. (2007). Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Video Games. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
    Cooper, R. (2007). Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators. London: Chris Boot.
  7. Dibbell, J. (2006). Play Money. New York: Basic Books.
  8. Davenport, T. H., & Beck, J. C. (2000). Getting the attention you need. Harvard Business Review, 78(5), pp. 118-126. 
  9. Davenport, T. H., & Beck, J. C. (2001). The attention economy: Understanding the new currency of businesses. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  10. Goldhaber, M. (1997). The Attention Economy: The Natural Economy of the Net.
  11. Hamari, J., and V. Lehdonvirta. (2010). Game Design as Marketing: How Game Mechanics Create Demand for Virtual Goods, in Journal of Business Science and Applied Management. Vol 5. Issue 1. Accessed 21 May 2010.
  12. Lehdonvirta, V. (2005) Real-Money Trade of Virtual Assets: Ten Different User Perceptions. In: Proceedings of Digital Arts and Culture (DAC 2005), 52-58. IT University of Copenhagen: Copenhagen.
  13. Lehdonvirta, V. (2007) MMORPG RMT and sumptuary laws. Virtual Economy Research Network. <http://virtual-economy.org/blog/ mmorpg_rmt_and_sumptuary_laws>.
  14. Lomas, D. (2008). Attentional Capital and the Ecology of Online Social Networks. In M. Tovey (Ed.), Collective Intelligence, (pp 163-172) Oakton: EIN Press.
  15. Nakamura, L. (2009). Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft, in Critical Studies in Media Communication. Vol 26. Issue 2. Accessed 12 Feb. 2010 <http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/15295030902860252 >.
  16. Simon, H. A. (1971). Designing organizations for an information-rich world. In M. Greenberger (Ed.), Computers, communications and the public interest (pp.40-41). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press. 
  17. Williams, D., T. Kennedy & R. Moore (2010, in press). Behind the Avatar: The Patterns, Practices and Functions of Role Playing in MMOs. Games & Culture.

 

  1. The Virtual Worlds Research Project {VWRP} has conducted extensive studies and workshops on defining virtual worlds – three main prominent characteristics of which are depiction, space and analogic – for more please refer their report published and freely available.

  2. The Attention economy was first implied in the works of Simon H.A (1971) who focuses on the exchange of attention as a relevant factor in the information economy – that the resource that is made scarce is not information but attention expended in its consumption is one of the seminal points made by Simon H. A. The term although was popularized by the writings of Davenport and Beck 2000, 2001 and Goldhaber 1997, 2008. For more details for the “attention economy hypothesis in brief”.

  3. Three kingdoms online is a merger of MMORPG and MMORTS with a focus on Real Time Strategy similar to Travian. World of Warcraft is a classical Role Playing Game Set in the Massive Environment where millions of players can join in a game – Which is what is termed an MMORPG. Eternal Duel and Rising Era are Text Based MMORPGs that have a smaller base and depends entirely on textual and not graphical representation.

  4. Although similar to Peirre bourdieu's (Bourdieu and Passeron 1973) concept of human capital, it involves the examination of non material gains that are linked to an avatar, such as in-game experience, in-game knowledge and so forth.

  5. Refer Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passeron "Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction" (1973).

  6. The Virtual - Real Binary has been addressed in many disciplines in different capacities, concerning identity, presence, production, and labour. Here I skirt the actual binary but use it to lend credence to the virtual currency and by extention also the attention currency.

  7. What Castronova would like to term as part of  'the exodus'.

  8. Nakamura and Consalvo note this limitation in different manners and points to the realization of Castronova's speculative predictions.

  9. Either browser- or client-based.

  10. MUDs stands for Multi-user Domain.

  11. The term graphical worlds may be misleading, I use the term to denote the visually superior worlds that Castronova   seems to imply as Synthetic Worlds, his main case study being Sony's EverQuest. Doing this I also posit that text based virtual worlds are active economically, even if not as much as graphical worlds, and the term synthetic worlds can be expanded to include the text based genre as well.

  12. As against NPCs or non player characters.

  13. And thus subjective in nature.

  14. By sustainable I suggest that immersion (emotional or otherwise) in the game world does not face massive disjuncts or breaks. A game that has a cohesive narrative architecture (please refer Jenkins works on narrative architectures) could be immersive.

  15. The 'massive element' is used to locate some central points of departures between RPGs and MMORPGs, evolution being one of them.

  16. Also defined as gold farming markets, there are some questionable problems is definitions due to legality, concepts of cheating and so forth. Mia Consalvo (2007) approaches cheating as part of gaming culture and admits that even EULAs do not sufficiently address what activities and circumventions maybe regarded as cheating and how exactly that affects some players. Some players have the ability to pay for farming services, but that does not necessarily mean its cheating, since he is still investing labour (through a process of outsourcing of that labour) into the game.

  17. This term is not common, I use this term outworld synonymously with out-game, and as a antonym to in-game and inworld. The term implies activities within the game and its impact, influence, or some other variable that is outside of that game mostly in the real world. Thus, although technically, these terms are not synonymously cohesive - for the purposes here is used as such.

  18. Although Castronova urges that there is an impact of synthetic economies on real world economies, I believe locating the attentional capital and its function as a currency within virtual worlds and its shifts and flows effected through real world stereotypes, uses, and affordances (as Castronova himself notes that there are very almost no virtual goods that do not have some form of real world categorization and uses and/or affordances), can be located through gold farming as a trade practice.

  19. Can attentional capital also be read as linked to “all” non-material capital?

  20. Presuming that they are obtained within the game and not through metagaming, Castronova does not examine metagaming in this manner except to locate gold farming practices that he terms as secondary market activities.

  21. Considering that social and viral networks and their effects can be often hinted at but rarely predicted beforehand. Without sufficient avatar capital, there may be very little attentional capital and trades in attentional capital that ensure survival in any game. As such predicting outcomes based on possible attentional capital can be unproductive.

  22. Depending on how communities and groups are organized in the game world. They could be limited to 60 as in Travian, or above 200 as in Eternal Duel, depending on certain circumstances membership is also often limited, a reason why attentional capital of high performing groups stay well above the threshold of survival. Almost all groups will have internal communications, IGM – In-Game Mailing/Messaging, internal or devised chat functionality – for instance Travian has a server chat that accommodates players of the clan but is rarely used, Skype is preferred and if not Gtalk and Msn is preferred means of communication and strategizing as well. This is noticeable in International .com servers and the English .in servers, as for other servers this may not hold true. Eternal Duel also has chat functionality but is not clan specific. Both games have their own internal forums for the clan pages as well as game support forums internationally and regionally.

  23. Also termed Metaverse where factors external to the game influence the game – practices that are termed as metagaming.

  24. Although at this juncture Bots and their usage should be explored, it might derail the argument on attentional capital flows. Automated programs are forms of circumventions that are often banned in the TOS and EULA of the game, but still used by many players. Multihunters or staff of the game working specifically on detecting circumvention arose out of modding and circumvention. Consalvo explores cheating to a fair amount and places cheating as a part of game culture, such that it allows players who are stuck at certain points to bypass the narrative requirement to complete a certain quest, do a certain activity and so forth. Therefore, she places cheating not so much as loopholes in design exploited by circumvention rather an essential part of a game in its ability to maintain, or sustain immersion.

  25. Massively Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy is a subdivision of games that focus on Empire building in a persistant or resetting massive environment.

  26. Technologies that facilitate communication and interaction are necessary for any forms of trade and activity to develop online. An ingame messaging system, a contract system, in-game chat functionality make up for synergized communities that can strategize better in such games.

  27. This ranking range depends entirely on the server and the number of people playing the game. The range denotes the highest investors in the game, in terms of activity, presence, and production. These number ranges  are applicable for the international .com travian servers. The numbers would be much lower compared to Indian or other regional servers. A report can be obtained on Travian World analyzer but is limited to server resets – every 300 days for normal servers. http://travian.ws/ - note that this is not the original travian site or in any manner supported by travian or their staff, but an external site that aggregates travian data for assistive gameplay.

  28. Gathered from the Travian Forums and Strategy guides. The exact tools are numerous including user scripts and is not elaborated further.

  29. Both are Chat and Instant Messaging Clients.

  30. Policy here implies in-game production - From basics such as War and Peace to profit sharing, production sharing, resource collection for common growth and so forth.

  31. Avatar capital is largely represented in the player profile page or in the in-game ranking system or external tools that pull data off the server to provide ranking and player search functionalities. One such case would be the extensive in-game ranking systems in Eternal Duel a text-based fantasy MMORPG, another instance would be Travian Servers which run on time bound resets and has extensive external tools to locate, plan, and strategize ideal locations, attack maneuvers, defense, farm finders and so forth. These systems act in the ways attention flows from particular activities that avatars undertake.

  32. Attentional currency as the currency of survival is part of the paper currently in a draft version and will be linked on my personal blog when published.

  33. Avatrial death naturally.

  34. Castronova suggests that the term is more appropriate as it indicates an interconnected relationship that is not part of the real- virtual binary.

  35. Quest lines would be particular pathways that a player character/avatar can choose for development depending on racial attributes experience points and so forth. For example, the Sway of the stars in a High eld RW1 (Race weapon 1) which is available after crossing a certain level (indicated by experience points gathered). Note that all of this is dependent on the virtual world and the design and plot of the world concerned. The example is taken from Eternal Duel.

  36. Quest lines would be particular pathways that a player character/avatar can choose for development depending on racial attributes experience points and so forth. For example, the Sway of the stars in a High eld RW1 (Race weapon 1) which is available after crossing a certain level (indicated by experience points gathered). Note that all of this is dependent on the virtual world and the design and plot of the world concerned. The example is taken from Eternal Duel. 

  37. The game does not name the weapon as elvish, rather it is just termed as a high elf race weapon. The word Elvish is not particularly popular either for some reason.

  38. Which are also virtual goods. In the paper macroeconomic behavior in large scale virtual worlds, the authors attempt to locate if the virtual 'sword' can be considered as having 'real' value.

  39. or the Elven Race, one of the race choices when building a character. Race choices in character building has benefits including race weapons, race specific growth benefits and so forth, all of which are tied into the production of avatarial capital and indirectly attentional capital.

  40. His study is on social networks, particularly Myspace.com, but can be used to read into attentional capital in gaming.

  41. And hints at the reduction of identities into interests where self representation is concerned.

  42. I would choose to expand this concept and make it broader so as to make it applicable to other social networks and is not limited to gaming.

  43. Such as  ethnic, cultural, racial, to form an in-group or out-group association, or through common cultural symbols and so forth as mentioned earlier.

  44. I quote a recent debate with a few colleagues who suggested that I seem to suggest through my writing that the formation of these repositories are resultant of vague unintended actions on part of players and argued that the associations noticeable in the profiles of players are not always unintended but in most cases calculated and placed with deliberative intent. Without going into too much detail, I should clarify that that there might be the influence of the smart cow syndrome (for the lack of a better term for articulating this), where prominent groups have players who game for attention so as to be able to enter these groups (again I suggest that this would be a tactic for survival) failure to be associated with the group and other high level players often imply certain death (virtual avatar death that is). In such a case arguably there is deliberation and contemplation before networking or creating associations through profiles. For instance, a low level player would choose group A or group B – Z dependent on their position and the assumed allegiance and loyalty of the group portrayed through their own profile pages and thus their own repositories (yes this is illusory attention at work), and capabilities of the group to ensure survival of the player – this is deliberative. To return to my point there are often other messages and profile tags that the player uses to denote either strategy or tactics employed by the player and this I posit is unintended, a Gual character posting a Roman slogan on the profile, or some message indicative of strategy. So many troops killed in the first few weeks, so many players farmed and so forth, are unintended but assists in the inter-connection of these repositories perhaps a little more than group identities which are in constant flux (in worlds like travian from which this example is sourced).

  45. assuming that it is non coercive and profitable.

  46. Thus represented as A1 avatar on server 2 would be A2 and n number of servers to indicate A'n'.

  47. For instance SARSteam on Travian interbational severs would be A1 and A2, and on ED servers would be A3 and so forth provided that avatar is linked or recognizable to SARSteam, or any of its members.

  48. SARSteam is a prominent avatar of a player in Travian.

  49. The authors Travian Avatar.

  50. Travian servers reset after approx 300 days, where the endgame is the successful completion of a Wonder of the World.

  51. A PNAP is a personal non aggression pact regardless of alliance affiliations, such that in the event that two players are in opposing and competitive alliances a PNAP would mean that either alliance would consider non aggression on the listed player regardless of alliance stand on other players. Applicable mostly unless in the event of war when PNAPs are suspended. The notion of the PNAP is similar to the NAPs forged between alliances, except its between a few players. Alone together phenomenon occurs to some extent in such cases.

  52. Goldhaber (1997) places Illusory attention in perspective with that of a speaker and an audience. Through a reading of Lomas (2008) I posit that a similar situation is present in the self representation in player profiles.

  53. Avatar rights are interesting concepts that question notions of property and copyrights and ownership.

  54. By formation, I imply how game play progresses and forms dependent on attention flows towards a particular strategy in the game.

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Author

Prasad Krishna

Prasad Krishna previously worked in a newspaper and some reputed publications. He is MA in English, PGD in Journalism and LLB from the University of Delhi.